In what was apparently a lovely ceremony, Pixar’s first Princess, Merida from Brave, was inducted into the Disney Royal Court at Disney World in Florida. She joined Snow White, Pocahontas, Ariel, Rapunzel, Tiana, Mulan, Belle, Jasmine, Cinderella, and Aurora in the court, complete with parades and a public coronation. You can see video of the event below, with Merida’s mother giving a little speech and the master archer adorably announcing herself as a princess.
For those that don’t keep up with this culture- the coronation is kind of a thing. It represents Merida being included into the Disney Princess canon, meaning you’ll be seeing her included in everything from toy sets to bus wraps. This marks Merida’s full embrace by the giant Disney machine, and the indication that she will remain an iconic figure for decades to come.
Not everyone is particularly pleased about this turn of events though, as the new wave of promotional material and products that come with this induction have brought with them a slight redesign of the character. This is not some official canon thing or sweeping change, but rather the release of a single marketing asset of the character that fits the aesthetic of the other princesses on packaging and things like that.
What has people upset are the subtleties of this design, which uses the shift from 3D to 2D as a means to homogenize the princess, stripping her of some admirable features- mainly a fuller figure, and generally less sexualized appearance. With more apparent make-up, a lower neckline and exposed shoulders, more refined hair, an elaborate dress, no bow in her hands, and a thinner waistline, many are frustrated or outright disgusted by the changes. The discontent is enough to have sparked a strong petition effort, and some nasty words from none other than the original director of Brave, Brenda Chapman. Though later replaced as the director during production, Chapman shared the Best Animated Feature Oscar with Mark Andrews, who replaced her 18 months before release. She had this to say to MiranIJ.com:
“There is an irresponsibility to this decision that is appalling for women and young girls, Disney marketing and the powers that be that allow them to do such things should be ashamed of themselves… I think it’s atrocious what they have done to Merida. When little girls say they like it because it’s more sparkly, that’s all fine and good but, subconsciously, they are soaking in the sexy ‘come hither’ look and the skinny aspect of the new version. It’s horrible! Merida was created to break that mold — to give young girls a better, stronger role model, a more attainable role model, something of substance, not just a pretty face that waits around for romance.”
No punches pulled!
From my seat the outrage is both justifiable, and in some ways misguided. One of the major problems is treating this one particular released image as law, comparing it with a specifically chosen frame from the movie, and basing all issues on that arbitrary comparison. It’s a very Facebook way to approach things, and it suggests issues that are not in fact issues. For example, one of the charges levied here is that she has been stripped of her bow- the symbol of her independent ferocity. That’s all well and good, except that she does indeed have her bow as a real-life Disney Princess- you can see it in the footage above. The particular image above come from a series that fits in with all of the other images of all of the other princesses, which do not necessarily feature props. It’s an all-purpose image that might go on the outside of a doll’s box, or a Merida wig or any number of products. It will be integrated into all manner of packaging design, and there are undoubtedly a dozen other images like it, some with the bow included.
The issue of changes to her dress are more complicated- there is nothing disempowering about a woman wearing a more sparkly dress than the flat outfit the petition folks chose to juxtapose the new image with. The exposed shoulders can be argued as an unfortunate choice- but the dress overall is imbued with more of a distinct Celtic aesthetic that’s a big part of the movie, and the dress with its split elbows is more representative of her rebellious nature than some plain frock or whatever. Her skeptical and aggressive poses also reinforce her image as an independent, strong woman. There are all things that make her distinct and would be a shame to lose.
The waistline is arguably trimmer- the most clearly unfortunate choice. Any opportunity to expose young girls to a less homogenized body image is a golden one, but fortunately the real-life Merida is far from some unrealistic Barbie doll. That said, if Disney takes anything from all of this hullabaloo (they won’t), I would hope it’s the clear message that people (the market!) don’t need Merida purging in the outhouse to keep up with Aurora or Ariel’s figure. They can do better than this.
But what are your thoughts on this? Has Disney insidiously stepped Merida back from her strong self by shaving a few pixels here and adding some skin there? Is this overblown? What do you think little girls are going to take from all this, if anything?
I’m interested to see the conversation, but note that I have no interest in nor patience for anyone telling us how this is “bullshit” or “overly PC crap” anymore than I want to hear this is an “evil conspiracy.” It’s a conversation. A variety of opinions within the conversation are great, but we’re having it. Deal with it. Be cool!