When Disney finally began a success-streak with their feature animations, they mainly worked within the confines of the fairytale genre. These films focused on being pretty, feminine, and appealing to the young girl; filling her head with delusional ideals about love, life, and independence. Dreamworks and Pixar noticed a vacancy in feature animation for young boys and sought to subvert the idea that animation was girly by introducing vulgarity, masculinity, and satire. The new, computer technology, and the men working behind them, gave rise to feature animation stories centered around considerably more masculine icons, like the ogre and the car, rather than the basic prince and princess.
After a long string of failures and the ultimate successes of the Little Mermaid (1989) and Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney’s feature animation became synonymous with the romantic, musical fairytale. This genre created a tradition of lovely pastel colors, serene pastoral settings, jubilant musical numbers, and slightly stylized human protagonists. As Kemper mentions in Toy Story: A Critical Reading, Disney feature animation is largely influenced by the fine arts traditions of mimetic and idealized figurations and using colors found in the natural world.
Beauty and the Beast begins with a two-dimensional, storybook animation sequence providing context for the fairytale. Rhythmic, orchestral music swells in the background of a voiceover narration detailing the spoiled prince’s circumstances. The use of stained-glass window images and gothic castle architecture transport the viewer into a much older, European-inspired time. In terms of color, there is a wide variety, forming an appealing array from shot to shot. The complementary palate is soft and muted. The movement within the shots is relatively stagnant and simplistic, relying on slow pans, zooms, and melodic character movements.
There is a clear moral at the forefront of the story; beauty is found within. Thematically, there is emphasis on love and the importance of finding your equal partner; reinforcing the fallacy that “true love” can heal any ailment. Despite Beauty and the Beast’s Academy Award Nomination, in a modern-day context, it is dismissed from a quality association. That is due largely to the rising popularity of Dreamworks’ and Pixar’s computer, three-dimensional animation.
Shrek begins with a two-dimensional, storybook animation in the same vein as Beauty and the Beast. A similar orchestral track swells behind a narration detailing a similar tale to that of the Prince’s; Fiona is cursed with an enchantment that can also be broken with true love’s kiss. The music abruptly cuts as Shrek’s green, nubby fingers tear a page from the book to use as toilet paper. Saying of the story, “what a load of *toilet flushes*” (implying a more explicit term) and a different type of music blasts; the angsty and recognizable “Allstar” begins playing as the ogre emerges from his shed. The colors are also based in nature tones, but they are more abrasive. Green and brown cover the screen in the form of mud, grass, bugs, and Shrek himself. The audience is treated to rather distasteful sequence of Shrek’s morning routine. He showers in mud, brushes his teeth with bug goo, breaks a mirror by looking in the reflection, and releases a literally deadly fart in the pond. It’s rather vulgar as slimy creatures and insects, unappetizing textures, and grossly-associated colors make up the composition. Shrek is fat, ugly, and disgusting. When the villagers try to capture him, he terrifies them and picks up a sign reading, “wanted: fairytale creatures” literally telling audiences that Shrek is the antithesis of the signature, Disney fairytale. We see the seven dwarfs in chains and a witch, the three little bears, three little pigs, and Pinocchio facing imminent incarceration. The self-reflexive quality doesn’t create a format vastly different from the Disney fairytale, but, instead, employs it to divert expectations in a satirical fashion.
Cars starts with a more consumerist approach. Opening on what I refer to as automobile porn, Cars highlights the sharp edges, alluring curves, and hypnotic shine of the modern race car. Until the audience actually sees Lightening McQueen’s animated face and the rest of the Cars universe, the film can pass for live-action montage of a race car. Like Beauty and the Beast and Shrek, Cars is accompanied by a voiceover, but one of a different kind; the intentionally named Bob Cutlass (a cutlass is a 1999 sedan and Bob Costas is a famous sports commentator) and Darrel Cartrip (Car trip is self-explanatory, and Darrel Waltrip was a legendary racecar driver) provide sports commentary for the Piston Cup. The editing and pacing style is immediately recognizable as it convincingly echoes that of actual car racing broadcasts. The viewer is practically slammed in the face with cultural references; The racecars are all covered in branding stickers, the Good Year blimp flies over the stadium, and there is still a MUCH longer line for the women’s restroom—even for cars! The camera-work is fast and various, with whip-pans & zooms, overheads, perspective shots, and dollies. Elaborate graphics add to the frame to reinforce the television feel. Unlike the simple and muted backgrounds of Beauty and the Beast, Cars fills every edge of the frame with movement and brilliant colors. Instead of satirizing Disney like Dreamworks, Pixar completely reinvents the form.
Unlike Belle, the literal beauty, Shrek and Lightening McQueen epitomize masculinity. Shrek indulges the gross, adolescent boy fantasy of a hygiene-free life while Lightening McQueen makes girls scream with his arrogance and talent at a male-skewed sport. Dreamworks and Pixar both developed gendered animation traditions as a result of being run by a proverbial boy’s club. They found an opening in the market and capitalized on it. They statistically focus on male protagonists and their success in the endeavor reinforces our patriarchal society; one where quality is more associated with masculinity. Whether intentionally or not, this subversion belittles the Disney ethos and its alignment with a feminine demographic.