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New Disney princess outrage: Is 'Frozen' only for 'pretty' girls? (+video)

The next Disney princess film, 'Frozen,' will debut Nov. 27. But an animator has caused a small revolt online by saying of the lead female characters: 'you have to keep them pretty.'

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Would people go to see a princess who wasn't "pretty"? "Shrek" made a joke of this and succeeded. But what if there was no joke? What if the princess simply was ordinary? It would be a risk, if only because it has never been done. Just look at society – our local TV news anchors and gossip-page celebrities. Where are the un-"pretty" examples there? Disney is just reflecting society back at itself.

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Which brings us to the Internet's tiny "Frozen" rebellion. Is the world ready for an un-"pretty" Disney princess?

Pixar, in many ways, has already led the way, showing that the untraditional – done honestly – can appeal to mass audiences. A rat that can cook? A robot in love? A grumpy widower who sells balloons? All became blockbusters.

Of course, Disney does not yet have that risk-taking so deeply in its DNA. It is still attempting to throttle the world with Marvel and Star Wars retreads. Yet there are hints. At the time, "Tangled" was an enormous risk. "Shrek" had supposedly killed the fairy tale genre, yet "Tangled" made $600 million worldwide. And "Wreck-It Ralph" – as well as "Paperman," the groundbreaking short film before it – showed that some of Pixar's innovation has rubbed off on Disney.

Moreover, Disalvo's comments suggest that Disney's default feminine ideal is already beginning to get in the way of its storytelling in "Frozen," which has two female leads, Anna and Elsa. "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 being angry.”

In other words, when every feminine lead has to mirror that Disney feminine ideal (in other words, look the same), then it gets harder and harder to differentiate them for the purposes of conveying distinct emotions and inner voices.

Behind the scenes, Disney has taken some small steps in its animation of women. Glen Keane, the director of animation for "Tangled," said of his team's attempts to animate the main character, Rapunzel, during the film's climactic scene:

It was the most difficult and the most rewarding [scene] because the acting was so extremely subtle. The expressions of someone crying are inherently ugly. All the muscles in the face fight each other. No one wants a camera in their face at that moment. But we challenged the animators to go for the ugly face, and as Rapunzel fights and holds back tears, the emotions are so real and so true. And it’s so effective because when that tear comes from Rapunzel’s eye ... you believe there is enormous pain in Rapunzel’s heart. If you don’t believe that tear comes from a heart of love the movie doesn’t work. It was successful and emotionally gripping. I was never more proud of our animators then at that moment.

For all its sarcastic quips and action scenes, "Tangled" eventually got to a place of intense emotional honesty – and it got there by being "ugly." The real question raised by Disalvo's comments is whether "Frozen" has the courage to get to that place, and whether Disney as a whole is willing to follow Pixar's daring and explore that place more deeply.

Even if it means an un-"pretty" princess.


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