Women Are Hard to Animate Because They Have Emotions, Says Disney

What Women Really Think
Oct. 10 2013 3:59 PM

Women Are Hard to Animate Because They Have Emotions, Says Disney

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Courtesy Disney Co.

Mo’ princesses, mo’ problems. The new Disney fairy tale Frozen, which reimagines “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Anderson, has got two of them, voiced by Kirsten Bell and Idina Menzel. Anna (Bell) is a gutsy redhead with big eyes, a button nose, and a slim build. Her sister, Elsa (Menzel), is a wintry blond with big eyes, a button nose, and a slim build. Elsa has the magical ability to create ice and snow, and after she plunges the kingdom into eternal December, her sister has to figure out how to fix it (so go sibling relationships). The double princess thing probably works out well for Disney’s marketing department, since it gives them twice as many dolls and accessories to purvey to the youth. But, as head animator Lino Disalvo told blogger Jenna Busch, it was super tricky from an artistic perspective. That’s because women are a total hassle to bring to life on screen, what with their fluctuating feelings always threatening to get in the way of their beauty. Disalvo:     

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.
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Anyone else hear shades of Bryan Goldberg marveling at the complexity of creatures who can care about the Bachelorette and the revolution in Egypt during the same coffee break? But more importantly, it’s really hard to accurately convey characters’ inner lives when they have to look hot in every frame. Feelings are so ugly. Ask Freud. Ask Claire Danes. No wonder a great many Disney movies like to place their leading ladies in comas. If only "pretty," as the Cut’s Maggie Lange writes, could “just be an emotion … we could all go home early.”

In fairness, studies do show that women tend to be more facially expressive than men: Women both smile and frown more often and more intensely. But—also in fairness—staring down an animate plank of wood for two hours isn’t exactly a recipe for cinema magic; if Disney wants to be at once compelling and scientifically accurate, it should incorporate more female characters, not fewer.

Representing characters’ feelings without diminishing their attractiveness was only the first hurdle. Filmmakers working with two princesses also had to distinguish visually between them, as if there wasn't just one way for a Disney princess to look. MovieViral tells us that the animators were also tasked with creating “2,000 different snowflakes that can be seen in the entire film.” After they’d spent so much time individuating all those snowflakes, can we really expect the poor Disney employees to turn around and dream up a pair of nonidentical female characters, too? Come on. At least snowflakes are allowed to be ugly.

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

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