Title - How Color Communicates Meaning in a Film

Last night I saw Little Miss Sunshine, and after all the hype I knew the film included lots of sunshine yellow. What I 'didn't expect to see was the masterful use of color throughout this film.

Color Palette: Sunshine Yellow, Aqua Blue, and Fire Engine Red

The primary color palette of yellow/beige, aqua/blue, and red appears early in the movie, and the scheme repeats throughout. Whether in the large colored vases that the sun shines through in the kitchen, the wardrobe of the three main characters, the dinnerware or strategically placed props, these colors showed up in different combinations in every scene.

Yellow was predominant, and some of the more important uses of this color included:

Bright yellow, a color associated with optimism, offered an thought-provoking contrast to the sometimes dark subject matter.

The yellow beige monotone palette of their Albuquerque residence gives the homes clutter a uniformity that allows it to be there but not to beg for our attention.

The VW bus surrounds the family with lemon yellow and hints that something positive may be at the end of the journey even for this dysfunctional clan.

While on the trip, bright sunlight exposes each person's flaws, but at the same time, the warm light asked that we not be too critical of their imperfections.

I also appreciated the use of red, which is a color that encourages action and confidence and can also evoke feelings of protection from fears and anxiety. How appropriate that young Olive wore this color throughout as a sign of her determination to overcome self-doubt and win the "Little Miss Sunshine" contest. I especially liked her red cowgirl boots, red Converse high top sneakers, and red necktie.

You may not have noticed, but the colors were used to define all of the characters: Olive mainly in red, her mother and father in aqua/blue and the three other male family members in black/white/gray. Okay, so maybe you're not as focused on the colors as I am when you watch a, but perhaps if you catch it again on DVD, the use of color could be something fun to spot in the film.

One last thing about how color related to this movie: the poster and marketing materials grabbed our attention with yellow, and the color was used to keep our focus on the film when we see yellow in an entertainment-related context. You may have noticed "Little Miss Sunshine" yellow serving as a backdrop for ''Movie City News'' and elsewhere.

Being able to recognize a movie or brand by merely seeing this one element speaks to the powerful connections color triggers in our mind.

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Feature Image Credit: Nick Baker on Unsplash
The poster art copyright is thought to belong to the distributor of the film, Fox Searchlight Pictures, the publisher of the film and/or the graphic artist. It is shown here to illustrate the critical commentary on the film.

Read Time: 3 min
  • Ralph Martin says:

    AMELIE the movie has many uses of color within it to tell the story. DVD has a bonus video from director & cinematographer discussing the power of color in cinema. Plus a very good movie too!

    • Kate Smith says:

      I agree, Ralph. Amelie was a wonderful movie with many color references. I may just have to re-watch it and give my take on the colors. Thanks for stopping by and reminding me of this film.

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