Why Is The Pocahontas Redesign So Creepy?

So, I'm a little late to the party in pointing out that the 2013 redesign of the official Disney Princess line is totally the worst thing ever:

Really--is it too much to ask to just have screen-accurate costumes and facial features?! It's not like we don't all own the movies, and can easily verify what these women look like and what they wear.

More pixels than I can count have already been devoted to the multitudes of aesthetic and sociological fails represented by that image: the whitewashing, blingification, blatant consumerism, and a femininity so stifling and oppressive it's like trying to breathe in a roomful of your great-great-aunt's gardenia perfume. And the sparkles. Dear fucking god, so many goddamn sparkles!

So I'll just agree with all of that and move on to a point that is a lot less consequential but has nonetheless been bugging me and I finally saw it for what it was:

Is it just me, or does the redesigned Pocahontas look a little, well, schizophrenic to you?

You know, there's a very important saying in animation: "If you’re going to make a mistake, don’t make it in the eyes. Because everybody’s looking at the eyes." This could not possibly be a more perfect encapsulation of everything wrong with this picture. And, in a particularly cruel irony, the reason this is such a famous dictum on the art of animation is because it was spoken by legendary Disney animator Glen Keane. Who animated Pocahontas.

I mean, the previous image of Pocahontas in the Disney Princess line certainly had its faults:

While it's not the embodiment of bright-eyed insanity, we already have the beginnings of that creepy upward gaze. Look again at the full lineup of the Disney Princesses. Pocahontas is the only one who is not actually looking back at the viewer, and the effect is very unsettling. The pose is clearly a callback to the scene where she and John Smith meet:

And you'll notice that her eyes are level and actually slightly downcast, because she is looking at someone who is kneeling:

Again, it's all in the eyes.

See, when the eyes actually looking at what they're supposed to be looking at, it doesn't seem like someone has broken with reality.

Yes, Pocahontas is supposed to be a spiritual, determined, and idealistic character. But there's a difference between spiritual and idealistic and looking like she's just plain hallucinating everything she apparently understands in English. It's a complex set of mannerisms to convey, and perhaps the most difficult personality of the Disney Princesses to convey in one marketable image, and therefore requires an artist who actually knows what the hell ze is doing. This was not apparently high on the list of requirements for the marketing department staffer who has to churn out sufficiently princessy princess faces for lunch boxes and backpacks. Now, as far as the actual scriptwriting of the movie, I have lots (and oh boy do I ever mean lots!) of critiques of how they did not pull off the complex character they were going for, but at least as far as the animation (by the always-awesome Glen Keane, of course) she was drawn with a nuance and craft that conveyed something compelling. For a study in contrast, here is a look of steely determination:

And here is a look of someone who needs thorazine:

"turn around bright eyes..."

It's not just the deranged upward gaze, but the redesign's hyper-contrasting faux-3D shading (that plagues all the princess re-dos) generates this really odd glow from her cheekbones that literally highlights the crazy eyes. She looks way too eerily similar to how artists throughout history have depicted the also-widely-suspected-of-schizophrenia Joan of Arc:

Fun fact: google image searching "Joan of Arc crazy eyes" is a goldmine.

So please, Disney, if you're going to give us superfluous marketing redesigns of the princesses just so little kids find it necessary to buy *this* year's princess backpack, please for the love of all that is holy just get the eyes right.


  1. Late to the comments section... But I just saw the 2016 Hasbro version of the doll and had to share it. Terrible clothes and eyes. http://www.hasbro.com/en-gb/product/disney-princess-royal-shimmer-pocahontas-doll:886AC519-5056-9047-F549-DAF7F22094EE

    1. Oh dear heavens!!

      It's like they don't even read my blog at all! :-o


About the Author

Satiricalifragilistic grew up during the Disney Renaissance, and The Little Mermaid was the first movie she ever saw in theaters at age 3. Her mother flatly refused to let her leave the theater when Ursula got huge and terrifying, and maybe that explains her troubled psyche.

While she'll admit to being an inveterate nitpicker, she firmly believes in loving a piece of art even while criticizing it, and in the importance of engaging critically with what she loves. She has special contempt for anyone who tries to claim the politics in Disney films don't matter because "they're just movies," because she knows exactly how much the Disney Canon influenced her little gradeschool self—for good and for ill!

She loves art, design, music, dancing, movies from Hollywood's Golden Age, and British comedy...expect a lot of these to turn up in her reviews and mashups!