Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Women and the New Disney - from Cinematical Blog

Straight  from the Cinematical blog, too good to ignore in my quest for parity.  Even Disney and Warner Bros. are taking [a small] part in the conversation.  Where do women belong?  Girls on Film: Supergirl Battles the Princesses by Monika Bartyzel Mar 22nd 2010.  Thank you Monika!

After being the die-hard backbone to Disney's media wealth, the Princesses are getting thrown into Baby's dance-free corner. Sure, the Mouse House is a company centered around the little guy with the big ears, but Mickey's media presence doesn't come close to that of the princesses, with their towers, flowing locks, and plentiful product lines. Nevertheless, as we learned earlier this month, Disney is turning their back on the whimsical girls and their wild tresses. They have decided that Rapunzel isn't a boy-friendly title, and have changed it to Tangled to help lure the boys in. The reasoning? The Princess and the Frog only made a paltry $160 million over their production budget because the word "princess" turned the boys away from all that squicky girl stuff.

Head of Disney Animation Studios Ed Catmull said: "We did not want to be put in a box. Some people might assume it's a fairy tale for girls when it's not. We make movies to be appreciated and loved by everybody." You can put lipstick on a... you get the hint. Tangled, Rapunzel, whatever it's titled, the boys will see the royal dude, his love, and all those lovey dovey eyes. A change in title won't magically mask that. (And that's ignoring the enforcement of girl-centric media as not boy-friendly, or the fact that tangled hair isn't typically a boy attention-getter anyway.)

On the heels of this rather ridiculous news, what could another studio do to compete? By grabbing the super-strength of Supergirl, that's what.

Variety reports that Warner Bros. is going use Supergirl as a commercial alternative to Disney's popular princess line. The studio is teaming with JCPenney to start a brand of clothing that "prominently features the S-shield" on "T-shirts, dresses, dancewear, and other apparel." Olympic medalist Nastia Liukin will be the face of the brand, while also pushing "a message of empowerment." To top that off, she's also got a pretty sweet side-deal: the studio has just launched a "Nastia Liukin Supergirl Cup" which will honor rising gymnast stars.

Surprisingly, this news isn't being matched with any cinematic announcements. Warner Bros. is starting with the marketing, rather than the movie, even if rumors were swirling regarding a reboot with Taylor Swift back in December. I, however, don't think this means that we won't get one. Rather, the studio will probably get the girl-power vibe in full swing and create a loyal fandom for a future movie. I've no doubt that if the line takes off and tykes sport the big S, Supergirl will fly to the big screen in no time, the sisterly companion to Spider-Man's youthful reboot, the family fare alternative to flicks like Iron Man.

For adults, it's a bit of a bummer. If there's one superhero who could use a little darker, adult reimagining, it's the oft-sidelined Supergirl. Created in 1959, she's always flown around the outskirts of comic fandom, even getting killed in the '80s so that Supes could be the sole survivor of Krypton. Supergirl doesn't have much more than a shitty movie and a recent porn-star look that dares to dress her in a belt for a skirt and a white cut-off tee (though she has received a bit more love on Smallville.) I can't help but wish that Christopher Nolan would give her, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the super ladies more worthy backstory and depth -- something to wipe the abysmal Catwoman stigma off for good -- and finally allow Supergirl to become Superwoman ... but I digress.

I think this is a pretty brilliant move for Warner Bros. -- to embrace the young girl who wants more than towers and steeds, to put out a message that if the main source of kids' fare won't champion girl power, they'll step up to the plate instead. As Disney starts to alienate its bread and butter, dividing boys and girls and shrouding the pull of the princesses, we've got a strong girl to fill the void. Why have princesses when you can have a super girl? It challenges the Mouse House whilst also tapping into the increasing fan voice of young women. Don't like the fact that Twilight is resulting in a Twi-hard infestation at Comic Cons? How about a horde of Supergirl followers instead? It's a great way to bridge girl and boy comic fandoms, to teach youngin's that heroes aren't only boys, and possibly create a future moviegoing public that won't be so boy/girl secular.

At the same time, I realize that this is a very, very small step. This isn't even a widespread marketing scheme; it's solely focused on one department store. The line has to do well and expand before this will mean anything more to the young, female moviegoing public. Unless, of course, this is just step one in a plan to slowly work towards Supergirl on the screen, which seems to be the case. I've heard rumors from WB headquarters that Supergirl is going to make her mark on a DTV release later this year, and some of her Justice League episodes might end up on the DVD as well.

I find myself hoping that this is the spur that kicks Disney's ass into the new millennium. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why Disney isn't as successful as Pixar when it comes to children's stories. One is addicted to an antiquated habit of storytelling while the other strives for reality in its fantasy. Instead of blaming the boys and alienating girls, it's time the Mouse House took responsibility for their fairy tale romance obsession and strove for new storylines and, more importantly, storytelling. Create some new superheroes, and girls and boys who don't live in fairy tales. We could always use more kids like Carl and Ellie.

And even if Disney keeps those fairy tale blinders on, let's hope Warner Bros. ignites a new horde of superheroines and alternatives for the younger crowd. Maybe the notion that girls aren't so different than boys will finally make an impact, as well as the idea that girls want more than just princesses... That you can have a girl on-screen who doesn't need a prince to rescue her from a tower. That a girl is not doomed if she happens to have split ends. That she can fight without it all coming down to a boy or prince. Supergirl can allow for new themes to enter the playing field, and it's high time she kicks Hollywood into girl-gear.

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