Disney and other animation companies are nearly constantly receiving flack about under representing people of color and for having less than stellar female characters. However, no one seems to be talking about the complete lack of canonical LGBT characters. ParaNorman was the first feature length animation to include a canon LGBT character and no one is talking about this.
Normally I wouldn’t reference Wikipedia, but if you take a look at this list you can see how ParaNorman is the only feature length animation to feature a canonical LGBT character. Sure, there seems to be a bit more in short animations, specifically in anime, but there is quite a lack of representation in feature length films. There are some characters from Disney animated productions that could have intended to be gay or use gay stereotypes. This list includes: Ursula (The Little Mermaid), Scar (The Lion King), Governor Ratcliffe (Pocahontas), Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective), Hades (Hercules), Timon and Pumbaa (The Lion King), Genie (Aladdin), Pleakley (Lilo and Stitch), Terkina (Tarzan), Shang (Mulan), Merida (Brave) and Hugo and Djali (The Hunchback of Notre Dame). I think it’s important to note that the majority of them are either villains or comic reliefs. However, no matter how many people believe that they could posibly be gay, it has yet to be acknowledged by Disney.
In an interview with Chris Butler, one of creators of ParaNorman, he was asked why he included a gay character (which right there, should have set off bells; no one asks why straight white men are included in anything, why does the inclusion of gay characters have to be rationalized?) and he explained how two of the main focuses of the film are intolerance and also how each character is judging (usually misjudging) everyone else.
Recently Frozen has been getting attention for possibly have a LGBT character but not much as come from it. One of the main focuses has been Queen Elsa’s lack of a male romantic interest but the song “Let it Go” has gotten a lot of attention about being this generation’s coming out anthem. Interestingly enough, Pastor Kevin Swanson credits Disney as being one of the most pro-homosexual organizations in the country while complaining about Frozen promoting not only homosexuality but also bestiality. Guess he hasn’t looked up how many canonical LGBT characters there actually are in Disney feature length animations.
Disney and other companies making animations targeting children have often been discredited for being racist. However, numerous animations from different companies and targeting different demographics are blatantly racist. It’s almost more common for animations targeting adults to include racists bits than it is for them not to include racism. Jews are the butts of jokes in 30% of South Park episodes. Despite how diverse The Simpsons cast is, it is also one of the most stereotyped.
That’s not to say that children’s animations are exempt from racism–far from it, for that fact. Looney Toons and Disney productions have included racist undertones, and some not quite so under, since their beginning. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, everyone has heard how in Disney’s Aladdin the protagonists, Aladdin and Jasmine, appear pretty generically Caucasian (if a bit tan) while it is only the villian, Jafar, who actually looks Middle Eastern. Plus then there’s the lyrics of the song Arabian Nights: “Where they cut off your ear / if they don’t like your face / It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home”. In Lady and the Tramp the Siamese cats even fill an Asian caricature (slanted eyes, buck teeth, over-exaggerated accents), as did the Siamese cat in Aristocats (and the lyrics from “Everybody wants to be a cat: “Shanghai, Hong Kong, Egg Foo Yong / Fortune cookies always wrong). Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid, Fantasia–all of these Disney animations contain blatant racist references and characters. MGM’s Tom and Jerry featured a repeating character “Mammy Two Shoes” that was beyond racist. Even Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. was critiqued to have caricatures that bordered on racist.
Some critics rationalize that the racist tones of animations are just a product of their time, since racism was so rampant in the United States throughout the 40s, 50s, and 60s. For newer animations, they rationalize that they aren’t being racist but rather they are satires. One complaint is that animated films are teaching children racial stereotypes before they even learn to read. Even in Rio 2, where the main characters are Brazilian parrots, the two main characters are voiced by white actors while the comic releifs are nearly all voiced by African-American actors. In The Lion King Scar is the only character who has a different accent (British, while the rest are pretty clearly American) and is also the only darker lion, despite being the brother of Mufasa. Disney purposefully used a voice actor with a different ethnic accent to help distinguish who was the “bad guy”. This is not the only time Disney used a British accent to denote who the villain was in an animation, as Jafar was also the only character with a British accent in Aladdin.
“Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna (Kristen Bell) being angry.” –Lino DeSalvo, Frozen‘s head of animation
Sexism has been an issue in animation for quite some time. Even Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is sexist, despite having a smart leading lady who’s not searching for a husband. Despite all of her charms and smarts, Belle is glorified by everyone for her looks instead of her brain. Even her name, Belle, means beautiful in French. Sexism is not just a thing that happened in the past within animation, it is still actively happening. This can be seen clearly in Disney’s Frozen. “DeSalvo’s beliefe, that males come in all shapes and sizes, whereas females come in one, is so common, most people think it is a fact.”
It is being taught that women can only have one basic shape within animations. The book even goes as far as to basically say that women only exist for the sex appeal. In Frozen, it goes beyond how the female characters look to include how they behave and react to different strong emotions. Obviously, there is only one way a girl can react to feeling anger (or at least that’s what the animators believe). The issue of representation of women and girls in animation goes even farther, with the lack of female characters. At first I assumed that women were pushed into the sidekick role, but in fact, a study found that: “females were underrepresented as main characters, sidekicks, and characters overall. Regardless of main character sex, sidekicks were more likely to be male than female”. Check out this “Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies in 2013” which shows “of the 21 movie posters for young kids, only 4 appear to feature a female protagonist”.
Despite all the clear evidence of sexism in animation, it still goes largely unacknowledged by the producing companies. Tom and Jerry includes a disclaimer at the beginning of their animations (on a DVD copy) about racist undertones throughout the cartoon. They explain that they chose not to remove them because they are not willing to pretend that it never happened. No animation has ever contained a disclaimer of blatant sexism and I highly doubt they every will anytime soon.
A lot of people around me have been talking about how much of a shame it is that Disney no longer has a 2D department, and that children are going to be missing out. What most people seem to forget, is that at the end of the day, Disney is a business. Disney had to get rid of their 2D department for economical reasons. One article summed it up well; Princess and the Frog grossed $300 million globally while Tangled grossed twice that amount. When you view it from the corporate viewpoint instead of say, the animators, it’s pretty easy to see why Disney would decide to go with CGI and 3D. One spokesperson summed up all of the layoffs as: “part of an ongoing review to ensure that the Studios’ operational structure and economics align with the demands of the current marketplace”. Even the polite media answer points to economical reasons as being a major reason for the shift to 3D. Disney’s studios are not in the art business.
Over the years I’ve read a lot of different explanations for the design and inspiration of Mickey Mouse. Recently, I’ve found one that I believe has a lot of merit to it. One of the main designs for Mickey Mouse was Black face. At first I immediately shut it down, refusing to believe that the cute little mouse could be based off of something so racist. However, as we all known, earlier animations were known to be extremely racist.
“Mickey Mouse is the msot graphic offspring of blackface minstrels’ portrayals of the plantation slave. Black, wide-eyed, childlike, falsetto-voiced, and ever the clown, Mickey Mouse even takes his costuming from the burnt-cork brotherhood: see the oversized white gloves, suspender buttons (minus suspenders), big feet, coy stance.” –Way Up North in Dixie: A Black Family’s Claim to the Confederate Anthem, pg. 158
During the 1930s and 1940s, cartoons in the US often featured blackface bits along with a slew of other racial, and ethnic, caricatures. In 1933 United Artists released a short titled “Mickey’s Mellerdrammer” which was based off of the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Despite already being black, Mickey was shown with “exaggerated, orange lips, bushy white side-whiskers and his now-trademark white gloves”.
Glen Keane is well known and respected as being one of the best hand-drawn animators. In fact, Glen Keane has even been credited as being the 6th most influential Disney animators of all time. I think one of the most important things about him though, is to remember how he handled the production of Tangled. Without having any experience with 3D animation, Glen Keane helped make Tangled a global success.
While other companies were switching over more and more to 3D animation, Glen Keane was an avid supporter of hand drawn animation, claiming that it would be impossible to translate the whimsy and attractive of hand-drawn characters onto a digital canvas. Keane had to change his opinion though, when he was faced without another medium to choose to use. In 2003, Keane was given approval to make a Rapunzel project, however he was only given approval with the stipulation that he it be created using computer animation. Keane was reasonably upset about this, because despite having over 30 years of experience animating, he had zero experience with computer animation.
Tangled has been the most expensive animated movie made to date. It was even more expensive to produce than Avatar. I believe that one reason the film was so expensive to produce has to do with Glen Keane’s involvement. He refused to accept less than perfect on the smallest detail during production. “If the animation was too stiff or unpleasant, Keane sent it back. He’d draw what he wanted with his own hand and not accepted the scene until it matched his artwork“.