Category Archives: the jungle book

That’s What Friends Are For: Disney’s Abundance of Animal Friendships


Last week Mel talked about a really important issue: the lack of female friendships in princess movies. As I was figuring out how to possibly match her level of awesomeness, I realized something. Princess films were lacking in friendships, but Animal movies weren’t!

Lady and the Tramp
Lady has two friends, Jock and Trusty, whom she consults with when Mrs. Darling gets pregnant and who come to comfort her after her escapade with Tramp. They look out for her, getting protective since they dislike Tramp, but realize he’s a decent enough dog and hatch a plan to save him. They also build Lady up, complimenting her collar and just being good friends to her.

lady and the tramp pushing jockTramps’ like, “Eww, friends.”

101 Dalmatians
We don’t really see Pongo and Perdita interacting with other dogs too much, but there is the impression that all dogs look out for each other when Pongo sends out his distress call and all the dogs pass it along. They meet with the Great Dane, who tells them where their puppies are and takes them some of the way, being super helpful and just really kind. Like, all law enforcement people should measure themselves against this animated dog. They meet up with a horse, cat, and dog that help them escape, just showing everyone in the animal world looks out for each other. While Pongo and Perdita don’t have ‘friends’ (though they do have Roger and Anita), they interact with a bunch of animals in a friendly manner.

The Jungle Book
Mowgli is friends with Baloo and Bagheera, the vultures (they even had a song about it!), and an adorable baby elephant. Jungle Book is an interesting example since it is one of the few Disney films without a love story (until that moment at the very end), so as a result, there’s all kinds of friendships and relationships to explore in order to carry the film.

jungle book mowgli baloo hugMowgli’s like, “I like friends!”

The Aristocats
Like 101 Dalmatians, these cats aren’t really interacting with other animals since they’re a tight family unit and are on a mission. However, also like 101, there’s an impression all cats look out for each other, as seen in Everybody Wants to Be a Cat.

Robin Hood
Robin Hood and Little John are famous, so of course their bond had to be a part of the film. And this song will get in your head and never leave. Sorry not sorry.

The Fox & The Hound
Um, the movie full of feels that we all avoid unless we seriously can’t help it. This one also has a song about friendship because the relationship between Todd and Copper is the heart of the story. Seriously. I’m gonna cry just thinking about it.

Oliver & Company
Oliver’s first friends are the company of Fagin’s gang, but he also befriends Jenny and even wins over her snobbish poodle, Georgette.

oliver and dodger sleep

The Lion King
Before Simba meets Timon and Pumba, he’s friends with Nala—who, yes, he falls madly in love with—and they had epic elephant graveyard adventures together. It’s Nala, his bestie for life, who helps convince him to go back to the Pride Lands and fight Scar.

lion king cutieslion hakuna matata 2 copy

Like Jungle Book, Tarzan was friends with Terk and Tantor. There were also lots of shots of baby gorillas playing together because apparently everyone has friends except princesses.

Brother Bear
This movie hinges on the friendship/brotherhood of Kenai and Koda, similar to The Fox and the Hound.

I’ve blocked Bambi and Dumbo from my mind, but I know Dumbo had a mouse and Bambi had Thumper and Flower.

What gives, Disney? Why do animals have friends but not princesses?????

I mean, it is great we have great examples of friendship in animal focused films and I’m not saying animals shouldn’t have friends. But do we accept this because we think of animals as living in a herd and being surrounded by their own kind? And do we not think of girls as having female friends because girls are pitted against each other and constantly overcoming internalized misogyny everyday?

Animal films also tend to have friendships featuring animals that are enemies in the wild: Simba, Timon and Pumba; Dumbo and his mouse; and Todd and Copper. The message here has to be that we can all get along and shouldn’t be put off by our differences. It’s great to see this message being sent subtly through animal friendships but it is time to be overt! Girls are regularly pitted against each other and taught to see other girls as competitors. Seeing great friendships that they can emulate is important.

Disney can clearly do an amazing job at showing positive friendships, as evidenced above and the few princess friendships we’ve seen, so why won’t they do it in more of their princess/female character driven films?

What do you think?

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Talking Animals, Class, and Rank


Disney made a slew of animal centered films between the Pre-Renaissance Princesses Era and the Renaissance Era. All these movies, surprisingly, tackle similar issues of greed and class. Let’s take a closer look at these films and see what it has to say on the topic, how it says it, and why Disney chose animals as its messengers.

I was a little surprised to notice a whole crop of animal films all made relatively right after each other. Here’s a list:

  • Lady and the Tramp—1955
  • (Sleeping Beauty—1959)
  • 101 Dalmatians—1961
  • (The Sword in the Stone—1963)
  • The Jungle Book—1967
  • The Aristocats—1970
  • Robin Hood—1973
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh—1977
  • The Rescuers—1977
  • The Fox and the Hound—1981

Look at that! 30 years of animal centered tales with one only two human stories. With the exception of some of the latter films—Winnie the Pooh and The Fox and the Hound—all those films have subtle or overt themes of wealth and rank.

Lady and the Tramp
Even the title is laced with that theme of class. While ‘tramp’ is not a title, ‘lady’ certainly is. However, the word ‘tramp’ carries enough weight that you know something negative is being expressed.

It’s the story of two dogs from differing class status. It’s amazing how even the design of the dogs shows this. Lady’s droopy ears appears more like curly hair than fur. She has a shine to her, while Tramp has grey fur and the hair around his mouth looks a little scraggly. Lady also has a fancy collar, almost like jewelry. The design of these dogs effortlessly conveys that there is a difference between them.

lady and the tramp 2 Those could totally be pig tails 😉

lady and the tramp relaxing Lady actually sparkles in comparison to him.

Setting wise, Lady’s home is huge. I think it has a Victorian mansion feel, but I’m not an architecture buff. Compare that lavish setting to Tramp’s rail yard:

lady and the tramp house vs lady and the tramp rail yard

A note about the animation, look at even the difference in the brightness of the colors.

Lady has free reign of the house: from a puppy she climbed upstairs and settled herself right on that big comfy bed.

lady and the tramp bby on bed cute

Tramp, on the total flip side, sleeps outside, near the trains. His morning routine is shown in contrast to Lady’s. While she runs outside and gets the paper (and chases birds, how idyllic), only to be rewarded by Jim Dear with coffee and a donut, Tramp has to bath himself where he can and beg for food.

lady and the tramp lady's comfy bedlady and the tramp tramp's log home

lady and the tramp morning 1lady and the tramp morning 1.2

She has love and he’s alone and excuse me while I:

it hurts so much reaction

Later, when Tramp wanders into Lady’s posh neighborhood, he calls it, “Snob hill.” That’s one of the biggest details that always sticks out to me. Not only are they of different ranks, but there is conflict between them. There is dislike, maybe jealousy, probably gross assumptions on both sides. Tramp finds the fences around trees absurd and expects there to be a lid on every trash can. He refers to them as “the leash and collar set” and assumes they’re total bores.

lady and the tramp fence on every tree Look at the fences 😉 Tramp disapproves.

Lady’s friends Trusty and Jock definitely have prejudices against Tramp simply because he doesn’t come from a well off family like them. Jock calls him a “mongrel,” partly because he doesn’t like Tramp scaring Lady, but also just out of initial dislike. Their parting words, though, have to be the best.

“The name’s Jock.”
“Okay, Jock.”
“Heather Lad O’ Glencairn to you!”

lady and the tramp angry jock

Like Jock has an actual title and Tramp is so beneath him!

But let’s move onto the actual relationship that develops between Lady and Tramp. The love to end all loves! Not really. Kinda. Anyway!

“What are you doing on this side of the tracks?” If any (all) of you were like, “Mic, you’re taking this way too seriously,” Tramp actually admits there is a class difference. SO HA!

victory screech reaction

Besides Jock, Trusty, and Lady, there are two other characters that symbolize the upper class: the Siamese Cats. I don’t want to say too much about them because they are a pretty racist interpretation, but they do relate in terms of class.The Siamese Cats are our example of the upper class that live up to Tramp’s assumptions. Lady is the heroine, we root for her. She’s good and kind and we watch her learn about babies and step out of her comfort zone. She’s the one mistreated by Aunt Sarah. Lady is not the definition of “Snob Hill.”

lady and the tramp status

She definitely cares about her appearance and the fact that she has a collar values a lot to her. But she’s not shallow; there’s more to her.

lady and the tramp morning birdslady and the tramp newspaper morning

She’s open to Tramp’s pessimistic view of babies when she first meets him, she accepts his help getting the muzzle off, and she falls in love with him. So we need characters that uphold Tramp’s worldview and thus we have the Siamese Cats.

The differences between classes are also seen outside Lady and Tramp’s relationship. One of the biggest threats is being caught by the dog snatcher and sent to the pound. Who is at risk for being sent to jail? Unlicensed dogs, aka lower class dogs. We can easily relate this to being homeless or living in poverty since any “money” one had would go to securing food and shelter, not buying a collar.

lady and the tramp hiding from snatcher

“The pressure’s really on, signs all over town.” Tramp’s words imply that this has been building for awhile and now things have really gotten out of control. The order also comes from City Council, which is similar to situations we’ve seen all over history. The government mistreating poorer classes instead of finding ways to help them. Yes, I am seriously seeing a movie about adorable dogs as having immense symbolism. Just go with it. Tramp also does not reach “Snob Hill” until he runs from the dog snatcher. The dog snatcher was not putting up signs in the wealthy area of town.

When Lady is caught without a collar, we finally see the situation at the pound. It turns out to be a kill shelter (which, oh my gosh, dark much, Disney?), but that also tells us how different classes are treated. Lady receives special treatment—the dog snatcher takes pity on her because she doesn’t appear like a street dog. He finds her owner right away. The other dogs are not so lucky and even appear to be wearing jail suits.

lady and the tramp jail

After Tramp gets sent to the pound by Aunt Sarah, the dog snatcher says they’d been looking for “this one” for months, which confirms what I said above about it seeming like unleashed dogs were being targeted for awhile now. The fact that Aunt Sarah, the dog snatcher, Jock, and the Darlings immediately assume Tramp was attacking a baby, that there was no other explanation, further proves how the upper class looks down on the lower class.

lady and the tramp evil rat EVIL RAT! RUN!

But when Jock finds out the truth, he is ashamed and says, “I misjudged him… badly.” He’s not just talking about assuming the worst of Tramp in this moment. He’s referring to the first meeting and everything after.

There’s also meaning in having Tramp referred to as “this one.” Tony gave Tramp a name–Butch–because he values Tramp. But the dog snatcher does not. I believe he calls Lady “pretty” when she’s in the pound, proving his bias against wealthy vs poor. The names we choose to call people (dogs, whatever) says a lot about a person.

But by the end, Tramp and Lady are together and happy with a litter of puppies. Tramp gets a collar, joining Lady’s class. I found it interesting that many early novels followed this idea of a courtship plot, that eventually ended in marriage and some social mobility (one person entering another class through marriage). That is essentially what happens here.

lady and the tramp end family 1

Tramp and Lady fall in love, get together, and Tramp moves into a new class. He’s accepted by Lady’s family and Jock and Trusty. He’s no longer under threat from the dog snatcher.

lady and the tramp end collar

Lady and the Tramp is a really interesting film since it delves into these issues. There’s prejudice and class differences and puppy love. Was that a pun? I don’t know.

that's not funny reaction Tough crowd.

Class/Wealth in Other Films
My original plan was to talk about how each movie displayed class/rank/greed. Maybe I’ll come back to it at another point and go more in depth for certain movies. But I think just by looking at them, you can see for yourself.

101 Dalmatians is more about greed than class. Cruella lets her desire for a fur coat get the better of her, stealing puppies to get what she wanted. Maybe there’s something to say about class, since she despises Roger and makes fun of his music while thinking herself so refined.

The Jungle Book is all about class/rank since we have man vs animal and also hierarchy in the jungle. The animals fear Shere Khan. I’m not actually sure where King Louie stands in relation to everyone—it’s been awhile, I need to watch the movie again. The animals are initially reluctant to accept Mowgli because he’s human; they don’t trust him. Purely because of his class (or species… whatever).

The Aristocats is also about greed, especially because of the evil butler dude that wants to inherit money he doesn’t even deserve. BUT, look at that title! It’s a direct pun on aristocrats, which, um, is a term used in relation to class and wealth. Even the name Duchess, as our mommy cat is called, relates to class. It’s an interesting parallel to Lady, who is also named a title while Tramp and Thomas O’Malley the Alley Cat are just names that convey something about the character. Subtle, you are not, Disney.

Robin Hood might as well have my theme tattooed on its forehead. It’s all about someone stealing from the rich to feed the poor. CLASS, CLASS, CLASS. No explanations needed. I do wonder why Disney chose to adapt this story by using animals, though. Was it just to continue with their theme of animal movies?

So Winnie the Pooh totally has nothing to do with the theme (as far as I know?), but I included it because it was an animal film.

The Rescuers I’m fuzzy on, but I remember Madame Medusa trying to steal diamonds or something.

The Fox and The Hound is another animal movie and I think this is where Disney kinda strayed away from the class theme. Winnie the Pooh didn’t have those themes present, The Rescuers did, but wasn’t as steeped in it, though it was also an animal film. Fox and the Hound definitely had undertones of discrimination based on species (class, if you REALLY want to try to make an argument for it), but wasn’t really about rank and wealth. And alas, the talking animal movie trend was put to rest.

I think it’s really interesting this trend developed. Did Disney find it easier to explore these themes using animals as stand ins for humans? Can animals get away with more than humans? Was Disney able to discuss these themes in more subtle ways by going this route?

Can you see themes of class/wealth in these movies? What do you think? Do you have a favorite film of the Talking Animals Era?

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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?