Friday, January 17, 2014

On Fence About Annie Leibovitz

The newest Annie Leibovitz photo was released to the Disney Parks Blog last week, to much fanfare as usual.  Jessica Chastain is the most recent celebrity to "become" a Disney character, and takes the form of Merida in the famous photographer’s latest spread for the Disney Parks. These photographs, always accompanied by a fluffy marketing sentence like “Where your destiny awaits,” are released to the public periodically with much fanfare, and I’m always amused at the polar responses they receive within the Disney community.

Personally I have always been underwhelmed by the line of photographs, yet chose to just ignore them rather than voice my opinion.  But recently my curiosity got the best of me and I started looking into them, trying to figure out specifically why I didn’t care for them while many others did. 

As much as I love Disney films, these perfectly-posed and beautiful celebrities posing as characters from my childhood just don’t fill me with the same joy that the characters’ respective films do.  While the rich and famous play expensive dress-up, I realize the gap between the relatable characters that Disney has created so well over the years, and people like me has widened immensely. 

I can relate to Tiana’s character’s passion for earning what she wants through hard work, but I can’t relate to a pop singer in an expensive dress. 

The small bit of sympathy I feel for the pathetic Captain Hook character and his hurt pride dissipates as a silly actor I saw in a corny movie last week takes his place in the crocodile’s mouth.

And then there’s the character that has been most stripped of her film's identity as we see a popular white actress attempting to pose as Pocahontas, the headstrong Native American young woman.  This one isn’t even creative license, only whitewashing in the name of celebrity.

The Disney Parks Blog encourages us to “Be amazed as (Annie Leibovitz) transforms celebrities into fantastic Disney characters.”  But it comes off as a bit elitist when the qualities that audiences love in characters are sacrificed for a famous face that’s difficult to separate from what we know them so well as.

Conversely, I can see why this aspect would be the source of appeal to those who do enjoy the photos.  Disney often works well as an escape, or something as far from reality as possible.  Stars playing stars only further the illusion of the fairytales.  The celebrities are in beautiful costumes and surrounded by fantastic effects.  It’s as if they’re in a dream, with different and unrelated familiar pieces sown together into a cohesive photographs.  This brings up the interesting paradox in which Disney fairytales provide their audiences with escapism and entertainment as well as relatable themes and characters.  Because of this, neither opinion is right or wrong, but just different ways of looking at the Disney we love.  That's one reason why different Disney fans may either love or hate the Annie Leibovitz photographs.

Except for Jessica Biel as Pocahontas… that’s still just disappointingly wrong.

**Life Update!**
I have begun my second full semester of graduate school and have quite a bit more on my plate this time around.  I will be working at an agency for my internship and grading two online classes (One is sociology, yay!) along with pursuing my own classes.  I thank you for your patience during this stressful year, and while I would love to keep blogging on a regular basis, it isn't really realistic.  I hope to post some good stuff whenever I find the time, so please check back every once and a while and definitely follow me on social media for more regular conversation. 
Thank you!


  1. I think I feel much the same way you do about these photos; they're so artificial and kitschy. That's not to say that they didn't require lots of skill and work, but in the end, I just don't love them. Annie Leibovitz has had a long career taking truly wonderful portraits for Rolling Stone (and other publications), how the heck did she wind up doing these?

  2. I'm sort of on the fence about these too, but primarily my reaction is just kind of "meh"... I'm always curious to see what they'll look like, but I never really am that impressed with them when I do. They always end up looking kind of pretentious to me. Which, I think, might be part of what you're saying (in a more stripped down, specific way) here. I find that a lot about Disney's marketing, though - it seems to miss the boat about what appeals to me the most in their products, which is the humanity and relatability, not the grandiose fantasy.

    1. Major and Rebecca, glad to hear I'm not the only one who feels this way! Good way of summing up my point nicely, both of you!