Star Wars, The Lone Ranger, and redesigning Merida. Disney is seeing a lot of problems this year, but much more promise as well.
2013 has held a lot of change for the house that Walt built, new additions to the Walt Disney World Resort, continued development with the Disney Cruise Lines, and the purchase of one of the most legendary film studios of all time. Many changes have come to the company when you look at the business as a whole, but what about their movies? What about the way we perceive Disney the most, as their movies are the catalysts for merchandise and the bevy of new developments you’ll see across all of the Disneylands and the Disney World Resort? Has the company lost the magic that Walt instilled in it when he first developed Snow White & the Seven Dwarves? Or are we still mesmerized by every bit of magic the studio can squeeze out?
Sort of is probably the best answer available. Recently Disney has been facing a lot of online hate for the development of their characters including accusations of racism in the case of Johnny Depp as Tonto, over sexualization with the reveal of Princess Merida’s costume redesign, and the unoriginality of another skinny blonde princess gracing the screen in the upcoming Frozen. This backlash absolutely affected the release of The Lone Ranger which could end up costing the studio up to $190 million dollars and another misfire in their long list of attempts at making blockbuster franchises. Since 2001 the only apparent franchise success for Disney has been Toy Story, Monster’s Inc. (both created by Pixar with Disney overhead), The Avengers, and the Depp-filled Pirates of the Caribbean series (expect Pirates 5 in a couple years).
As well as facing flack for The Lone Ranger, better titled Tonto with Armie Hammer Too, the redesigns of Princess Merida’s gown and the new Frozen princesses Elsa and Anna have brought less than desirable results to the House of Mouse. Merida brought so much trouble to Disney that they limited the release of the more princess like princess to just Target and pulled the marketing materials from just about all other outlets. This proves that Disney can be reached and is absolutely interested in what the consumer wants, but their next step is just going to set them back a bit more. Just 3 years ago, in November, we saw the release of the 51st Disney animated film Tangled starring the petite blond princess Rapunzel. And if you were to jump to this November, you could mistake yourself in thinking that Frozen stars the cousin or identical sister to the royal princess from Tangled.
Anna and Elsa, sisters to be featured in the upcoming film based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, face ridiculous comparisons in character design when it comes to Rapunzel. Their body shape, big round eyes, and blond hair are far too similar to not draw comparisons and show a lack of inspiration from Disney. The lore that the film is based on also featured a largely female cast, taking up 99% of the roles, with only one primary male character that was to be saved by his best female friend. There wasn’t an inclusion of romance, the two leads were platonic and the female lead did all she could to save her best friend out of love of her friend, not the unrequited love of a boy. Frozen throws all that out the window and has a cast of mostly male character that put Anna and Elsa in the role of the heroines with not much else to say about strong female personalities for young girls and boys to look to. Brave and The Little Mermaid 2 were the last two Disney films of note to not feature female leads as just villains or princess, something Disney needs to work on as everyone needs strong female leads to be inspired by that aren’t the pinnacle of girly girl or villainy. Whitewashing, the casting of only Caucasian characters, is also something Disney will have to stand against if they wish to instill the idea in it’s viewers that we are all equal, no matter what we look like. Recent films like Tangled and Brave are two of the biggest offenders when it comes to whitewashing as both films take place in mythical worlds and have no reason not to feature people of color. Hopefully Disney faces these faults over the next few years with their growing list of featured films.
In the line of upcoming Disney films we have Planes, the sequel to Cars which features Dane Cook as an underdog crop duster plane that competes in a multicultural air race. Saving Mr. Banks, the true-to-life adaptation following the production of the classic Mary Poppins and the antics of Walter Elias Disney (portrayed by Tom Hanks) and author P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) as they worked to get the film produced. The Muppets sequel, DisneyNature’s Bears, Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, Marvel’s phase-two feature films, and Star Wars: Episode VII are all highly regarded Disney produced titles that we look to see over the next few years. The opportunity Disney has in front of them is beyond believable, as they continue to release the films most adults bring their children to see year after year. Introducing multi-cultural and multi-racial characters who display courage and integrity are key for those of us who haven’t had the inspiration from any select Disney icon that features attributes much like ourselves, I happen to have the red hair, white male to look to for inspiration in Hercules. But Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana, and Jasmine aren’t enough, in my opinion, for young boys and girls of color to be inspired by. Disney has yet to touch a modern hero except for in Bolt, and that isn’t even close to a good enough example of how Disney is trying to be modern with their films. But Disney has been around for the better side of a century and they’ll be around for much longer if the children of the Disney Renaissance have anything to say about it. Disney will continue to shape the minds of our youth and will hopefully use their influence to bring the truth of equality and non-discrimination to all the world, something it is in dire need of.