So a few months ago, I saw an announcement from Sony about their plans for an "emoji movie." According to the short synopsis, the movie would take place in an iPhone and the emoji would have little adventures. Now, that sounds incredibly stupid (as well as a suspiciously similar premise to Disney's Wreck-it Ralph), but honestly, I was willing to let it slide. After all, it just sounds like the typical mediocre result of a corporate CEO's misguided views of what kids like. So, I did not give it any more thought until Sony released this first look at the characters of the movie:
...yeah. Where do even begin with this? Needless to say, my first reaction of this was not the most level-headed. I'm talking about multiple texts written in all caps. And lots of exclamation points.
Now I do not consider myself an expert on character design at all. And I do not want to needlessly hate on the hard work of dozens of studio artists. But these designs just showcase a huge problem in not just animation, but media in general — specifically, the designs of male characters versus female characters.
Take a look again at the main emoji in the middle. He is basically just a yellow circle with noodle-like limbs and a small tuft of hair. No clothing or human anatomy in sight. He does not even have any accessories like a bowtie or glasses. Now look at the girl emoji to his right. Sure, her head is a yellow circle and she has the noodle limbs, but she also has a full body covered in clothes, a full head of hair, accessories, eyelashes, and lipstick. So, basically, the male emoji is pretty much a blank slate in regards for his design except for the tuft of hair, but we still recognize and accept him as a man. The female character needs clothes, makeup, and eyelashes before they can be accepted as a female. Not only is this inherently sexist, thinking that a character cannot be a female unless they are given features that are regarded as feminine, but it's entirely unnecessary. These characters are emojis. They are tiny pieces of data on a phone. There is no reason they need to be sexualized or conform to gender norms.
This type of character design is not uncommon — take a look at this example of main girl versus main guy designs:
Amy and Sonic are both anthropomorphic hedgehogs, yet only Amy has to cover up her body with a dress. All Sonic needs is his shoes and his gloves. Why? I know society has a certain stigma over certain parts of the female body, but it is not like guys are allowed to walk around outside without pants. So why do literally all "Sonic the Hedgehog" boys run around without clothes but all the girls need to cover themselves up in some way?
It is just annoying because making non-human characters, especially girls, follow human rules about what is considered feminine and what is not is not only sexist but just lazy. Why would hedgehogs or emojis care about the heteronormative expectations of humans? Be creative! Think about how different cultures, even ones made up of hedgehogs and emojis, might think differently about what is acceptable in public and what is not. Girl characters do not need to fall in with the human opinion that girls are cute and dainty. They do not need to conform to a human set checklist of physical traits. They certainly do not need human makeup for us to tell they identify as female. A good example of female non-human characters not needing overly feminine characteristics is from Disney's "Zootopia:"
Except for the slightly pronounced eyelashes, these characters do not have makeup or human-like hair in their designs, but that does not get in the way of how they are meant to be female. They do not need to slap lipstick on their fur or grow an excessive amount of hair on their heads. They are animals — those features are unnecessary!
So in short, female characters, especially non-human characters, do not need to conform to human society's norms of what females are supposed to look like — curvy, pretty, and covered in makeup. Of course, it probably just would have been easier to say I really do not like the "Emojimovie."