Saturday, December 28, 2013

4 Graphs Showing the Ridiculous Discrepency Between the Number of Male vs Female Lead Rolls in Disney Animated Films

The backstory:
I was chatting with my friend Holli about Disney movies.  She is the mother of 2 young girls.  Her almost-3-year-old is obsessed with all things princess.  She seems to have come by this obsession relatively naturally, with far less parental encouragement than one might imagine after observing her intense preoccupation with the illustrious club.  My son is barely over 1 year old, and has not yet shown any interest in watching anything; I wonder what he might become interested in and what there is out there for young boys to admire and aspire to.  So we were discussing male and female leading characters in popular Disney animated films.  I have seen my more-than-fair-share of these films, so when I could hardly come up with a handful of male leads to match their female counterparts (who very readily came to mind), I was quite flummoxed.  I can rattle off the entire princess line with plenty of breath to spare, but when challenged to name male leads, I was coming up short.  My mind hit on a few right off the bat (Tarzan, King Arthur aka Wart, Aladdin), but the names didn't come to mind nearly as easily as I thought they would.

So, I dashed over to wikipedia and began to study the list of Disney Theatrical Animated Features.  What I found was quite shocking.

I had assumed that because I couldn't immediately name a dozen leading men to match the princesses, that such men didn't exist.  I was dead wrong.  I have since poured over this list, and have made a few graphs that I believe illustrate some pretty disturbing discrepancies between the quantity of lead roles divided between the sexes in Disney animated films.  Now, there certainly is a quality argument to be made here as well, but for now I speak only of quantity.

The Science:
I am not a scientist, a statistician, or even a fan of graphs per se.  There are likely many flaws in my research and reasoning.  I am open to suggestions if you believe I have calculated something wrong, misinterpreted the data, or am otherwise way off in my analysis.  But here's what I did:

I took the list from wikipedia and highlighted each film with two colors: pink for female lead character, blue for male.  (A lead character is the person who is singularly at the center of the plot.  In some films, that character is a little hard to distinguish or there isn't one (ie 101 Dalmatians), but in almost all of the films where the lead character was questionable, the top few primary characters were all male anyway.)  Then I highlighted each film to distinguish if the lead character was human or non-human.  The list looks like this:

There are 105 films on this list.  Of those films, 80 had a male lead, 25 had a female lead.
*Including male dominated ensembles and segment films. **Lead females per movie; some characters appear many times.

 That's a pretty ridiculous split, if you ask me. But here's where things get interesting: of all lead roles, 45 (42%) are non-human males.  5 are non-human female (4%).  4 (FOUR) of those 5 films are Tinker Bell movies. *invisible Mickey Mouse glove slaps face*
*Includes segment films ie. "Fantasia", "Melody Time", etc. and films where the lead is both human and animal ie. "Emperor's New Groove", "Princess and the Frog", etc.

*Lady, from "Lady and the Tramp", and 4 Tinker Bell movies.

Its for some grad student somewhere to draw conclusions from these statistics, I don't gots the time.  But I do find it fascinating that there are SO MANY non-human leading males (Woody, Lightening McQueen, Robin Hood, Winnie the Pooh, Simba, Mickey Mouse) and there are TWO (2...DOS!!) non-human females, a cute, cuddly, dainty, lovely puppy dog and friggin Tinker Bell.  Something is amiss here.

These pie charts show the male/female split in 20 year segments.  Note: the last chart shows the last 12 years; there are more films in the last 10 years than the previous 20, and more films in the last 10 years than the first 40.

Here are some other pie charts that break down these groups further:
Princesses: Mulan, Tiana, Belle, Cinderella, Snow White, Pocahontas, Rapunzel, Ana ("Frozen"), Ariel, Aurora, Merida. I did not include Jasmine because she is not a lead character.  Non-human: Lady and Tinker Bell. Human Non-Princess: Lilo ("Lilo and Stitch"), Penny ("The Rescuers"), and Alice ("Alice in Wonderland").

Again, I'm sure there are a plethora of conclusions that one could draw from these statistics, and, again, my methods could be flawed, so be gentle in your criticism.  What do you think of these stats?  Would you like to see more non-human lead females?  (I sure do.)  Do you think they care about this stuff over at Disney Studios and elsewhere?


  1. The list you cite is a list of "theatrtical releases" and do not list all the sequels to the original films. A couple of other points about your data, Home on the Range has 3 non-human female leads, played by Jennifer Tilly, Rosanne Barr, and Judy Dench, and there are several movies that I would say have equal Male/Female lead parts (The Incredibles being the most prominent example). Disney's lead population in this list is prominent in another aspect, only a few Human male leads, with a few exceptions like the little toaster, have sequels, most princesses have two or more sequels if you go by direct to video releases. Also it is interesting that despite the statistical advantage the male leads are not memorable, and are usually mentioned in conjunction with their female counterpart. Lets not forget all the movies directed at the same age groups as these films that are live action. How many guys has Disney made famous in live action movies? The closest you could come to Disney making a star on par with Julie Andrews (yeah Disney didn't make her a star but she got her Oscar for Mary Poppins), Anne Hathaway, Haley Mills, Amy Adams, Lindsay Lohan (for better or worse) would be Kurt Russell...maybe. Disney made those ladies household names, and for the life of me I can't think of a male counterpart. So as far as your analysis goes I'd say that it is shocking that Disney cannot come up with a Human Male Lead that resonates with audiences like its female leads and non-leads do despite the fact that they outnumber them. Do I want to see more Non-Human female leads? Yeah sure, I'd love to see films with females that act like they are completely inept and can't cope with out a guys help, or females that have little intelligence but are built like a brick outhouse, and especially females who are blandly written and are constantly upstaged by the more memorable (but slightly smaller) male characters. Does Disney care? Sure they do, they care enough to make memorable female characters and place emphasis on those characters in their stories, amusement parks, and merchandise. The gals get quality over quantity, so I guess the question is really do you want your boy to be like a Disney Male Lead?

  2. Agreed with the Home on the Range point made in the previous comment. Why is that one marked as having a male lead? The horse is more a secondary protagonist, he's not the lead. The three cows are the main characters and all of them are non human females.