Category Archives: the emperor’s new groove

Disney Villain Songs: Part Two


Welcome back to the Disney Villain Songs Meta. We tackled five songs last week and this time we have four more, plus some other films to discuss.

Last week I told you that Villain Songs didn’t really become a thing until the Renaissance era films, when the storytelling took a shift. The post-Renaissance films have been an odd mix. Some of them sway more Renaissance, while others lean back to more traditional Disney films, where the villain is a deeper theme.

After Pocahontas in 1995, we got The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan, The Emperor’s New Groove, Lilo & Stitch, The Princess & The Frog, Tangled, and Frozen. Out of those films only Hunchback, Emperor, Frog, and Tangled have Villain Songs.

Hades is definitely a villain of Hercules, constantly trying to keep the son of Zeus from regaining his god status. But the true villain of the film is Hercules’ isolation. He grows up believing he’s a human, where his extreme strength distances him from everyone—dude, he’s like the original Elsa!

hercules alone no one can hurt you

Meg is, too!

When he finds out who he is, that’s when things begin to change and he wants to regain his place among the gods, where he thinks he will belong. The immediate threat to this plan is Hades, so he becomes the physical villain. It’s not until Hercules rescues Meg from the underworld that he truly wins and becomes a hero and realizes he belongs with her and with his friends.

hercules punch hades

You can’t give isolation a song (though Frozen certainly tried, I guess).

Hercules’ need to belong is what is given a song. He gets an I Want song! “Sometimes I feel like I really don’t belong here, like I’m supposed to be someplace else,” he says, just before the song begins. This is the true threat to him. It makes him leave home (“You’re the greatest parents anyone can have, but I gotta know.”) And once he thinks knows where he belongs, he succeeds. He trains and he beats every monster Hades throws at him, trying to fulfill his role as a god. But when Meg gets hurt and is ripped away from him, he knows he belongs with her. That is when he really wins and even attains the status he was looking for.

In Mulan, the physical villain is the army of Huns and their leader. But really, Mulan is about gender roles and what a woman should and shouldn’t do.

mulan reflection

The Huns are always the background threat, driving the plot. Mulan’s storyline is deeper, its villains a society, a way of thinking. Even when Mulan saves the day and is confronted the emperor, she is afraid of his reaction, expecting to be berated for her heroism. I mean, and her destruction of the palace, but details.

mulan fuck you mulan reaction

When Mulan is the sole person that knows the Huns were not defeated, she is scoffed at because she brings the news as a woman. The antagonist of Mulan was never solely the Huns and that is why there is no Villain song.

Tarzan! I love the music in this film so much. I used to play Son of Man on repeat for hours. I loved the growing up montage; it amused me to no end. There’s no Villain Song here since it’s kind of a re-vamp of The Jungle Book. Both films are about boys that grew up away from humanity and are more comfortable with animals. While Mowgli had little interest in man, Tarzan is fascinated with the strangers that look like him.

tarzan man

I’m not sure what I’d call the villain of this film. Kerchak is an obstacle to Tarzan. Clayton is definitely a piece of work and his hunting of the gorillas is horrible. The message is, of course, pro-nature, but I think there’s also something to be said about the notion of home. Once Tarzan learns he’s human and there’s a whole world out there he should be in, he thinks he should leave the jungle. He’s in love, so that also plays a part in his decision. But as Jane finds out, home does not have to be what society expects. Home can be the jungle. I don’t know that I’d call Tarzan a film about finding the strength to be yourself and be open to change, but it certainly plays itself that way.

tarzan and jane swinging

Lilo & Stitch, precious film that it is, is not a musical, though it has some lovely songs in it. So there’s no Villain Song here because of its structure. But if it was a musical, it could easily devote a comedic song to Jumba and Pleakley attempting to catch Stitch. However, as you’re probably tired of hearing, the deeper villain here ties very closely into Tarzan. Stitch finds a home on earth with Lilo. Lilo also aligns very much with Hercules, struggling to figure out where she belongs, feeling isolated from the other girls in her hula class. Nani and Lilo are also grieving for their parents and trying to find a way to relate to each other.

lilo and stich hands

There’s so much more at play beneath the surface of silly alien hunting.

Frozen is erm… we all know Frozen is really about isolation and fear and not loving yourself. I don’t need to spell that out for you. Hence, Hans and his treachery don’t get a song. As Mel eloquently put it to me once, Let it Go is an odd Villain/Empowerment Song.

frozen strugglebus reaction

It speaks to Elsa’s fears and seeks to overcome them, but it really doesn’t since she’s still not in control of her powers. If everything was solved then, we wouldn’t have a movie. Frozen is hard for me to talk about because as I was watching it the first time, I adored it. But the more I think about it, there are things that don’t quite work, didn’t need to be there, etc. Hans is one of them. But the deeper themes of Frozen do not need to be contested and thus, there is no true Villain Song.

Now, onto the films that DO have Villain Songs!


Mel already did an analysis of Hellfire when she wrote about Hunchback and Religion. Let’s switch gears and look at it through the lens of villainy. It’s similar to Gaston, where Frollo sees himself as having done no wrong. Like Ursula did in Poor Unfortunate Souls, he tries to present himself as a saint.

Beata Maria
You know I am a righteous man
Of my virtue I am justly proud

Sorry, Frollo. You are not a righteous dude. And you should not be proud.

peter pan no me gusta reaction

You know I’m so much purer than
The common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd

You’re also not in a place to be insulting people.

Hellfire is Frollo’s confession. He’s torn between his… urges for Esmeralda (I could not say “feelings” because that feels too innocent) and the strict doctrine of his religion. He tries to justify his actions, his burning of Paris to apprehend her. Villains hardly ever see themselves as in the wrong, a case made clear here.

hunchback me or the fire

Frollo has a lot of internal conflict to deal with, perhaps more so than any other Disney villain. His journey is as complex as a hero’s. His beliefs are challenged and instead of shedding his ignorance and hatred, he does not. If Frollo had, he could have easily become the protagonist of this film. Hunchback could have been about a man finding mercy within himself, about seeing how his negative interpretation of religion led to so many horrible crimes. Two roads were set before Frollo in a way no other villain has gotten. Frollo chose wrong.

Like fire
This fire in my skin
This burning
Is turning me to sin
It’s not my fault

Frollo cannot accept blame or responsibility. If he admits he wants Esmeralda, a sinner, then what does that make him? He is no longer a righteous man (he never was, but whatever). So it becomes Esmeralda’s crime. She is the villain. She IS the devil, tempting him.

hunchback frollo witchcraft

Protect me, Maria
Don’t let this siren cast her spell
Don’t let her fire sear my flesh and bone
Destroy Esmeralda
And let her taste the fires of hell
Or else let her be mine and mine alone
Dark fire
Now gypsy, it’s your turn
Choose me or
Your pyre
Be mine or you will burn

Frollo turns to his beliefs for strength. He also turns to them for justification of what he’s about to do.

hunchback hellfire, dark fire

Hellfire is so interesting because it again questions sexism by placing the responsibility on the woman. If a man wants a woman, she has no choice. And if she tempts him, that’s her fault, too. It also represents a deep-rooted inner conflict none of the villains ever had to contend with. Frollo here is clearly torn between what he wants to do. He’s in distress, a quality we’ve never witnessed before. His inner conflict makes him so compelling to watch.

Snuff out the Light

I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you didn’t know The Emperor’s New Groove had a Villain Song in it. That’s because it was deleted and what a mistake! I know why they did—the song is so freakishly amazing and deep it would change the tone of the film. The Emperor’s New Groove is not deep. Snuff out the Light is. I wanted to include this deleted song in the meta because it is wonderful and it’s my meta, so I can.

follow your dreams reactiong

Yzma wants power, like Scar and many villains before her. Unlike most villains, though, Yzma is old, a fact Kuzco can never forget. It seems to diminish her in his eyes. His voiceover when the audience meets her is, “This is Yzma… living proof that dinosaurs once roamed the earth.” Later: “Wow, look at these wrinkles. What is holding this woman together?”
Oh, and here’s the best. When he fires her:

Yzma: But your highness, I have been nothing if not loyal to the empire for many, many years.
Kuzco: Hey everybody hits their stride. You just hit yours fifty years ago.


Kuzco is vain (remember when he had potential wives line up for him?) and Yzma is old and not pretty, so she has to go. Ageism at its finest, folks! Sure, she wasn’t doing a good job, evidenced by her having zero compassion for the peasant that comes to lament about the lack of food, but that is not why she was fired.

With that in mind, lets turn to Snuff out the Light. Listen HERE.

When a woman acquires a certain age
And the men who adored you no longer swoon
It pays to avoid the sunlit days
And live by the light of the kindly moon
But the moon grows old
Just like us all
And her beautiful years are done
So now she prays through endless days
To take her revenge on the sun

This is a song about beauty, the importance of looks, and revenge.

In similar fashion to Villain Songs before, Snuff out the Light provides backstory.

When I was a girl at my daddy’s side
Papa, the royal mortician
Revealed to me in secret signs
The mark of a magician

Yzma’s father was an intelligent man and she learned from him. She prided herself on her knowledge, seeking to one day discover a way to stay young and pretty.

I studied well I learnt the trade
I thought my looks would never fade
If I could find that recipe
To give eternal youth to me

It was always my ambition
To use Papa’s tuition
And gain some small remission
From the vagaries of time

But clearly that has failed her now. She never found it and Kuzco fired her because she reached “a certain age.” She is no longer adored. Like Poor Unfortunate Souls, a woman’s role is again questioned. Is her worth defined by her beauty?

little mermaid the human world is a mess

I’ve really stopped at nothing
Murder, treachery, and lying
Whatever it takes to keep my looks
You really can’t blame a girl for trying

To Yzma, it is. Beauty is everything. I love how Disney always presents these false, negative, and pervasive ideas of womanhood to us in a Villain Song. Ursula thinks it, and as we’ll see, Mother Gothel thinks it. Gaston certainly cares about beauty, it’s the main reason he fixated on Belle (“The most beautiful girl in town! That makes her the best.”). The Evil Queen is obsessed with being the fairest of them all and once a mirror tells her that someone else is the fairest in the land, she flies into a jealous rage.

This song also touches on something I mentioned in Hellfire. Villains don’t see themselves as such. They’re not self-aware. Yzma is very self-aware here. She admits that she’s murdered and lied, so she can’t go back now. She’s in too deep and does not see a way out. That’s such an interesting facet of her character that’s lost by cutting this song.

Friends on the Other Side

This song from The Princess and the Frog reminds me most of Poor Unfortunate Souls. It’s manipulative, meant to coax someone into doing exactly what Dr. Facilier wants.

On you little man, I don’t want to waste much time
You been pushed around all your life
You been pushed around by your mother and your sister and your brother.
And if you was married…
You’d be pushed around by your wife
But in your future, the you I see
Is exactly the man you always wanted to be!

Just like Ariel was putty in Ursula’s hands, Lawrence can’t resist. It’s also interesting to see Lawrence be the one to fall for it since he was staunchly against Naveen going for a reading. Whereas, in The Little Mermaid, Ariel was fully intending to get help from Ursula from the start.

Perhaps one reason The Princess & The Frog isn’t quite as loved is because it feels too safe. We’ve already seen this ploy before. Every previous song has changed the game in some way. Ursula’s was the first, Gaston’s introduced victim-blaming, Jafar’s was a victory song, Scar’s was a plotting song, Ratcliffe’s set up the eventual conflict of the film and featured a cameo by someone considered a hero, Frollo’s was just fucked up, and Yzma’s calls out ageism and those obsessed with beauty. Friends on the Other Side is an intimidation song.

princess and the frog reaction i will end you

Sit down at my table
Put your minds at ease
If you relax it will enable me to do anything I please
I can read your future
I can change it ’round some, too
I’ll look deep into your heart and soul
(you do have a soul, don’t you, Lawrence?)
Make your wildest dreams come true!

I got voodoo
I got hoodoo
I got things I ain’t even tried!
And I got friends on the other side

Massive Ursula vibes, okay! This is basically the male Poor Unfortunate Souls.

And I fortunately know a little magic
It’s a talent that I always have possessed
And here lately, please don’t laugh
I use it on behalf
Of the miserable, lonely, and depressed pathetic

Poor unfortunate souls
In pain, in need
This one longing to be thinner
That one wants to get the girl
And do I help them?
Yes, indeed

Dr. Facilier and Ursula both prattling about their magic? Check.
Dr. Facilier and Ursula both talking up their skills? Check.
Dr. Facilier and Ursula both promising to help? Check.

little mermaid ursula lips

Both villains are trying to coerce someone into doing something. They both follow the same structure and involve a transformation, coincidentally. If you’ve noticed Villain Songs have not followed this pattern. They usually involve the villain alone or with their minions lamenting some crime that has been done to them. As a result, Friends on the Other Side is stale and not as memorable as its predecessors.

Mother Knows Best

Finally we come to the last Villain Song. I’m kinda sad, guys. Lets meta the shit out of it.

This song also has lots in common with Poor Unfortunate Souls. It’s a manipulation and an intimidation song, but it stands apart simply because of who the characters are. We have our first abusive parent relationship here. There’s a history between these characters that hasn’t been seen since Frollo and Quasi (the parent/child relationship except the “parent” totally lied to them their whole lives and is not their real parent).

The manipulation tactic here is different, too. Where Ursula and Dr. Facilier both talked up themselves, Mother Gothel talks down to Rapunzel.

Look at you, as fragile as a flower
Still a little sapling, just a sprout
You know why we stay up in this tower
(I know but)
That’s right, to keep you safe and sound, dear

She makes Rapunzel fear her own supposed inability.

tangled fear

She makes Rapunzel feel vulnerable, like she needs Mother Gothel for her own protection.

Mother’s right here
Mother will protect you

Mother is the source of all your problems—I mean—

She uses her position of authority over Rapunzel. There’s an imbalance in the power dynamic between them. Gothel, as the parent, should be seen as a source of love and protection, and she abuses that. Rapunzel trusts her. And like all parent relationships, sometimes guilt is an easy tactic to use to discourage an action:

Go ahead, get mugged and left for dead
Me, I’m just your mother, what do I know?
I only bathed and changed and nursed you

Go ahead and leave me, I deserve it
Let me die alone here, be my guest
When it’s too late, you’ll see, just wait
Mother knows best

She talks down to Rapunzel and then also uses a guilt trip. I think we know who deserves an award for Mum of the Year.

tangled gothel

Where Pocahontas made a daring move and included John Smith in Ratcliffe’s song, Tangled goes ahead and gives Mother Knows Best a reprise! TWO VILLAIN SONGS PEOPLE. TWO. IT ONLY TOOK 9 MOVIES TO DO IT.

Gothel tries to use the same tactics here:

This is why you never should have left
Dear, this whole romance that you’ve invented
Just proves you’re too naive to be here

Again she tries to make Rapunzel doubt herself and talks down to her. But when Rapunzel recoils, she drops the charade.

Oh, I see;
Rapunzel knows best,
Rapunzel’s so mature now,
Such a clever grown-up miss

If we saw her as patronizing before, man, that’s nothing on how she acts now. Her demeanor is haughty, and she’s done talking sweet. She pats her on the head like a pet, spins her around harshly, snaps at her, invades her personal space. The mothering pretense is gone, and now Mother Gothel is just angry that she’s lost control of Rapunzel.

If he’s lying
Don’t come crying
Mother knows best…

Deep down, Gothel is not a mother. She’s not equipped to raise a child, shown here when Rapunzel takes her first steps into independence. Like Gaston, she sees Rapunzel as on object she can possess.

mine reaction


Over the last two posts we’ve looked at a myriad of films. I loved looking at each song and seeing how the Villain Song grew and changed. Even the nature of villains, really, evolved with every film. There were lots of similarities between them, common elements that Disney holds onto, which is why these songs have become classics.

What’s your favorite Disney villain? Do you have a favorite Villain Song? What do you think about villains being people vs ideas? Do you think one is stronger than the other?

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People of Color in Animation


Today we’re going to talk about people of color (POC) in animation. POC, for our purposes, refers to anyone who is not white.

Here is a compilation of POC characters in animation:

  • Pocahontas [Native American] [Disney]
  • Esmeralda [race not identified] [Disney]
  • Tiana [African American—but not officially identified] [Disney]
  • Little Creek [Native American] [Dreamworks]
  • Chel [a native of Central or South America] [Dreamworks]
  • Lucius/Frozone [presumably African American] [Pixar/Disney]
  • Lilo [Hawaiian] [Disney]
  • Aladdin [Arab] [Disney]
  • Mulan [Asian] [Disney]
  • Kuzco [Incan Empire/Native South American—modern day Peru] [Disney]
  • Tiger Lily [Native American] [Disney]
  • Mowgli [Indian] [Disney]
  • The Prince of Egypt [Dreamworks]

(Note: I’ve included Native Americans and Hispanics in the list because Native Americans are currently a miniscule population due to atrocities committed during the forming of this nation and Hispanics currently face great hardships like immigration laws. I’m also including Lilo because “Hawaiian/Pacific Islander” has its own box on job applications/standardized tests/etc. Also, if I didn’t, there’d be, like, no one on this list.)

(Other note: I’ve not seen Dreamworks’ The Prince of Egypt, so I don’t feel confident talking about it.)

This discussion has been building for a very long time. Disney has faced criticism for their all white casts and the usual defense has been, well, these stories take place in Europe back in the day, so everyone was white.

Yeah, no.

I’m here to burst your bubble because: you can see people of color represented in Medieval European art and considering the Iberian peninsula was conquered by Muslims in the 700s, I’d say Europeans were no stranger to people of color. Marco Polo traveled to Asia in the 1200s. And if you still doubt, my Tudor era professor confirmed that England, namely London, was already a mixed metropolis in the 1500 and 1600s.

To curb this backlash, Disney released The Princess and the Frog. I enjoy this film and the return to 2D, and I love the humor. However, this offering was meant to halt the criticism, but it only spurned more. Our first black princess and she’s a FROG for 70% of the film?

reaction do you feel the judgement

I don’t know if any other animation house has faced as much backlash as Disney. Presumably they are the target because they are the most successful and influential. However, it appears Disney may have the best track record compared to some of the other houses—though there is room for drastic improvement. Tallied from the above list, Disney has 10 characters of color. That’s a minuscule number compared to their collection of 50+ films, but when Disney does utilize diversity, they do so richly and create compelling stories (mostly, we’ll see exceptions below).

In addition to mounting movement in the animation world, this meta was also brought on by the senseless shootings of unarmed black adults and children at the hands of police officers.

From 2006 to 2012 a white police officer killed a black person at least twice a week in this country. [x]

I am saddened and angered by what’s been happening around us. This meta was always coming, so lets get to it.

The most shocking thing I noted was every story featuring a person a color is extremely dated.

  • Pocahontas = Age of Exploration (specifically 1607)
  • Esmeralda = Hugo’s novel was published in the 1800s, though the book is set in the 1400s
  • Tiana = 1912
  • Aladdin = unspecified, but based on the very old One Thousand and One Nights (though the genie loves his pop culture references)
  • Mulan = I really don’t know because the Huns were burning shit since the dawn of time, but Mulan first appeared in poems between the 300s and 600s
  • Kuzco = 16th century
  • Little Creek = Around the time railroads were being built, so 1800s
  • Chel = Age of Exploration (Spanish conquistadors—1519)
  • Lucius/Frozone = CONTEMPORARY (FINALLY)
  • Mowgli = date unknown
  • Tiger Lily = exists in a world where time does not pass, but The Darlings’ interaction with Pan happens in the 1900s

The majority of stories being told here are set in very vivid time periods, as if the only story worth telling of people of color are their trials and tribulations in history, which are clearly over now because we live in a post-racial, globalized world. We know this is untrue. There may not be Jim Crow laws or homelands being overrun by industrialization, but there is still plenty of injustice.

Many Disney films give off old timey feels, but none are really held back by their time period. Beauty and the Beast has no identifying marker of what year it is, nor does the very recent Frozen, or Lady and Tramp, or Cinderella (in my opinion). But when you throw in the Age of Exploration, that dates your film. That sets the story firmly in one universe.

Next, lets look at who the protagonists of these films are:

  • Pocahontas, check
  • Tiana, check
  • Lilo, check
  • Mulan, check
  • Aladdin, check
  • Kuzco, check
  • Mowgli, grey area, but check
  • Tiger Lily, no
  • Esmeralda, no
  • Little Creek, no
  • Chel, no
  • Lucius/Frozone, no

Pocahontas owns her story and while Tiana is a frog for most of it, she does not cease being black (literally, she’s green, fine, but her character does not change). Kuzco is the male Tiana (or a prototype of Naveen, since those two are more similar) where he’s stuck as a llama for the majority of the movie.

emperor's new groove llama face copy

Lilo and her sister Nani are too wonderful for words (best sisters ever–sorry Anna and Elsa) and make me sob, sob, sob.

lilo and stitch sad copy

Aladdin is populated with other people of the same race. And Mulan just needs no introduction.

mulan tea

The fact is, only seven cases can be made for an animated movie led by a person of color. Maybe even four if you don’t want to include The Princess and the Frog, Emperor’s New Groove, or The Jungle Book.

Esmeralda plays an integral role in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, for sure, but it’s not her story. Ultimately it is about Quasi learning how to love himself and be confident. Little Creek, likewise, is super important in Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, but it’s not his story, either. The film is about Spirit making his way home and becoming a leader. If you catch my drift here, Chel’s role in The Road to El Dorado is one of a love interest and ally to the two main characters. Lucius/Frozone is a wonderful friend and sidekick, but he’s absent for the entire middle portion of The Incredibles.

They are players, but not major players.

Pocahontas, Lilo, Tiana, Aladdin, Kuzco and Mulan: Taking Names and Kicking Butt

pocahontas indignant lookliloprincess and the frog tianaaladdin copyemperor's new groove dancingmulan


Disney gave us six POC leads. Each of them are strong, flawed heroes. We have a very diverse list of races/cultures/ethnicities here: Native American, African American, Hawaiian, and Arabic. In addition, we also have supporting characters to reflect this, too.

It’s clear when Disney sets a story within a particular framework, they usually go all the way to actualize the worlds.

In Pocahontas we see the Powhatan tribe farming the land and praying to spirits for guidance. Healing practices, transportation, customs and homes are all shown to us. Their way of life contrasts with the settlers so starkly. Pocahontas teaches John Smith many things, most importantly that land is not something to own. But she also teaches him about her culture, such as how their tribe says hello and goodbye.

Lilo and Stitch takes us to Hawaii, where we have Lilo, Nani, and David and wonderful world building. The perception is that contemporary stories are easier since there is no fantasy world or past to explain, but that’s not true. Contemporary stories require just as much work to get right and Disney was not afraid of the challenge.

lilo and stitch 2

In addition to our sisters and a couple aliens, we have the social worker, Cobra Bubbles. He is darker skinned than the others and clearly holds a higher position of power (I point this out because of the power structure in Frog). Surfing and hula are all integral to creating Lilo, Nani, and David’s pastimes. David and Nani work at a resort and tourism has the biggest influence on the GDP of Hawaii. I’m sure this movie taught everyone the meaning of Ohana and several other Hawaiian words. Nani also sings a song in Hawaiian when she’s forced to say goodbye to Lilo.

lilo and stich hands

The flowers they send into the wind are also the same flowers shown on leis throughout the film.

Next we move onto The Princess and the Frog, which may have the weakest world building of them all. This is not a surprise if Tiana’s skin was colored just to appease outcries. Mardi Gras really grounds the city as New Orleans and jazz and gumbo tie us back to the African American culture. But that’s really all that can be said, sadly.

princess and the frog exhausted

As for supporting characters, Dr. Facilier is clearly not white and Mama Odie, Tiana’s mom (and dearly departed dad), and Prince Naveen are all dark skinned.

princess and the frog reaction  basic bitch

This is offset by the white characters like Charlotte, her father, and Naveen’s evil minion, Lawrence. We are presented with a diverse New Orleans, brimming with French influence and lively jazz. Frog presents us with the uncomfortable image of an all white power structure: Charlotte’s dad being rich, the two men Tiana wants to buy the restaurant from being white, and Tiana’s mother working as a seamstress. As mentioned above, this is not the case in Lilo and Stitch, a film made before Frog. However, Frog is set about hundred years before Lilo, so that could be one argument in favor of the movie.

Then, we have Aladdin. We open on a desert, which right away sets the story. The marketplace, the sand, the palace, they all present a clear picture. The strength in Aladdin’s world building really comes from visuals: clothes, places, animals. There’s nothing that the characters do that really identify them, besides, to say it again, their clothes. The custom of a princess needing to marry does not differentiate it from other princess films. The art of the movie is really what saves it.

Mulan trumps all in terms of world building.

mulan reflection

The fact that Mulan is Chinese is very important to her story. Mulan, like Pocahontas, is a historical figure so it is not shocking her race matters to the story. Chinese culture is presented to us everywhere: praying to the ancestors, the matchmaker, the clothes, the writing. Gender roles, especially, and honor thy father all influence Mulan’s arc and the story Disney is telling. Mulan and Gender Roles is its own meta, but Disney consciously created a Chinese character and set her in her world, effectively showing us a new culture and race.

Finally, there’s Kuzco. While Aladdin sets us up visually and The Princess and the Frog is relatively weak, but still a decent effort, Kuzco isn’t anything special. Yes, he’s a native South American, but the only cultural addition to the film are llamas. Of course, there’s jungles and nature and the contrast between poorer homes on the hilltops vs Kuzco’s palace. Besides the llamas, though, this film could be set anywhere and it wouldn’t matter. Props to Disney for reimagining Mr. Andersen’s Danish fairy tale in this way, but the world isn’t strong enough.

I haven’t spoken much on The Jungle Book. Mowgli is Indian, but besides his name and the names of all the animals around him, that’s not very obvious. He certainly does not have an Indian accent, nor does he even possess any understanding of the concept of “Indian.” The girl in the village wearing the tilak (or bindi) at the end of the film is the only real connection we have to this culture.

Esmeralda, Little Creek, Chel, Lucius: Lets Be Honest, Taking Names and Kicking Butt, Too

hunchback seeing him spirit little creekel dorado chel idiots face incredibles frozone

Esmeralda is the leading female of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. She is one of my all-time favorite characters. She’s idealistic, loyal, brave, kind. As a gypsy, she’s hunted by Frollo and made to feel unworthy.

I don’t know if you would listen to a gypsy’s prayer… Yes, I know I’m just an outcast, I shouldn’t speak to you…
–God Help the Outcasts

She represents discrimination and persecution. She’s hunted for being a gypsy, for being a woman, and for being a person of color. But she’s prepared to become a martyr, to die for what she believes in.

She’s Quasi’s first example of a decent human being and becomes his first human friend (gargoyles, anyone?). She helps bring him out of his shell and quell his fears about being feared. She would know, too, since she’s used to mothers frequently telling their children not to go near her (see: the beginning of the film).

Esmeralda is another example of a Disney woman saving her man, but her and Phoebus may also be the first interracial couple (and they make me swoon)!

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a very brave film. It doesn’t shy away from personal issues like religion and hate and sexual undertones. But it also tackles race and bias and unfair persecution. Esmeralda is an amazing character, she’s strong in the best sense of the word and brings amazing representation to the Disney animated universe.

I’ve been talking about Disney a lot, so lets turn to Dreamworks.

Little Creek is my baby. He’s a Lakota Native American and we first meet him when Spirit is captured by US soldiers. Little Creek was caught trying to free the cavalry’s horses and as the film shows us, Little Creek and his tribe care very much about horses. They don’t want to see them saddled, branded, or whipped. When he and Spirit escape, Spirit is brought back to Little Creek’s tribe and nourished back to health after The Colonel tried to starve him that way he would become milder and easier to tame (spoiler alert: not happening).

Little Creek becomes the most important human Spirit meets. He is the embodiment of kindness and they become good friends. He is the opposite of the regiment’s men, the ones who want to destroy the land and nature and build roads and railways. He wants to train Spirit, but he also is in awe of his power and respects him.

spirit 5

who wouldn’t be in awe of Spirit? look at that pretty horsie

Little Creek’s version of training is of course very different from the soldiers, but when Spirit still resists, he lets go. He does not try to wield power over Spirit. And when Spirit sees that, that is when he lets Little Creek ride him.

spirit 3spirit who could not be broken

In the Road to El Dorado, we meet Chel. She is not a Disney princess, but like most of them she has dreams of going on adventure and discovering something new. In fact, the first time we see her she’s running away from home with some gold she stole.

el dorado chel copy

She’s native to El Dorado, the city of gold, somewhere in Central or South America. Where The Emperor’s New Groove failed, El Dorado excels. El Dorado is a fully real, actualized city. There is an opposing ruling force and tension within the community (the chief vs the high priest), distinct artwork and games that are played. Visually, also, the movie stuns, creating a rich world to contrast with Spain.

Chel’s role is fairly straightforward. If this was Disney, she’d have an “I Want” song and a love song with Tulio. She doesn’t have either of those here, though they are important aspects of her character. As the story goes on, we see her helping Miguel and Tulio pass off their con about being gods. She is vital to their success, filling them in on customs and traditions and getting them out of sticky situations.

el dorado chel idiots face

Chel’s face every time the idiot boys don’t listen to her

And when the chance to leave El Dorado and travel with them to Spain is presented, of course she’s ready to go for it.

el dorado end

Lucius/Frozone is a wonderful bestie in The Incredibles. His scene at the end of the film–

incredibles wheres my super suit

–is one of everyone’s favorites. His wife is never seen, but even she’s legendary (I am the greatest good you are ever gonna get). There’s nothing about him to emphasize his race, but it doesn’t matter because that’s how life is. Your friends are your friends. We know all kinds of different people.

Also, the list of black superheroes is slim. Frozone does have a small role, but he is a splash of diversity in an otherwise all white film.

Do I think this is suitable? Of course not. More can and should be done to bring diverse characters into the mainstream animation houses. As we’ve seen with Mulan and Aladdin and Lilo and Stitch, amazing movies happen!

But, I wanted to highlight the fact that Disney, who largely faces the most criticism for their all white stories, have brought us people of color in their films. They’ve given us the biggest majority of POCs as protagonists, too.

I left out the film Brother Bear by Disney because there’s not much to add–it follows the standard interpretation of Native Americans we’ve seen in Pocahontas and Spirit, plus POC being an animal for most of the film.

brother bear new in town copy

I also left out Ice Age by 20th Century because 1, I forgot about the nomadic tribe, and 2, because they are a tiny facet of the film. But by the nature of the film, it dates itself back millions of years, which ties into a point made above. Also not mentioned are The Croods, which follows the same logic for Ice Age. The Book of Life, I have yet to see, but it seems Hispanic culture plays a bigger role there than Emperor. Big Hero 6 features an Asian protagonist, but I’ve not yet seen it yet, either.

People of color have stories to tell! Historical OR contemporary, their lives matter. Their lives in reality and their lives in art and animation.

If you take anything away from this post I hope it is either:

  • Disney has given us the most diversity of any animation house
  • But: we should still be critical of Disney and encourage more diversity among all animators
  • The majority of stories about POCs focus on historical aspects, which is great, but there needs to be more of a balance between past and present

Leave your thoughts and opinions below! How do you feel about diversity in animation?