Detail work is vital when it comes to creating a full character. We may not instantly take in every single detail about someone when we see them on screen, or meet a person in real life. But let me tell you, we WOULD notice if those “unnoticeable” little details were gone.
Detail work can happen on a character’s person or in their surroundings, like Wanda Maximoff’s bedroom in Civil War. That setting gave us a very personal look into the who of Wanda, without us even realizing it at first. Without the careful attention to detail in that scene, we would have known so much less about this mysterious character.
Today I want to talk about personal details about the character’s physical appearance. These small things in how they look, sound, or appear, are in fact HUGE when it comes to telling us about this character. Who they are, where they are from, how they feel, and what they want.
Here are 2 examples of details. The first one is a detail that has been done well and added to the character. And the second is a detail that was handled poorly and it detracted from the character.
1. Disney Princesses and their big eyes.
Ever noticed how HUGE Disney Princesses’ eyes are? It’s become something that even Disney fans are pointing out as rather ridiculous, especially considering that our latest princesses Rapunzel, Anna, and Elsa have the hugest eyes of all. Right?
I mean, take a look at above slideshow of Disney princesses. The eyes have only grown more disproportionate over the decades, even though you would think they would get more realistic. What’s with that?
Obviously huge eyes are beautiful. But some fans have complained that these beautiful princesses with their impossibly huge eyes and tiny waists have created an unrealistic image for little girls everywhere. It is quite true that Disney does not create the most realistic looking characters. But what if that was done entirely on purpose?
The eyes are the windows to the soul. Eyes are the most important feature on a character to portray what happens in that character’s heart. Squinty eyes = villain. Sad eyes = someone who has suffered. Huge eyes = a person feels trapped, or they are searching for something.
What are the 2 things most Disney princesses have in common? They feel trapped. Trapped by an evil stepmother, trapped under the sea, trapped in a marriage custom, trapped in a little French provincial town, trapped by societal bounds, and trapped in a tower/castle and cut off from the whole world.
Or, they are searching for something. Searching for freedom, adventure, love, safety, truth, floating lights, peace, etc.
Yes, I can now see why especially Rapunzel and the Frozen sisters have impossibly huge eyes. Their lives have been so incredibly isolated, they have been cut off from the world and human interaction and they are desperate to find freedom and love. You can see it in their eyes.
Those who have been drawing or animating stories that are more geared toward children have been using visual clues to communicate more subtle messages and understanding for centuries. And children have been picking up on those details for centuries. I guess the big-eyed Disney Princess is starting to make more sense now. It’s not just an impossible standard of beauty, it’s a clue into these girls’ souls.
A detail that we have often passed off as ridiculous now seems rather vital.
*I have no good explanation for the tiny waists. I am with the thousands of other fans who are ready for realistic portrayals of both men and women in both animated and live action films.
2. Prince Caspian and his changing accent.
What? What in the world am I talking about?
Honestly, not many people have noticed this until I mentioned it to them. It may seem like it should be an easily overlooked detail, but hear me out.
In Prince Caspian Caspian spoke with a Spanish accent like the rest of his Telmarine people. This gave them a distinctly different flavor from the Pevensies, our classic heroes and monarchs who had British accents. The majority of the Narnian creatures also spoke with a British accent.
Listen closely to the difference in Caspian’s accent and the accents of those around him.
Caspian’s accent in that film made him stand out from the other main characters and gave his character even more of an outsider complex. It was a small detail that gave us tons of information about his backstory and culture vs. that of the Narnians or the Pevensies. I found it to be a very unique and charming aspect of his character that I enjoyed a lot.
However, something strange happens in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Caspian has over the course of just three years suddenly developed a British accent.
When did that happen? Typically, if you have been raised up to adulthood with one way of speaking, you tend to keep using that accent for the rest of your life, even if it may soften over time.
Caspian was a young man when he became king of Narnia. He was old enough that his Spanish accent should have remain entrenched, even if he picked up a few new things from those around him speaking with British accents.
The character of Caspian in TVOTDT has grown and matured since PC, he is a confident and capable leader. But he is still Caspian.
The creative choice to change this single, but very important detail of Caspian’s character was a bad one in my opinion. It robbed Caspian’s character of a very rich and intriguing layer and instead made him fade into the woodwork of the British-sounding cast instead of standing out as someone unique.
It created mental confusion and stole attention from his unique character, instead of adding to it. This was a detail that was poorly handled and hurt both the character and the authenticity of the story.
Stories are made of up of thousands of details. Characters are created with a few big things, and a whole lot of details. The greatest characters have been given careful attention by their creators, folks who used details to their advantage.
What are some tiny things you have noticed that have made a big difference in characters? I’d love to hear from you, so please, share your thoughts with me.
Also, I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving! I feel delight when I imagine the millions of people who will be doing the same thing this Thursday. Gathering in a common purpose for food, family, and thankfulness. May we never take these beautiful things for granted, may we never take those we love for granted. May we enjoy this day in which so many peoples’ stories are engaged upon the same moment, a shared experience. God bless you all!