DisneyIdeas/Commentary

Disney Bows To Pressure, Reanimates Princess Tiana In ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’

Responding to public pressure on social media, Walt Disney Animation Studios is reanimating the scenes of Princess Tiana that appear in Ralph Breaks the Internet.

The company had faced criticism that it had lightened the skin tone and altered the facial features of The Princess and the Frog star, who has a cameo in the new Wreck-It Ralph sequel.

According to a report in Wall Street Journal, Disney started the process of reanimating the character “immediately after the images were released.”

The studio also invited representatives of the racial advocacy group Color of Change, which had criticized the “changes” to the character, to add input into how the studio should redesign the character. Representatives from the group returned to the studio recently to give their approval on Disney’s changes.

Color of Change campaigned against the look of Princess Tiana in "Ralph Breaks the Internet."
Color of Change campaigned against the look of Princess Tiana in “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”

Color of Change’s senior campaign director Brandi Collins-Dexter touted Disney’s changes as a victory for the organization, which released the following statement:

Disney’s decision to restore Princess Tiana’s image to that of an unapologetically black princess with full lips, dark skin and dark hair in Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 is a victory for Color Of Change members, black children and their parents, and black audiences who want to see the variety of shades, shapes and sizes of black characters accurately represented in the arts. After the release of a set of images from Wreck-It Ralph 2, which showed Princess Tiana starkly different from her depiction in Princess and the Frog – a slimmer nose, loose curly hair and a significantly lighter skin tone- Color Of Change engaged in a series of conversations with the leading members of Disney’s animation team to address why these changes shocked and hurt our community. Because of these conversations, Disney restored Tiana and the other princesses of color to their original depiction. By redrawing Princess Tiana – Disney’s first and only black princess — in Ralph Breaks the Internet as she was in Princess and the Frog, Disney has shown its commitment to addressing the concerns of Color Of Change members and the black community. Disney is an incredibly powerful and influential company and its decisions have far-reaching implications for other companies that provide entertainment for children and adults around the world. Color Of Change will continue to challenge companies like Disney to ensure that their characters appropriately reflect the diversity of their audiences.

The revisions to Tiana illustrate the degree to which outside parties can impact today’s animation content. The formerly sacrosanct boundaries that separated creators and audiences continue to erode in the contemporary era. It could have a chilling effect on creative expression in the commercial animation industry, whose workers already exhibit abundant caution due to the fact that so much of the content they create is intended for a young audience.

A similar situation happened with Disney-Pixar’s Coco following a backlash after revelations that Disney had tried to trademark the Mexican holiday “Día de los Muertos.” The company eventually hired one of its harshest critics, Mexican-American political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, to serve as a cultural consultant on the film.

Alcaraz and other cultural consultants came on board Coco much sooner than this last-minute change on Ralph Breaks the Internet and had a greater impact on the finished product. Explaining his work on Coco, Alcaraz told an interviewer last year, “I looked for elements of the film and story that could be misconstrued as stereotypical or racist. I looked to include more Mexican elements in the film when possible, like additional Spanish in the dialogue, and made suggestions on specific words. I listened for pronunciations of Spanish words to make sure they didn’t sound off.”

Disney’s openness to altering its content in response to social media reactions may raise eyebrows for artists in the feature animation industry, but ensuring that consumers are happy is ultimately the goal of any entertainment company. In an earlier piece about Ralph Breaks the Internet, I wrote that, “It’s been apparent for a while, but it’s safe to say that we’ve entered the era of corporate fan service.” Altering a character’s color and design to placate audiences seems to simply be another aspect of that fan service.

UPDATE: The voice actress of Princess Tiana, Anika Noni Rose, has released a personal statement about her role in Disney’s decision to modify the character’s appearance in Ralph Breaks the Internet.

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