Why present these as rejected princesses, and not potential princesses? Many successful kids’ movies are sanitized versions of stories. I’d personally love to see the a Disney princess like Nzinga. She’s a real person, there is much documentation on her life, she is still revered by many people today, and there’s far more to her than someone who just sat on a servant, and later slit his throat. It would be nice for Disney to finally depict its first African, humanoid princess.
The simple answer of “why are they rejected princesses?” is that I wanted a pithy title. “Potential,” “alternative,” “different,” and the like didn’t really have the same impact as “rejected.”
The longer answer has more to do with cultural critique. It’s easy to read this whole project as an indictment of the animation studios and their perceived spinelessness, but if you’ve read any interview with me, I don’t mean that at all. There’s a lot of brilliant, good-meaning people at the studios, and they are operating in an environment that is mostly incomprehensible to the average moviegoer.
I explain it like this: few people remember the early days of DreamWorks, pre-Shrek. That was a studio founded on the principle of artistic freedom and risk-taking. Their first movie had a biblical cast with entirely brown skin and featured the wholesale murder of thousands of children as its climax. Later on, they made a Woody Allen movie for kids and a movie where the main character barely talked — a decade before Wall-E! Regardless of what you think of the artistic success of those movies, they were risky, especially at the time.
By the time Shrek rolled around, the studio was on the verge of collapse. They had a series of failures and were about to close.
Have you ever worked in an environment like that? Where it feels like a sword is hanging over your head? I got the smallest taste of that after a couple of the company’s movies didn’t do very well. It’s horrible. It’s like walking through a swamp day after day, watching more of you be swallowed up, inch by inch, until eventually you succumb to it entirely.
Nobody wants that to happen, least of all the execs. So they make safe movies. Four-quadrant movies that appeal to everyone. They have to – hiring an army of highly-trained professionals to work incredibly long hours, using pricey software on pricier machinery? Turns out it’s quite expensive. People who have tried to cut corners have paid dearly.
It is easy to yell at the studios to make a movie about Inuit strongwomen or stout Mongolian wrestler princesses. The truth is, there’s a fair bit of choice in animated movies out there, but the farther you get from mainstream tastes, the harder it is to make your money back. One of my good friends works in toys, and once told me that the average blonde Disney princess outsells any other one by an order of magnitude. I can’t personally verify if that’s true, and there’s any number of reasons you could point to as to why it might be, but if it is, that is of course going to affect the sort of movies that get made.
Even taking that into account, there’s no guarantee of a sure thing. Frozen may have been the most successful movie in a generation, but there’s clear evidence that Disney had no faith in it leading up to its release.
You can make a risky movie that pushes the envelope, but you have to pull that trigger five years in advance of the movie’s release, and hope you’re skating to where the puck is. If you aren’t, and nobody shows up to see your movie, then you’re the person that just got hundreds of your co-workers laid off. That’s a tremendous mental burden. It’s one I have a lot of sympathy for.
Rejected Princesses thankfully does not have that burden. I’m responsible only to myself, so I can operate like a web startup. I can put out one of these every week, and if it isn’t that successful, nobody loses their job – I just try again next week.
(incidentally, this is why I’ve not moved into doing short animations, kickstarting a movie, or even brought anyone else on board. baby steps.)
Hopefully that helps answer the “why are they rejected?” question. To be clear, I love these stories. I’m not the one doing the rejecting here – in the eyes of the big studios, they’re not either.