As the gender equality battle in Hollywood continues (and despite the issue having intense candor by leading actresses), animation seems to have continuing adamancy toward fixing things. Disney has already changed course from making their female heroines subservient figures to increasingly strong influences without being overly obvious or reinforcing stereotypes. It seems each new wave of Disney’s renewed animation renaissance takes this more seriously to a point where we’re seeing new and more complex female characters not typically depicted.
Nevertheless, someone at Disney must have noticed one piece of film history that’s long been ignored, if also in need of vast improvement. From the late 1950s to the late 1960s, there was an offbeat film genre known as the “giant woman movie” that found periodic favor with sci-fi audiences.
The timing on this genre was interesting considering it started in the late 1950s when women were still mostly secondary characters to male leads. It was also long before any female liberation, which made the psychology behind it all the more intriguing. Considering males still ran Hollywood then like self-appointed mythological gods, you could look at it as a form of nightmare movie for them where occasionally malevolent women towered over other mortals.
With “The Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman” in 1958 being the first of this genre, you can see a 57-year path to Disney’s newly announced “Gigantic” for 2018. As much as you hear that “Gigantic” is an historical extension of the 1930s-era short “Mickey and the Beanstalk”, its twist of having the giant being a woman seems more of a revival of the giant woman films of the 1950s and ‘60s.
When you look at the giant females in the earlier genre, you see a lot of wasted potential on what they could have done with the concept. The woman in question in “Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman” is a wife looking for her philandering husband while subsequently tearing a town apart. Rather than make a powerful statement about women being liberated from 1950s conformity, we instead see a woman being revengeful over a relationship and taking it out on everyone else.
Most movies that continued this idea into the 1960s played up the idea that women would have to be the equivalent of a giant revengeful “Housewives” cast where throwing cars and telephone poles was allegory for throwing dishes or cell phones.
The only exception seemed to be 1959’s “The Thirty-Foot Bride of Candy Rock”, which had more of a love story at its core. Noted as being the last film of Lou Costello, his hapless character had to endure his girlfriend magically turning into a giant. Despite the in-joke of Costello already being of physically short stature, his character still wants to marry his giant girlfriend. It set up something more interesting all films in this genre never bothered exploring through “Village of the Giants” in the mid-60s when giant women went into a long cinematic dormancy.
While giant women have showed up in movie cameos over the last decade (mostly from A-list actresses), the idea that female giants go on rampages held true recently in “Into the Woods.” Even if the latter was based on classic Broadway material, the giant woman getting revenge on the death of her giant husband was painfully memorable. It also likely brought audiences a few unintentional laughs when hearing her monstrous voice.
Now that Disney’s “Gigantic” is going to have a gentler and younger female giant, it’s perhaps a new entryway into other female giant movies. If we’ve already seen plenty of tiny female characters (including at anthropomorphic quantum level when you include “Inside Out”), the female giant movie shouldn’t necessarily have a bookend at Disney.
It’s time to repair this fractured genre and bring some ideas that could help bring new twists on the gender disparity in Hollywood. As much as gender inequality is the big elephant in the room during show business discussions, a giant intelligent woman who doesn’t just exist to destroy would get the attention she deserves.
At least animation can open more imaginative possibilities about why being a female giant is a liability. The earlier films of the ‘50s and ‘60s possibly ruined all chances of live-action in this genre, even if motion capture still allows the best actresses to show themselves as true giants.