The South Korean cg feature Red Shoes & The 7 Dwarfs isn’t scheduled to come out until next year, but the studio behind the film – Locus Creative Studios – is facing a crisis after an online backlash to the film’s marketing campaign.
The trouble for the quirky fairytale parody began at the Cannes Film Market earlier this month when Korean sales company Finecut began promoting the film to international buyers with a billboard that seemed to imply a woman’s beauty is determined by her weight:
With the current consciousness about body-shaming issues the U.S. and Europe, the marketing approach seems uniquely tone-deaf and antiquated, and critics, like plus-size model Tess Holliday, have been quick to jump all over the project:
A response from the Korean filmmakers and the American star
The backlash has left the producers scrambling to save the English-language film directed by Sung-ho Hong (Egg-Cola: A Miracle in the Desert). Its producer Sujin Hwang released the following statement to Salon:
As the producer of the theatrical animated film Red Shoes and the 7 Dwarfs, now in production, Locus Corporation wishes to apologize regarding the first elements of our marketing campaign (in the form of a Cannes billboard and a trailer) which we realize has had the opposite effect from that which was intended. That advertising campaign is being terminated.
Our film, a family comedy, carries a message designed to challenge social prejudices related to standards of physical beauty in society by emphasizing the importance of inner beauty. We appreciate and are grateful for the constructive criticism of those who brought this to our attention. We sincerely regret any embarrassment or dissatisfaction this mistaken advertising has caused to any of the individual artists or companies involved with the production or future distribution of our film, none of whom had any involvement with creating or approving the now discontinued advertising campaign.
Locus has also removed the film’s teaser (which we first posted over a year ago) from its Vimeo page, though other copies remain online, including below. The teaser, which features two dwarfs lusting over Snow White undressing, manages to raise additional questions about the film, which is being marketed as a family-friendly project. The plot, according to Locus’s website, is about seven narcissistic princes who are transformed into dwarfs and can break the curse only by receiving a kiss from the most beautiful woman in the land.
American actress Chloë Grace Moretz, who was announced at Cannes as the voice of Snow White, is on the defensive as well. On Twitter, she said she was “apalled” and “angry” at the marketing, but defended the overall film:
I have now fully reviewed the mkting for Red Shoes, I am just as appalled and angry as everyone else, this wasn't approved by me or my team
A former Disney superstar is involved with the film
Red Shoes has a reported budget of around $20 million, a fraction of American cg features. The early footage looks very polished, and a lot of that has to do with the film’s character designer and animation director, Sang-Jin Kim, better known in the U.S. as Jin Kim.
Kim, who spent 20-plus years at Disney as an animator and character designer, returned to Korea recently to work on Red Shoes. He was interviewed on the Bancroft Brothers podcast last year about his decision to leave Disney to work on this feature.
His work as a designer at Disney was especially influential on the studio’s most recent batch of theatrical features, including Tangled, Frozen, Moana, and especially Big Hero 6, for which he was the character design supervisor.
Challenges of the global feature animation market
The controversy over Red Shoes illustrates the types of challenges that other foreign animation studios will face in the coming years as they try to break into the lucrative global feature animation market. For these studios, it will not be enough to simply focus on local/regional social values; they must be deeply connected to the global zeitgeist, too.
Few entertainment companies beyond Hollywood have yet perfected the tightrope act of creating palatable blockbuster animated features for the global market. Figuring out acceptable themes and stories could prove to be just as much of a challenge, if not more so, as the technical demands of producing the films.
Sometimes, even when foreign studios get everything right, they still don’t succeed, as was the case with the recent Chinese feature Rock Dog, which underperformed in both China and the United States. That film, directed by an American filmmaker, followed all the acceptable story beats for a Western film, but it deviated so little from the standard formulas that it ended up a pale imitation of an American feature.
The good news for the producers of Red Shoes is that they learned of the negative reactions to their approach while their film was still in production. Further, the film’s ill-conceived marketing campaign was targeted at distributors, not the general public, so there is still time for the filmmakers to adjust course and rethink any potentially problematic parts of the film.