Friday, November 30, 2012

MISOGYNY IN ANIMATION

For the last decade the “changing” role of women in animation has often been mentioned but not much has changed for women in the industry. There are many female producers in film and animation, but it’s among artists that the situation is still in the Dark Ages. 
     Obviously, a stronger word than sexism is called for when discussing the way women are treated in the animation industry. Female animation artists who are single mothers or just plain single are too often  ignored, dismissed, groped, harassed and paid .77c per male dollar. Wives and girlfriends of animators are an exception, since women attached in some way to a powerful male are paid more and considered for promotion to head of departments or to direct a feature film.
    This all started with Walt Disney himself who was notorious for his dismissive attitudes toward women. Listen to his description of SNOW WHITE’s “Grumpy” in this clip. He refused to hire female artists as animators, relegating them to “pretty girl” inkers and painters. This is a famous rejection  letter from Walt Disney to a female artist and the website comments are revealing. Even though misogyny was prevalent at the time, the same attitudes still exist at Hollywood animation studios in 2012, when such prejudice is not only unacceptable but illegal. Again, the comments by professional animators (some female) are telling.
    There’s a common culture of disrespect, even contempt, for women in the medium. Often veiled, sometimes hidden but always present. It’s this additional burden that women have to deal with when fighting for and assuming the responsibility of directing a feature film and heading a department. Artistic leadership is hard enough without having to deal with sabotage, disrespect and hostility from both women and men.
     Protest about harassment, inequity in promotion and pay is not tolerated in animation studios unless backed up by a law suit and suing your employer is not conducive to getting promoted or to even being able to do your job in a hostile work place. “If you don’t like it here you can leave” is what protesters are usually told and not only by men. Women don’t speak up about inequities for fear of being called shrill, harsh, PC harpies then fired or frozen out. What is politically correct or harsh about being paid properly for one’s work and not having to dread being belittled or undermined? 
          The fact that there are only five women directors in Hollywood animation is certainly not due to a lack of ability, talent or experience among female animators. It’s a reflection of animation management’s shameful reluctance to hire women for leadership positions. Why should audiences be deprived of half the animation directing talent in Hollywood just because of ignorance and bigotry? Why should female animators not be allowed to realise their ambitions?
     Watch this interview with soft-spoken, bamboo-strong Jennifer Yuh-Nelson, director of KUNG FU PANDA 2. She’s not only talented but  also smart, a clear-thinking, serene and natural leader who plays violent video games and directs fights and explosions with flair and panache, probably causing animation industry management types to fall off their chairs in amazement.
     Another pioneer animation director is Brenda Chapman who, after she was fired as sole director of BRAVE, left Pixar and went to work as a consultant for Lucasfilm Animation (ironically, now owned by Disney/Pixar). Her firing garnered so much adverse publicity for Disney/Pixar and for discrimination in the animation industry that it would be a shame not to follow her example and stand up to industry bigotry and bullying.
     Here’s what monkeys do when they’re treated unequally. Why would women in animation not do the same with equal anger and justification? Studios count on our fear of being fired for simply standing up for our rights. When women in animation refuse to be intimidated and stand up to the studios with precedent-setting lawsuits, they will put a stop to these unnecessary and unpleasant issues in an art and an age when they shouldn’t exist.
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Sunday, November 18, 2012

"BRAVE": BEAUTIFUL BUT BLEMISHED

Princess Merida is an unforgettable character, with her willful ways, wild hair and luminous eyes, but the story is a bit of a mess and suffers from too many directors (Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, co-director Steve Purcell), too many writers (Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews. Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi, the only actual screenwriter on the film) and too much studio interference.
    If Brenda Chapman, the original director, hadn’t been fired by Pixar  halfway through the film, BRAVE may well have been clearer and more fluid. Considering the additional directors, writers and the usual formulaic elements tossed in to make the film appeal to the widest possible audience (boys, fights, female boyishness, cartoony male buffoons, goofy sidekicks) it’s not surprising that the pacing suffered, the story got muddled and the director’s vision blurred. Many hands don’t make light work here, too many cooks spoil the broth.
    The only part of the formula that’s missing is the hero. Merida is both hero and heroine and that’s unusual and a cool thing. Too bad she isn’t allowed to be a competent, confident girl without having to swagger, shoot and (improbably) muck out the stables. We understand that Disney’s girly princesses are out of favor but do all future heroines have to be extreme tomboys? 


BEAUTIFUL:
- Her hair! Bravo to whoever designed Merida’s hair! What a fabulous mass of wild, bouncy curls that even get suitably darker and flattened when wet. Give that designer an Oscar.
- Her luminous eyes have character and charm despite being lit like dolls’ eyes.   
- Her skin is soft-looking and translucent and altogether lovely.
- The sumptuous shiny fabrics that move so brilliantly: heavy satins, brocades and tapestry. Not to mention all those kilts.
- Most of the lighting is astonishing. As beautiful and moody as any Vilmos Zsigmond cinematography.
- The excellent acting: Merida’s nose-wrinkling grimace, the close up when we see her thinking, Elinor’s expressions when tasting the magic cake, even the cretinous suitors’ expressions are wonderful.
- The witch is hilarious, so full of sparkle and personality and her mouth movements for the dialogue are terrific.
- The horse is wonderfully heavy, furry and chicken.
- Loved the will-o’-the-wisps.

BLEMISHES:
- Merida and Elinor’s little individual teeth were quite disconcerting.   
- The music wasn’t as inspiring as it could have been, heck, bagpipes can be so stirring.
- the staging of some important moments lacks clarity, drama and often, originality. For example, the split arrow from ROBIN HOOD.
- the story quickly degenerated into a thundering, crashing cacophony of brawls, chases, gallops, corny gags and sentimental music meant to please every type of audience. Once again creativity and vision have been sacrificed for profit.
- The writing is seriously overshadowed by the stunning graphics. 
- And there's the ever-popular but unpleasant superwomen vs. bumbling males concept that’s just as nasty as the opposite. Do we really want kids to grow up thinking men are fools?
- the night scenes are too dark: a black bear at night, no matter how glossy, is hard to see without proper lighting. More moonlight may have helped.
- The male characters were not only all buffoons, but far too cartoony (Fergus is three times the size of Elinor).
- Not showing the morphing of the bear into the new and improved Elinor is a let-down. We love morphing and transformations so, having the Elinor-to-bear transformation happen under a blanket is bad enough without being deprived of the reverse.
    BRAVE is the first movie I viewed on my Kindle Fire and, while I love the intimate experience of curling up with a movie, the film didn’t generate the warm, fiery feelings I expected.
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Friday, November 2, 2012

STAR WARS AND DISNEY MARKETEERS

What does Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd. mean? It means a new trilogy of the iconic but worn out STAR WARS films and relentless marketing of the brand. The trend for major Hollywood film studios these days is to produce very few original films and instead, spend more time and money on financing and developing outside films, then marketing and merchandising the hell out of them. 
    By buying up creative companies like MARVEL, PIXAR and now LUCASFILM, which includes such stars of the movie business as Skywalker Ranch, ILM visual effects and ILM animation (producer of the Oscar-winner RANGO), the Walt Disney Company seems to be following this trend and has dropped all but a  pretense of creativity to do what they do best: merchandising and marketing.
    The Disney Company is the only movie studio in Hollywood not owned by some giant corporation because it IS a giant corporation, with a very long list of assets, including a publisher (Hyperion), hotels and the Disney Cruise Line.
    Popular opinion seems to be that nothing good will come out of this merger. This is a shame when you think of all the genuinely creative and innovative (mainly animated) films made by Walt Disney himself, who won twenty-six Academy Awards and seven Emmy Awards, giving him more awards and nominations than anybody else. He was also a marketing innovator but these awards were for invention, creativity and risk-taking in film, not for marketing, yet it’s the marketing that endures.
    The company’s concentration on profit has snuffed out almost all creativity. Many talented, enthusiastic artists and film makers fled Disney for more creative studios like Pixar and ILM and now find themselves right back where they started. But understanding that Disney isn't really trying to be creative is somehow reassuring, suggesting that they could
still do it if they wanted to.
    Who will be the new innovator and risk-taker? Will The Weinstein Company ever produce an animated film? Will princess Leia make a lucrative Disney princess? Will the Walt Disney Animation Studios ever return to the one truly creative and innovative thing that made them famous and that audiences still want to see: hand-drawn animation? Perhaps the best we can look forward to is a stop-motion animated film of Disney merchandise.                                                       *