Disney throws girls a bone in YouTube video

Dear Disney,

Thanks so much for this feel good video “I Am a Princess.”  It’s so great that you think girls are important. But you know what might be more convincing, and make more of an impact, than a 1:46 minute video on YouTube? If half of the characters in your big budget, animated, major-motion-pictures were female.

Females make up about 16% of characters in animated movies for kids.

Ending your little YouTube video with a quote from Rapunzel about how she never breaks a promise is sweet. But allowing Rapunzel to headline her own movie– instead of switching it “Tangled” because you didn’t want a girl’s name in the title– would’ve been much sweeter. As long as Disney keeps pumping out movies that star males while girls go missing, all the 2 minute YouTube videos in the world aren’t going to be empowering.

I hope the public doesn’t buy this patronizing attempt at PR.

Pixar/ Disney movies get triple S for stereotyping, not suitable for kids

Kidsmovies.com posted a link to ReelGirl’s gallery of girls gone missing pics of 2011 movie posters. The banner at the top of the kidsmovies site features its own unintended (I think) same-old-same-old-boy based line up: Curious George, Nemo, Toy Story 3, Tangled, Gnomeo and Juliet, Up, Kung Fu Panda (I’m guessing, the picture is the top of Jack Black’s head) and Horton. The only girl front and center out of 9 movie posters is Rapunzel (typical rescue story- can you see why girls are obsessed with princesses? Without that storyline girls hardly exist in kids movies at all.)

There’s not a single poster that features multiple girls and no boys in this particular montage. If I seem like I’m nitpicking, it’s because this same, repetitive ratio is EVERYWHERE! (See the kidsmovies.com gallery here.)

And here’s the irony. Pixar and Disney head, Ed Catmull, is continually celebrated for his creativity, out of the box thinking, and taking chances. Here’s an excerpt from a typical glowing profile (this one on SFGate):

The president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation has a low profile outside of industry circles, but he’s one of the main architects behind the studio’s creativity-driven foundation. And he’s intent on keeping things unpredictable, fighting “conservative forces” that have made the golden ages of other cinematic movements all too brief…

But with Lucas, Catmull and later Jobs in charge, creative types at Pixar were encouraged to take chances. And the results changed the animation genre.

“Ed Catmull brought that to the culture of Pixar, in the sense that he wants people to try stuff,” Lasseter says. “If it doesn’t work, fine. In fact, sometimes you get more excited when it doesn’t work. And that’s the total opposite of Hollywood, where people are so scared to try different things. They’re risk-averse.”

The 30-minute speech that follows is filled with Ed-isms. Anybody should be able to talk to anybody else at any time… It’s OK to be surprised in meetings… Don’t be afraid to fail..

“It’s so easy to go to a conservative place. You know something that works, and you don’t want to change,” Catmull says. “We’re always going to have something that is a little chaotic and messy. …As a company we’re just trying to allow unpredictable things to happen.”

Conservative forces? Keeping things unpredictable? If women were running these animation studios, you’d never hear a quote like “unpredictable” to describe the slew of Pixar/ Disney movies where girls are continually relegated to the role of sidekick or princess. Instead of a G Rating, too many Pixar/ Disney movies should get a Triple S for major stereotyping, not suitable for kids. Makes you wonder how many women are in the MPAA? Or have ever headed the MPAA? Stay tuned.

Girl characters lacking in animation movies

I wrote this for The San Jose Mercury news in 2007 when “Ratatouille” opened. The movie’s hypocritical reference to sexism helped to inspire my blog, ReelGirl. Please read and let me know what you think.

Phooey on `Ratatouille’: Female leads lacking in kid films

STUDIOS ACKNOWLEDGE, ACCEPT SEXISM

By Margot Magowan

Article Launched: 07/06/2007 01:32:35 AM PDT

“Ratatouille” made $47 million opening weekend, but as I watched the

film with my 4-year-old daughter, I felt depressed. There was nary a

female rat in sight. I’d forked over $9 so my daughter could get yet

another lesson in sexism direct from Pixar or Disney: No matter if

you’re a rodent, car, or fish – boys are the ones with the starring

roles while girls are relegated to sidekicks.

“Cars,” “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Lion King,” “Monsters Inc.”

each features a male hero and multiple male characters; often a token

female is around to help propel one of the guys to greatness.

“Ratatouille” faithfully follows suit. Colette, a female human sous

chef, even justifies her secondary role in the film with a brief

monologue on misogyny: “Do you know how hard I had to work to get

ahead in this male-dominated kitchen?” she yells at our hero.

The speech is there to throw girls a bone, and you can find this

gesture in most modern day motion picture cartoons. It’s that nod to

the audience: unlike all those cartoons of yesteryear, we know this is

sexist, but there’s nothing we can do about it.

When I complained to my mom and sister: “Why couldn’t Ratatouille have

been female? Why no girls – again?” They said, “Didn’t you hear

Colette’s talk? That’s how it is in the real world.” OK, let me get

this straight: It’s just fine to stretch our imaginations to believe

in a talking rat who can cook, but when it comes to gender

roles, we admire realism and authenticity?

When my daughter goes to the movies, she sees animals talk, fairies or

unicorns prance around, witches cast evil spells, but she’s never

shown a magical land where boys and girls are treated equally, where

gender doesn’t matter. Why can’t Pixar or Disney allow her the fantasy

of equality?

After I saw “The Lion King,” I wanted to know: Why couldn’t the

lionesses have attacked weak, old Scar? Why did they have to wait

around for Simba to come back to Pride Rock to help them? I was told:

that’s how it is in nature – lionesses need a male to lead the pride.

So a lion can be best friends with a warthog and a meerkat without

gobbling them up, but a lioness heading a pride? That could never

happen in the animal kingdom!

Pixar has yet to allow girls any starring roles, but Disney permits it

if she’s a princess. Audiences can count on the contemporary princess

movie to throw girls their bone: Unlike princesses of the past who

happily went off with the first guy who kissed them out of

unconsciousness, these modern girls get to choose whom they marry.

Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine put up a huge stink, stubbornly refusing

betrothal to the obvious choice. But these elaborate shows of

independence are bases for entire plot lines, keeping the princesses

stories almost entirely focused on marriage: rebellion within the

safest possible framework.

When my daughter was watching “Mulan” – probably the most feminist of

all the motion picture cartoons – dress up as a boy to fight in a war,

she asked me, “Why can’t girls fight?” Before she can even understand

how Mulan is empowering, first she has to understand sexism. But does

she need to know, at age 4, about sexism? Does she need to know people

still believe girls can’t do so many things, like cook in a top-tier

French kitchen? Why can’t she just see a girl chef making great food,

receiving acclaim for her talent, being helped along by a girl rat or

sous chef boy?

The hyper-concern for gender accuracy in the fantasy world extends to

things like plush toys – when I refer to my kid’s animals as “she,”

adults invariably do a double take, checking for manes or tusks: even

female toys must stay in their place. And of course, toys are a big

part of the problem. With today’s mass marketing, all these movie

characters live on as action figures, dolls, games, on T-shirts and

cereal boxes. On my daughter’s kite, her beach ball, her pull-ups, the

trifecta of Jasmine, Belle and Ariel smile shyly. My daughter wasn’t

born with this fairy tale-princess fantasy embedded in her brain, but

like any kid, she’s self-centered. She likes the movies that are all

about her. Females are half of the population. We pay our $10 just

like everyone else. When can we get more representation in our movies?

How long do we have to wait?

Pixar is made up of a bunch of guy geeks. Disney’s top brass is

practically all male. Maybe when we get more female studio heads, more

female directors and producers and writers, we’ll see groups of girls

having adventures; girl heroes doing cool, brave things in starring

roles where marriage may never be mentioned at all. Maybe then people

will wake up, finally recognize the radical lack of imagination going

on in our make believe worlds; Princess Charming finally rescues

Sleeping Hunk.