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Spooky Sellout

Halloween has brought a new phenomenon:  Disney villainess fashion.  The Disney Store is selling a range of items from scarves and journals to notepads and compacts, each embellished with “reinterpretations” of one or more Disney villainesses. Introduced last month, the six featured have also been made into a set of collectible dolls:  Ursula from The Little Mermaid, The Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, The Evil Queen from Snow White,  Mother Gothel from Tangled, and Cruella DeVil from 101 Dalmations.

Cosmetics compact shows newly redesigned Disney villainesses on its cover. That's Ursula on the right and the Queen of Hearts on the left.

“How can this be?” you say.  The Evil Queen, with her velvety wimple and jewel lips, and Maleficent, with her arched brows and high celadon cheekbones, are good candidates for high fashion, which certainly has its own weird wickedness. But you may wonder how fishy Ursula and the big-boned and buck-toothed Queen of Hearts are being sold as couture. The villainess of the ocean and the Red Queen are both overweight and–perhaps more to the point–are comic characters.  Neither are given to the stony elegance that characterize Sleeping Beauty and Snow White’s nemeses.

Ursula scarf is available from the Disney Store.

The answer is pure marketing.  Disney engaged “designers” who redrew all the villainesses into more aspirational figures, with the most dramatic “reinterpretations” being the sea queen and the red monarch.   Both are now not only slim, but gorgeous in the same arch way as the other four.

There have been complaints.  And, of course, doubletalk from Disney:  “The Disney Villains Designer Collection is a unique, stylized and fashion-forward take on these iconic characters.”  Please.

Doll collectors writing online say this photo does not do the Ursula doll justice.

The women who collect the dolls seem pleased with the new characters, at least judging from the reviews Disney has allowed on its Store website.  One happy buyer writes:  “Ursula does not disappoint. The image does not do the dress justice. The rippling effect of the gown has an iridescent appearance. The hair color complements the purple shading. There are no tentacles but one does get the feeling somehow that they are hiding below the surface.”

Graceful and superfeminine, the Queen of Hearts doll is a far cry from the awkward, buck-toothed, big-boned animation of Alice in Wonderland.

The Queen of Hearts is similarly chic.  One buyer, who got the doll for his wife, points out that the dolls are meant for adult collectors.  No doubt this is true, though you might think adults could handle something a little more true to the original.  Still, one happy owner writes:  “This is my favorite of the designer villains. Her expression and color combination have been done with excellence. She is beautiful and stylish, yet you sense her hot temper hiding beneath her pretty frock. Any moment you may say the wrong thing and it’s ‘Off With Your Head!’ You better get those white roses painted red!”

There is nothing wrong with wanting to collect pretty dolls, at least not in my opinion.  But when I visited my daughter Liza and her friends, who are all still big Disney fans, I found them offended by the rehabilitation of the two larger villains.  Not one might fairly ask whether buyers would have purchased either the dolls or the array of stylish accessories if these two queens had been in their original forms.  Perhaps not. And we are all clued in to the whole “body image” issue, to the point where redoing these ladies is not going to cause anybody massive psychological damage.  Even so, the action is disappointing, because it is just so. . .  well. . . cowardly.

Walgreen's and e.l.f. display villains who are more true to form.

Oddly, Disney has also licensed the villainesses to Walgreen’s for the season.  In turn, Walgreen’s has produced a set of candies that show the original forms, including the Queen of Hearts in her own considerable persona.  But they have also produced a line of makeup, in partnership with e.l.f. (which stands for “eyes, lips, face”).  The Disney Store is not carrying a makeup line–one might argue that this kind of product would be the acid test of whether women really wanted to look like our favorite villains.  Walgreen’s/e.l.f. did not redesign the wicked ladies at all, but selected only three–Cruella, Maleficent, and the Evil Queen–to offer in a book-like presentation of makeup.  Each package gives you the means to produce a “day” and “night” evil face.  The colors are not at all costume-y, but the imagery is all pure Disney, not “reinterpretations.”

Cruella's box promises "Evil Everyday Eyes," while Maleficent's sells "Devious Dramatic Eyes."

And they are sold out.  Liza and I went to three different stores while I was visiting her in the Bay area.  We found Cruella at the first store and we should have bought her, but Liza was holding out for Maleficent and she was out-of-stock.  But the next two stores were sold out of all three!  A visit to e.l.f.’s online store showed all three packages gone.

Somehow it seems only fair that Walgreen’s should benefit in this way:  a soldout success for those who did not sell out the original villains!


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