After days of watching POV Youtube videos of rides, researching Disneyland’s history, and ransacking my own memories of going to Disneyland I have learned way more than I ever needed to about Disneyland rides. Unsurprisingly, I have concluded that rides and attractions led by both females and people of color are seriously lacking at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA.
Female depictions are most prominent in the slow moving ‘fantastical’ rides meant for small children. Once you get into the older demographics that demand more fast paced action adventure rides like Indiana Jones, boy characters become men and girls disappear leaving women completely ignored. This trend continues the stereotype of women being too weak to partake action, much less lead an action-based story. Women commonly being stereotyped as either shallow supporting characters, hyper sexualized love interests or damsel in distresses in media, prevents them from being seen as more than just their bodies. I think that our culture's obsession with sexualizing women combined with Disney's fear of anything sexual and their inability to see protagonist women as anything other than naive innocent young 'girls' are some of the factors that contribute to the almost nonexistent presence of women at Disneyland Resort.
Even though powerful middle age/older women are not allowed to hold a story of their own, when they do appear, they are always seen as antagonists (Maleficent, Ursula) and usually end up overshadowing their protagonist when it comes to ride/attraction appearances (Snow White’s Scary Adventure and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle).It was also interesting to see that most of the main female characters that are depicted on rides are associated with magic and fantasy. Containing female potential to beautiful princesses, pixies and ugly witches keeps females in the realm of fairy tales and make-believe. These portrayals are not bad in themselves but the fact that they are the only depictions makes it a problem. With no women being found partaking in technology in Tomorrowland or exploring America in Frontierland it creates an environment that continues to reinforce real world female stereotypes in the 'land where everyone's dreams can come true'. The most competent female character on a Disneyland Resort ride, Gadget the mouse, barely appears on her own ride. She's a smart inventor who, in her attraction's storyline, 'built the roller coaster herself'. Despite all her accomplishments, all you see of her in the attraction are a few pictures of her in the queue and her silhouette on a weathervane above the entrance. At first, I had totally forgot that ride was based on a female character. Her presence was lacking so much on that ride that I always thought the ride was based on Inspector Gadget or something like that. Anyways, my point is that even when there are strong female protagonists in the park, they don't get nearly as much attention as those less competent but more glamorous female characters.
Another thing I noticed was that the animatronics of male characters were placed in action poses much more often than females. Females most of the time like Wendy, Snow White, Alice, the women in Pirates, the bride in the Haunted House, and Princess Leia in Star Tours just stand or sit for most if not all their appearances. Other females in It's a Small World, Splash Mountain or Fantasy Faire mainly dance and sing. Or in Jessica Rabbit’s case, she's in a car trunk in one appearance and then free in her second appearance 'about to take out one of the weasels with her hammer'...
|LOOK AT THAT ACTION PACKED POSE!! WOW|
I wish I had the time to categorize and layout all the animatronics used in the rides like their silhouettes side by side, but alas I cannot. Anyways, female characters are clearly depicted in poses that are either really restricted, lack agency or are posed to be reactive to their environment. BUT ONCE AGAIN, the women that do have very active poses are villains like Maleficent, the Red Queen and the Queen/Witch. This trend, whether they intended it to or not, creates the association that women with power, assertiveness and agency are evil and that 'good girls' stay passive and reactive.
Gender Depiction by Lands
I was surprised at how most of the female rides had been concentrated to one ‘land’. I found it both funny and depressing that they had all be clumped into Fantasyland, as if only in the world of the impossible are females capable of being main characters in stories. Despite the large number of female led rides they still only tie and never surpass the amount of male rides in Fantasyland.
Race Depiction by Lands
Racial diversity was also clumped, this time into two lands, Fantasyland and Adventureland. By race being focused into these two worlds, the lens of exoticism in perpetuated. People of color continue to be seen as ‘the other’ who is associated with far off lands and imaginative tales.
Another way I looked at the data was through the depiction of age. I took all the attractions that had humans in them (since their age is more obvious than anthropomorphic characters), looked at their ‘gender’ and decided if the ‘male’ rides’ main character was a boy or man, and the same was applied to the ‘female’ rides/ attractions. I picked out either the star character that the ride is named after, or the most prominently shown human character on the ride. I considered ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ both under the age of 21. I was actually surprised by how many men starred in attractions, despite Disneyland being geared mostly toward children. I thought their would have been more boys and girls. More girls are represented in ride versus boys, but then when it comes to women, they are almost nonexistent.
When looking at the park depictions, one might be quick to say “Well, they are just recreating the films that the rides are based off of, the films are the real problem!” But I don't think its that simple. Looking at all this data made me start to wonder about amusement parks in general and their relation to current media culture.
Why can’t amusement parks have their own original content (that can then have positive depictions of race and gender)? Why do they have to wait for films to do it first? Most of the older (and most beloved) rides at Disney are more or less unique meaning not based on any one specific source material (It’s a Small World, The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Autopia, Jungle Cruise, Thunder Mountain Railroad). These rides have probably survived due to both their innovative design and strong nostalgic factor. But even then, the originality of these rides is no longer off limits to Imagineers, as they have (like everything else in the world) been changed, compromised and consumed by our media culture, especially in the new millennium. Countless films, have been based on Disney attractions: Pirates of the Caribbean (5, yes 5 films), The Haunted Mansion, The Country Bears, Tomorrowland, with a film based on the Jungle Cruise and a remake of Haunted Mansion already in the works. Even more so, there have been many changes to the actual original rides to either reference their movie counterparts (Pirates) or other Disney franchises (It’s a Small World and Space Mountain).
While other source material (like tv, books, and music) can maintain a steady stream of new original content that can either spearhead a franchise or be successful without a mega franchise or blockbuster movie, I feel like mainstream amusement parks are no longer capable of that. I wonder if amusement parks today are so commercialized that its now impossible for them to generate original content. Would their audience even let them?
It makes me wonder what amusements will look like in the future. With Disney coming out with franchise themed lands at their different parks (Cars Land, Star Wars Land, Toy Story land), they seem to be following Universal Studios in this trend of creating amusement parks based off of franchises that completely lack any sort of creative cohesion (like Universal Studios doesn’t have any 'lands'). Instead of being an 'experience', amusement parks have the potential to become extremely glamorized (and crowded) malls,where you will have 'franchised worlds' with one or two rides accompanied by massive amounts of stores full of merchandising of said franchise. And I'm sure it's already been heading this direction for quite a while now. In the end, I’m pretty sure it comes down to money. It’s just easier and a safer financial bet to base amusement parks off established franchises.
ANYWAYS, in the future, I’d like to research the parades in the park to see how they’ve changed over the years in terms of both representation and just content in general. I also want to do this same research on California Adventure, Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knott’s Berry Farm, maybe during the summer. Also it'd be great to look at the parks in Florida and around the world. I'd loooove to compare race and gender depictions in the different Disneylands around the world and how Disney chooses to cater to each country's mainstream culture.
It’s important to understand what is being presented at these parks because millions upon millions visit them daily. Another aspect to this discussion (which I might address at another time) is the actual visitor and their mindset while at one of these parks. People go to these parks with their guard down, waiting to be entertained and ready to embrace the nostalgia that these parks can bring about. This relaxed mindset can be a problem because it allows visitors to glaze over racist and sexist depiction that would be immediately called out in today’s world. These depictions are then not only ignored but even cherished by visitors. The point of my research is not meant to call out Disney in propagating these negative portrayals, the point to bring awareness to our collective willful ignorance. In the past Disney has changed their attractions after being called out on their depictions (see Tom Sawyer’s Island) so its not like they aren't willing to listen to their audience.
If you see any discrepancies in my research above, let me know! I did this project for fun and I know some of my guidelines and decisions can be seen as subjective, but I just really wanted to get some sort of research out there, since it seems that critical analysis in this area is pretty lacking overall.