When discussing the latest Disney Pixar film ‘Inside Out’, famed film Mark Kermode stated that whilst he thoroughly enjoyed the movie, he did have a single criticism. The character of Sadness, played by Phyllis Smith, was the only emotion presented as ‘overweight’. This association of societally deemed “ugliness”, and in this case, undesirable weight, has unfortunately become synonymous with Disney. From the 1950 ‘Cinderella’, with the ugly stepsisters, and evil stepmother, good looks have become intrinsically entwined with beauty, and ugliness with evil. Of course, the few exception to the self-established rule that Disney tries to make (see ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’) still seem to slip back to the studios original message. Maybe, at some point in the future, this association of outward appearance being synonymous with actions will cease. Alas, for now, we all must try and remember not to judge a DVD by its cover.
As mentioned, the first Disney Princess film is not at all subtle about its message. If you’re a good, beautiful person, like Cinderella, you don’t have to make any effort to leave your current situation. You simply have to wait for your Fairy Godmother to show up, and she will ensure your happily ever after. This is again, carried on in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’. “Aha!” I hear your say. “But the Evil Queen in ‘Snow White’ is beautiful. In fact, all she cares about are looks. So Disney is not, in fact, telling us that ugliness is evil.” Certainly, for the majority of the film, the Evil Queen is beautiful. However, in order to give Snow White the poisoned apple, and therefore perform the most ‘evil’ act in the film, the Evil Queen becomes an ugly old woman. In terms of the film’s plot, the Queen’s transformation into an ‘ugly’ individual was unnecessary- she just needed to not appear as the Queen. I could give further examples; Scar, from ‘The Lion King’, Ursula, ‘The Little Mermaid’, Jafar, “Aladdin’. More modern cases include ‘Tangled’s’ Mother Gothel (her whole character is literally to avoid ugliness). This may allow the younger audience to have a better understanding movie (we don’t have to pay attention to the plot- just remember that the beautiful ones are good, and the ugly ones are bad). Not only is this condescending to an audience who are (thankfully) finally being given the complicated plotlines they deserve, but also provides them with terrible building blocks for… well, the rest of their life.
Even in films that seem to carry the message ‘looks don’t matter’, this is still the case. In ‘Beauty and the Beast’, after the Beast, Adam, turns human again, guess what? He’s ravishingly handsome. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, the poster movie for ‘Your appearance doesn’t matter!’ doesn’t follow through. Quasimodo, our disfigured protagonist, saves the day, gets rid of his abuser, and…. Doesn’t get the girl he falls in love with. Instead, she ends up with the ruggedly handsome captain who…. Refuses his orders to murder people? Truly a heroic man.
Thankfully, things seem to be changing. The villain of the, now slightly annoying, and ridiculously popular film, ‘Frozen’, is Prince Hans (Spoilers! But no, seriously how have you not seen this film yet), and, at some points, Queen Elsa herself. Also the Duke of Weaselton, but rather than being grotesquely ugly, he’s just old. Furthermore, despite Marvel not being part of the form of Disney movies I’m currently discussing, it is worth pointing out that two of the franchise’ villains have been declared the official teen crushes of many (Google image search Loki and Bucky Barnes for more details. You will enjoy it, I promise). Hopefully, this trend of attractive villains will continue, until our children recognise that it truly does not matter whether someone is ugly, or beautiful. Anyone could be a super villain.