Nothing enrages the internet quite like a character redesign. Whether we’re talking about a cartoon animal, a video game character or even an advertising personality, their visual appearance becomes part of their persona, forever ingrained in fans’ minds down to the smallest detail. Tweak the colour of Mickey Mouse’s pants and there will be hell to pay. Put Minnie Mouse in pants and… well, we’ll see what happened there.
There are reasons most cartoon characters never change their clothes. It makes them immediately recognisable, and also helps ensure consistency among animators. Sometimes we think a change can be refreshing and add new depth or interest to a character. Here we round up some of the most controversial character designs of the past year, from the Green M & M to a detective Jessica Rabbit and Ms Pac Man’s transformation into Pac-Mom.
You might immediately notice a trend emerging – it seems the internet really doesn’t like its cartoon or gaming heroines to lose their apparent femininity or sex appeal, even if they’re a rodent, a candy-coated chocolate button or a hungry 8-bit hockey puck. For more amusing design controversies, be sure to see our roundup of the most ridiculous logo disputes.
01. The green M&M
Who would have thought that changing the character of an anthropomorphic piece of candy could generate such hostility? But the alleged desexualisation of the green M&M’s shoes earlier this year had people seriously kicking off. All six M&M characters received redesigns to make them “more inclusive”, according to Mars Wrigley, with tweaks to both their physical appearances and their personalities.
But it turns out Green M&M was a major sex symbol with her go-go boots, lip gloss and thick lashes. She was the Kim Kardashian of confectionery, in fact. And in turning her into a woman who is “known for much more than her boots” Mars Wrigley actually created, in the eyes of one Twitter user “an old maiden” in “40-50-year-old auntie sneakers”. The company was accused of everything from “reverse yassification” to slut-shaming. Rolling Stone magazine even demanded in a headline, “Let the Green M&M Be a Nasty Little Slut” No, Mars Wrigley didn’t listen to them.
02. Minnie Mouse
Just one week later, the internet was up in arms again. And this time the Fiercely Debated Re-Clothed Animated Non-Human Character of the Week was none other than Disney’s Minnie Mouse. Disneyland Paris unveiled a new outfit for our favourite female rodent, replacing Minnie’s iconic red and white polka-dot dress with a funky pantsuit, or pyjamas maybe. Either way, this wasn’t just any old budget getup, this was a Stella McCartney design based on her famous blue tuxedo and made from responsibly sourced fabrics. But that wasn’t enough to avoid a backlash.
Minnie Mouse in pants, and sustainable pants to boot? It was too much for some corners of the internet. “More woke BS. We’re talking about a character that is almost 100 years old,” one user tweeted. “People have an attachment to Minnie Mouse’s usual outfit,” another person argued. “Her whole style is cutesy, and overtly feminine, to distinguish her from the way Mickey Mouse is drawn. She went from a fun red dress to an ugly (sorry, it is) pantsuit.”
Happily, for Minnie and McCartney, thee were also plenty of champions in this case, and many people loved the ‘I’ve just cleared my inbox’ look. The real-life version of the suit was worn on-site in Paris by the real Minnie (what do you mean it’s someone dressed up?) throughout March to celebrate Women’s History Month and Disneyland Paris’s 30th anniversary (check out its nice logo).
03. Lola Bunny
More cartoon controversy, this time from Warner Bros. Last year’s Space Jam: A New Legacy brought back the Loony Tunes crew for a sequel to the 1996 original. While you’d think a few tweaks would be acceptable after a quarter of a century, but many fans were NOT happy about Lola Bunny. And yes, again it was desexualisation that caused the storm, with the new iteration of the basketball-playing female rabbit distinctly less curvy and dressed in baggier clothing.
Some people on Twitter had seen enough. “Lets just get rid of everything with sex appeal because it offends a small percentage of people. Let’s act like women with big boobs don’t even exist.” Or rabbits with big boobs even. The film’s director Malcolm D. Lee was forced to explain himself. “This is 2021,” Lee said. “It’s important to reflect the authenticity of strong, capable female characters.”
04. Jessica Rabbit
You can probably already see what’s coming here. A few months after the Lola Bunny controversy, Disney revealed it was going to make one of its characters “more relevant”, and this time a human – well, kind of. In this case it was the sultry-voiced Jessica Rabbit from the groundbreaking 1988 live-action/animated comedy Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Disney removed her from a scene on the Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin ride at Disneyland Park in California in order to turn her into a detective.
Her original animatronic appearance in the ride was tied up in the boot of the car waving her leg, as she was being kidnapped by a weasel. The theme park decided that was problematic and that instead they would make here the main protagonist of the ride, as a detective rather than a kidnapping victim. But some argued that Jessica Rabbit was actually a refreshing take on the femme fatale stereotype, and an empowered female character in control of her own sexuality. Others appreciated a shift intended to focus more on her strength and intelligence, but can’t she still dress as she pleases?
05. Ms Pac-Man
So this one’s perhaps not technically a character redesign, but a character replacement. Earlier this month, it emerged that Pac-Man, everyone’s favourite pizza-shaped yellow ball, had changed wives in the Nintendo Switch reissue of Pac-Land. The original Ms Pac-Man it seems was sent pac-ing due to some labyrinthine legal issue (apparently the rights to the character had been sold to AtGames) and was replaced with Pac-Mom.
We’re assuming the character is still intended to be Pac-Man’s partner, with her name a reference to her being the mom of Pac-Man’s child rather than her being Pac-Man’s mom, but who knows? She still looks, well, like Pac-Man, but instead of Ms Pac-Man’s red bow and boots, she sports a pink hat, gloves and shoes. A minor change? It certainly has little impact on gameplay, but fans on Twitter were predictably miffed.
“This franchise isn’t the same without Ms. Pac-Man anymore. I hate you so much AtGames for killing off my favorite childhood franchise,” one user tweeted. “I am so not here for the Ms. Pac-Man erasure,” someone else added.
Pac-Man himself was recently revealed as the sixth most popular video game character according to the Guinness Book of Records. Suffice it to say, Pac-Mom wasn’t on the list. Random Fun fact? Pac-Man was originally called Puck-Man because he looks like a hockey puck, but someone suggested the name be changed to avoid people defacing arcade machines to change the P to an F. Spoilsport.
These are just a few of the character redesigns to have outraged fans online over the past year. We could go on. Just last week, gamers were put out by Sora’s tamed down outfit change in the upcoming Kingdom Hearts 4. And gamers again – yes they’re a demanding bunch – have also been rather unimpressed by the interpretation of one character in the new Paramount + Halo adaptation (those responsible really should check out our selection of character design tips).
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