Poor Unfortunate Souls: Why Does “Fashionable” Equal “Thin” to Disney?

“The Disney Villains Designer Collection is a unique, stylized and fashion-forward take on these iconic characters.” – John Balen, Disney Store director.

By “stylized,” you mean “unrecognizable,” right Disney?

I’m going to attempt to reign in my temper here because it’s hard. I grew up watching The Little Mermaid, and while I loved Ariel for her red hair and Sebastian for his near-death experience at the hands of an overzealous French chef, I also knew every musical note of that movie. Singing “Poor Unfortunate Souls” in front of my family’s television with all the camp I could muster at the tender age of four was a common scene.

I loved Ursula. But it doesn’t look like Disney does anymore.

The Disney Villains Designer Collection was created to sell a makeup line, among other things, similar to the villains makeup line they launched with MAC a few years back. (I’ve got some gorgeous Maleficent eye shadows from that.) There are also dolls it seems, and t-shirts and the rest of it. But in a desire to re-market these ladies to a chic clientele, it appears that they decided to shave more than a few pounds off of Ursula the Sea Witch and Alice in Wonderland‘s Queen of Hearts.

Because in order to be fashionable, you must be thin.

The fact is, Ursula was fashionable. In my memory, she was the only villain (or princess even that I can recall) of this lot who was shown applying makeup during her screen time. And she never demonstrated the slightest aggravation with her appearance. Why wouldn’t Disney want to uphold that?

It’s probably to save money, irritating as that may be. The dolls themselves are Barbie-like figurines, and we all know how many times we’ve gotten a glimpse of Barbies with bigger waistlines. I know someone who used to work in doll-making, and she pointed out that a bigger doll would have required another mold, which would have meant more money shelled out in the design of the figures. And that’s fine. But it’s money Disney should have spent.

The company has never had the best track record when it comes to this sort of thing, but it doesn’t help that no one ever calls them to task for it. It has resulted in yet another awful Tinkerbell film that has no basis in J.M. Barrie’s Neverland. It has made princesses a brand rather than a group of individual characters, plastic ladies in pastel dresses with no personality traits depicted outside their unnerving tendency to smile a lot. And now we can’t even have fun with our villains any longer, the refuge for grown up girls who got older and found those woodland friends and pink ball gowns just a little too cloying.

Click to Enlarge.It would be easy to go on at length about how this sends a bad message to young girls (and adults for that matter), teaching them that it’s impossible to be glamourous unless they’re ready to walk the red carpet side by side 24-inch-waist starlets. It would be easy to talk about how much it seems that marketing has changed over only twenty years to make Ursula and the Queen of Hearts’ silhouettes now untenable. But I would rather point out that in doing this, Disney has made two of their characters unrecognizable. (There is a slight resemblance between the doll and the musical version of Ursula that graced Broadway a while back, but how many people will recognize that?) The only clues as to who they are exist on their clothing, and for Ursula, it’s really only the shell necklace that makes the point. So now Disney has no desire to stand by the characters they created, who garnered so much love.

And oddly enough, the thinking seems to be that if they slap big old pouffy skirts on those two fine ladies, no one will notice. Or that none of us can be bothered to care about how these things are sold to us. Ursula was a true vamp, exactly the sort of personality that anyone could have used prop up a new generation of fashionistas. Now it’s a sea witch without any “body language,” as she was fond of putting it.

Is there anything to be done? One would think that by making a big deal out of this, it would encourage Disney to listen. But I suppose only time will tell on that front.


Emily Asher-Perrin thinks it’s time to wear some of that Maleficent eye shadow. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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