Saturday Matinee #98: "Disney's Electric Holiday" (November 15, 2012)
Published November 17, 2012
By Albert Gutierrez
Due to technical difficulties, a full write-up for Saturday Matinee will not be available until later in the day. In the meantime, you can watch this week's Saturday Matinee here:
Sourced from Philly.com (http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/mirrorimage/179719621.html)
Saturday Matinee #99: Editorial on "Disney's Electric Holiday" (November 15, 2012)
Published November 24, 2012
by Albert Gutierrez
Hello there, readers. My apologies for not having a full write-up of Saturday Matinee last week. My computer has been giving me trouble for the past few weeks, which has now delayed and continues to prevent me from making screen captures to accompany Saturday Matinee. In order to preserve our current numbering system, Saturday Matinee #98 will remain as-is, with just the short on its own. It will be updated in the future with screen caps and more behind-the-scenes information I can find. This week's article is still related to "Disney's Electric Holiday," but will stand alone as Saturday Matinee #99.
If you have not already done so, please check out the five-minute short cartoon here:
I am not now, nor have I ever been, a "fashionista." Yet, a week ago my eyes witnessed something that thrust one of my favorite entertainment venues - Disney - into the fashion world. It was shocking, to say the least. I understand why it was made, and I think it is well-produced. The animation is done quite well, the characters are on-model when they're in the "traditional" form. And in spite of what most believe about the transformed versions, they do their job and bring attention to the clothes, as they are meant to do. However, there are also plenty of problems with this short; animation is the least of my concerns.
If anything, the intent of the short is severely corporate. I'm well aware that Disney is a company with a business to run and shareholders to please. But their animation studio, the heart and soul of the company, has always stood for something more. Maybe it's my own naivet', but any "product" that emerges from that particular division, or uses characters and ideas created there, should always be an artistic endeavor first, not a commercial one. Sure, we get cuddly sidekicks that translate into great plush toys, but at least they still serve a functional part of a film's story. "Disney's Electric Holiday" is so blatantly corporate that I still can't believe anyone at The Hat just nodded and accepted that this cartoon be put into production.
Granted, sometimes even the worst of ideas have the best of intentions. And this one seems to fall under that. After all, the holiday windows at Barney's in New York City are as much a holiday attraction as the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center. What better way to get a prime spot to promote Disney than by teaming up with some top designers and a department store? The short cartoon runs in one of the windows on a loop, I'm told, which means any passerby can see it during all hours of the day. Companies would kill for that kind of exposure, hence all the busy-ness that is Times Square. Fortunately, "Disney's Electric Holiday" doesn't play there. Can you imagine the uproar? Still, the whole approach to "Disney + Fashion = Electric Holiday" could have been done without sacrificing the integrity of Disney animation, its characters, and its legacy over the past eighty-plus years.
It should be said that merging Disney and fashion is no new prospect. I'm not familiar with many of Disney's forays into that world, but the few examples I know of are harmless. Brides-to-be can purchase official Disney wedding dresses inspired by the wardrobe of Disney Princesses. One of the galleries on the Pocahontas: 10th Anniversary Edition DVD includes a "Harper's Bazaar" spread with Pocahontas modeling fall designs. And least harmless of all, the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap features mother Elizabeth James (the late Natasha Richardson) as a wedding dress designer. So why is it so shocking to watch Minnie and her contemporaries strutting down a runway wearing designs by some of today's top designers? Body image is a controversy all on its own, I'll leave that issue to other articles and other writers.
Truthfully, the slenderized look is not my main concern. Rather, it's the attitude that comes with it. I simply don't like seeing such beloved characters go from smiles and sunshine to smug and haughty. From what I've seen on occasional episodes of "Project Runway" and the few-and-far-between fashion shows featured in CBS soap "The Bold and the Beautiful," apparently models aren't supposed to smile on the runway. Does any sign of emotion take away focus on the clothes? Or are they simply bored? Either way, it's not a look that works well on any of the characters. They come off as cold, unapproachable, and even a bit vacuous. I don't expect that from Disney characters, and I'm sure many others would agree. Granted, Disney characters are not 100% "happy-happy, joy-joy" either, but this modeling environment is already too far removed from what many people associate with Disney.
Also, who exactly is the intended audience for this short? The primary viewers of new Mickey Mouse material today is on "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse." Like it or not, he's become a bigger symbol for children than for "the child in us all." Whether that's Disney's fault or the fans growing up, it doesn't matter. Mickey Mouse is firmly entrenched in a children's environment. As such, Disney should be extra careful in how they allow him to be used. I doubt any five year old would be interested in seeing him and Minnie Mouse turn haughty and stick-like, strutting down the runway in expensive sweaters and dresses. That's not the Mickey that they would respond to. In Disney's defense, we've seen major cosmetic changes to Mickey and Minnie before. Their original looks have been re-designed in later shorts - most notably, Mickey's 1939 re-design. Their wardrobe occasionally gets updated to whatever's contemporary - Disco Mickey, anyone? - and even age gets addressed once in awhile. I still chuckle when I think about a CGI Mickey taking out his reading glasses at the Academy Awards ceremony. Still, this transformation just seems a step too far for characters as beloved as Mickey and Minnie, regardless how old you are.
In an interview, Dennis Freedman, the Barney's creative director, did address why such an extreme transformation is done: "When we go to the moment when all Disney characters would walk on the runway, there was a discussion. [...] The standard Minnie Mouse will not look so good in a Lanvin dress. There was a moment of silence, because these characters don't change. I said, 'If we're going to make this work, we have to have a 5-foot-11 Minnie,' and they agreed." Of course, one could argue that they could simply re-design the dress to fit Minnie Mouse. Or that such dresses shouldn't be designed solely for 5'11'' figures. I imagine that the only audience who might respond positively to such a dramatic change in that short are the those in the fashion industry, glad to see their contribution to popular culture represented by such a beloved company.
I should point out that much of the controversy regarding this short began months earlier, when images of the super-slim Minnie Mouse leaked online. That's when the two main petitions started (garnering even celebrity signatures), and in its wake, Disney and Barney's did issue a joint statement together. Make of it what you will:
"We are saddened that activists have repeatedly tried to distort a lighthearted holiday project in order to draw media attention to themselves. They have deliberately ignored previously released information clearly stating this promotion is a three-minute 'moving art' video featuring traditional Minnie Mouse in a dreamlike sequence set in Paris where she briefly walks the runway as a model and then happily awakens as her normal self wearing the very same designer dress from the fashion show."
Honestly, I've been rather disgusted by this entire short, and feel at this point, I can't say much more without hurling some very non-Disney comments in Disney's general direction. For now, we can bring this chapter in Saturday Matinee to a close. After all, in a few years, an ephemeral and commercial short like this will just be a blip on the radar, easily forgotten and holding no residual value whatsoever. I'll stop giving it the attention it doesn't deserve rather than moan on about it for a few more paragraphs.
Disney/Barney's Statement & Dennis Freedman quote from New York Daily News (link to http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-10-22/news/34660141_1_minnie-and-mickey-minnie-mouse-barneys)