We are generally not encouraged to like the villains in animation movies. Think of Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians or Jafar in Aladdin; not only are their personalities off-putting, but their looks are also not desirable.
New research from the University of Texas found that 76% of so-called "bad" characters in animation movies have skin issues such as freckles, moles or eye bags. This is compared to only 26% of "good" characters. Generally the good characters, such as Mr and Mrs Incredible, Rapunzel and Moana, are portrayed with perfect skin.
And this can have an effect on people's insecurities about their skin, the researchers said. In fact, the study concluded, "Increased skin findings for evil characters in animated children’s movies can reinforce stigmas surrounding skin disease and may contribute to the distress felt by dermatology patients."
Top 50 movies
The researchers examined major characters from the top 50 highest grossing animated movies and divided them into four categories based on what they call "dermatologic findings". These include scars, baldness, wrinkles, moles, eye bags or darkness round the eyes and freckles. The four categories were:
- Protagonists – typically good characters from the start, such as Felix in Wreck-It Ralph
- Antagonists – typically bad characters from the start, such as Lord Farquaad in Shrek
- Atypical protagonists – morally good characters with negative connotations, such as Dracula in Hotel Transylvania 2
- Hidden antagonists – initially appeared to be good but later revealed their dark side, such as Hans in Frozen
The researchers said that the atypical protagonists would normally be assumed to be bad and were made to look that way. Interestingly a lot of the hidden antagonists had no skin problems – this enforced the stereotype that good people don't have skin problems (the movie makers want the audience to believe these characters are good, especially at the beginning of the movie).
Ninety-two percent of the movies were released after the year 2000, and 50% were released after 2010, making the research current. All animal characters were excluded from the analysis and four movies were excluded based on mechanical or robotic characters and one due to its PG-13 rating.
"Characters with villainous roles or negative attributes had a higher number of findings than characters meant to appear good," the study found.
"Only 25.9% of traditional protagonists and hidden antagonists had any skin findings at all and averaged 0.37 findings per character, while 76.5% of traditional antagonists and atypical protagonists had skin findings, averaging 1.56 findings per character."
Here are some examples from the study:
It goes deeper
In a British Association of Dermatologists press release Michael Ryan, one of the researchers, said, "The depiction of skin issues in movies and its association with evil over good could be a factor contributing to the stigma of skin disease. By repeatedly portraying protagonists as characters with flawless skin, there is the potential to cause distress in those whose appearance does not fit this unrealistic ideal."
Matthew Gass from the British Association of Dermatologists agrees with Ryan. “The animated films we watch as children tend to stick with us, with many of us being able to fondly recall our favourites with ease. We watch them in formative years when we are learning about good and evil, and whether they mean to or not, it’s likely that they impact our biases and associations," he said.
"One thing that thing that we know is that the creators of these works are capable of producing emotional, nuanced and thoughtful works. We hope that this means that they will be open to considering this research when making animated films in future."
And these negative perceptions about the skin don't stay in Hollywood.
"Real life examples of this can be seen in dermatology clinics where cosmetic treatments are performed to remove harmless moles, eliminate wrinkles, and alter many of the natural skin changes that develop with age and solar exposure," said Ryan.
"Societal perceptions and beliefs regarding beauty and youthfulness are likely underlying the desire for these treatments. The association between evil and skin findings in film could be one factor that contributes to these beliefs."
Image credit: Wikipedia