One of you asked me if I had read this 2000 essay by Christine Hoff Kraemer, and I have to admit I hadn't. This is the first time I've discovered her essay, and it's such an excellent read that I had to share with everyone.
Christine Hoff Kraemer examines issues of feminism as addressed in Western and Eastern animation. Specifically, Miyazaki's films (Nausicaa, Mononoke) against Disney's films (Pocahontas, Mulan). Her insights are illuminating as she pits the four female lead characters against one another, judging their relative strengths and merits.
It should come as no surprise that Kraemer prefers Miyazaki, of course. Her closing paragraph:
Though Disney is still unmatched in the sophistication of its animation, the content of its films is still far from cutting-edge. Miyazaki's films are much richer in content and complex in plot – they are films for children to grow up with and grow into, much like the best of classic children's literature; Mononoke, while still a family film, was marketed for older children and young adults. Disney, on the other hand, seems to be increasingly ignoring the older contingent of its audience to produce films with overly simplistic storylines and gaping plot holes (as anyone who groaned when a group of six Huns nearly took over Mulan's China knows). Further, the portrayals of Mulan and Pocahantas bespeak a schizophrenic political agenda – the two heroines behave in extremely conservative, regressive ways at some points in the films (Pocahantas's passive role in her sexual relationship, Mulan's return to family life) and in extremely progressive ways in others (Pocahantas's powerful defense of living in harmony with nature, Mulan's successfully fulfilling the traditionally male role of a soldier). Perhaps the reality simply is that in terms of unity of message, Miyazaki's total creative control over his films produces pieces that are far more artistically and thematically coherent than Disney's films, which see the creative influences of many different minds and hands. In terms of providing strong female role models for our children, however, the choice between Disney and Miyazaki is clear: the future of feminism in animated films is undoubtedly Japanese.