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Merida meets 'Murica

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Published: May 13, 2013 at 1:42 PM

So Disney gave its newest "princess" a makeover, and that's making some fans mad -- including the person who created Merida.

Merida, before and after

Those are the before and after looks for Merida, the heroine of Disney/Pixar's Academy Award-winning Brave. Disney officially "crowned" Merida as the company's 11th Disney princess in a ceremony at the Magic Kingdom last weekend. To publicize the ceremony and Merida's inclusion in the highly lucrative Disney Princess merchandise line, the company released several images with an, uh, updated look for the Scottish princess.

Disney princesses

The obvious change is the switch to the sparkly dress. Hey, even warrior princesses aren't always dressed for battle. But Disney's stripped several inches off Merida's waist and hips, perpetuating a stereotype of rail-thin feminine "beauty." And Disney's reshaped Merida's mouth in addition to laying on her eye makeup with a trowel.

That's elicited a backlash from thousands of fans, as well as from Brenda Chapman, who created the character.

Let's remember that Chapman and Disney haven't had a fairy-tale relationship in the past. Disney sacked her during production, though she retained directing and writing credits on the film.

Yet the makeover reinforces an accusation that Disney simply can't seem to wrap its corporate head around a female character that doesn't look like a Barbie princess. Disney's princesses no longer look like their original selves, but instead most resemble 11 toy dolls with interchangeable bodies, distinguished only by the colors of their hair and skin, their haircuts and their dresses. Which, of course, can be swapped depending upon the occasion. Reducto ad merchandisum.

It's that merchandising that drives this, of course. For every person who signs the Change.org petition to change Merida back, hundreds more moms and dads will shell out big bucks to buy their daughters stuff with Disney princesses and their prefab look.

Merida, meet 'Murica.

Contrast Chapman's conflict with Disney with the number-one talking point that gets drilled into the head of any reporter who covers a press event at a Universal theme park. You can't get through a Universal press event without hearing its PR and Creative reps talk about how Universal cultivates relationships with filmmakers when it designs new theme park attractions -- whether that's Michael Bay on Transformers, Peter Jackson on King Kong 360:3D or Stuart Craig on Harry Potter. Left unsaid is an inference that other companies (read: Disney) aren't so accommodating with the filmmakers with which they work.

Look, Disney's going to continue to crank out impossibly skinny, Barbie-like princess merchandise so long as people keep buying it. Don't like it? Don't buy it. But theme park fans might also want to keep their eyes and ears open for how battles like this influence the creators who inspire and make tomorrow's theme park attractions. Chapman's public stance against Disney provides a relatively rare clear glimpse into the struggles between creators and executives that usually take place well behind the scenes.

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Readers' Opinions

From Richard Faraci on May 13, 2013 at 2:05 PM
"Left unsaid is an inference that other companies (read: Disney) aren't so accommodating with the filmmakers with which they work."

Avatarland was announced in 2011, there still hasn't been any construction started.

This, along with this article's topic, are fantastic examples of how Disney doesn't know how to work with creative types anymore. The company is so unlike walt's vision it's astonishing.

From 70.56.16.210 on May 13, 2013 at 2:32 PM
What bothers me about this "makeover" is that they've turned her into an adult, which is to say, they've sexualized her. Merida is an adolescent. Little girls need role models that show them there is more to being a woman than having curves and a seductive face.
I also find the "we do it because people buy it argument" very weak. Sure they buy it; it does not follow that they would not also buy something else, or even prefer something else. It's one of the laziest corporate mantras around. They're cranking out the same thing not because they can't be bothered to change until it becomes undeniable that people want something else. Which is exactly what's going on in Orlando. Tons of people flock to Disney (don't misunderstand, I'm a huge Disney fan, so they see no reason to change, until a Universal comes along and does something different, and people prefer it, and Disney needs to consider the idea that just because people buy it does not make it good enough.
From Denise Rambo on May 13, 2013 at 2:36 PM
I want to know why Snow White - one of the "original" princesses is shoved all the way over to the end on the left. She should be front and center with Cinderella and - to a lesser degree - Sleeping Beauty.
From Anon Mouse on May 13, 2013 at 3:37 PM
Although I can get upset about these things, I'm not. The original films show how the princesses look. These changes are for merchandising only. And you CAN get both the sparkly dress and the more drab original dresses at the Disney Store. The thinner look is for marketing. They certainly capture your attention and kids will want them, but they are not designed for adult consumption. You can stop worrying about the princesses appearing as adults. Kids do dress-up all the same.

The firing of Brenda Chapman, on the other hand, disturbs me, but I didn't know this until now. It is old news. I wonder why it bothers me for someone I haven't even met and for a movie I haven't seen yet? Okay, I'll get over it.

From Eric Malone on May 13, 2013 at 4:39 PM
She's still kinda ugly either way, so I feel like she conveys the original message regardless of change. It also proves that no matter how much makeup you apply, sometimes it just can't counteract ugliness.
From TH Creative on May 13, 2013 at 6:12 PM
Richard Faraci: "Avatarland was announced in 2011, there still hasn't been any construction started."

I Respond: That's not accurate.

From 108.227.168.6 on May 13, 2013 at 6:20 PM
As a feminist and the mother of a young girl this sort of thing usually outrages me but this one just doesn't - it's nice to see I'm not the only one. (I'm also a stickler for character continuity). Merida isn't interested in feminine pursuits at her age in the movie, and it's a relief to this progressive thinker to have that sort of girl also represented in the Disney Princess Franchise. For instance, it angers me that Mulan is always represented in her formal dress instead of her battle gear.

However, the thing that bothers me the most is that a LOT of the backlash has implied that to be feminine is to lose one's intelligence & brevity, and I think if one is going to be outraged in the name of feminism as many claim to be, they need to choose wiser words when addressing the issue.

(I am not talking about this blog post - I'm referring to the posts in every major publication including what Brenda Chapman herself had to say about it)

I don't love the illustration. I get it. I don't exactly think it completely strips Merida of her essence but it is decidedly more feminine & they've aged her. I"m relieved to see that the Meet & Greet character is still the same (which is the costume worn for the coronation) and Merida is just as fierce in the few items of new post-coronation merchandise at the Disney Store. Everyone take a deep breath, our girls are going to be just fine, particularly if we keep an open dialog with them.

They're going to sell more tiaras to be sure, but not to me.

From a fact checking standpoint, many of the arguments are also wrong: the dress that Merida is wearing is her original dress (see sleeves and neckline) NOT the one that got ruined when she fell from Angus that she hated in the movie. They added bling at the bottom but that detail existed already on the Meet & Greet Merida, except that the ornamental pattern is not gold at the bottom. Many articles & blog posts have also cited that her hair is less wild, and this is simply the difference between illustration styles - crystal clear CGI hair vs a chunkier graphic design.

She doesn't have her bow and arrow in this particular illustration but she did during the coronation. Does Rapunzel have her frying pan in every illustration? No one freaks out or sees her as weak if she sets it down for a minute.

I don't love the makeup and prefer for her to stay a young girl, but I do not think that wearing makeup means Merida is no longer brave. In fact, to say so (as many, many people have) is to imply that to be feminine is to loose your intelligence and brevity. Also, calling (original) Merida a tomboy is to say she's "boy like" and I just wonder why a girl can't be brave, intelligent and good at a sport without being labeled a boy? Brenda Chapman herself said Merida was "not just a pretty face that waits around for romance." Well, that statement implies pretty clearly that a pretty face is one that just waits around for romance, which is a load of crap and as anti-feminist and anti-woman as you can get. It perpetuates the myth that only unattractive, masculine women are of substance and that makes me very, very angry.

If we're going to make this a feminist issue, I'd love it if someone started talking about things that really matter & not making mountains out of molehills while demeaning femininity while they are at it. I can't think of anything more anti-girl than that.

Feminist issues aside, I think that ALL of the princess redesigns are tacky and unnecessary (when it comes to the illustrations and some of the merchandise). It drives me nuts when they give bogus tiaras to Snow White & Cinderella. I wish we could all stick to the original character design because that's all I'm interested in buying anyway. But sparkle sells.

My daughter picks up her bow and arrow or puts on her Merida wig and she feels POWERFUL. I don't believe this illustration has the power to change that. In fact, I think that they will push Merida into the mainstream more than they have already, and the more girls who discover this willful interesting princess the better.

I'm MUCH concerned about the words that equate being feminine with being idiotic, and strength with being male.

From 68.12.53.212 on May 13, 2013 at 7:33 PM
Wait a minute. I think the real outrage should be with Ariel. How does she not have flippers for feet?
From Anthony Murphy on May 13, 2013 at 7:44 PM
While I agree that the change is a bit strange, I am finding that there is more of an anti Disney bent being drilled into this website by Universal. I am down at the Universal parks today and was shocked to hear some of the exact talking points that are appearing in some TPI articles. I love the site, but can Disney ever do right?
From James Rao on May 13, 2013 at 8:22 PM
Not to diminish some of the great points that have been made about real issues like equality, feminism, and stereotyping, but in this particular case all I can say is, Seriously?!? Move along, folks, there's nothing to see here.
From James Trexen on May 13, 2013 at 8:59 PM
Count me in a part of the "Who Cares?" crowd. This in no way diminishes her personality and characteristics? Do people really want Merida (a girl who openly wipes her mouth with her own clothes after eating) to look awkwardly out of place with the rest?

And I'm trying to figure out what Anthony means by his post. Something about a hand Universal is playing in this?

From 72.197.30.46 on May 13, 2013 at 11:33 PM
Eh I don't really care ...brave was one of the most boring Disney and pixar movies ever made. A rehash of the tired out "I want to choose who I want to marry" story. Although girls may love that kind of story I find it incredibly irrelevant as forced marriage doesn't really exist in modern society and people are free to marry who they want. I think Mulan was a far better story if you want a warrior princess...she actually risks her life to safe her father ...very brave. The story was clearly written to appeal to teenage girls. Not the wider audience that Disney movies usually appeal to. And did anybody notice that all the "men" in the movie are mindless, belligerent morons? As a masculinist, Im highly offended that no males were portrayed with a balance of intelligence and physical strength.
From Rob Pastor on May 14, 2013 at 6:39 AM
The Disney & Universal comments on this site are generally about the same that are being said on similar internet sites. I don't detect a general bias on TPI. Most of the issues associated with Disney & Universal have been common talking points on other forums. There's pro Disney people, pro Universal people, and people that enjoy both companies.
From Brian Emery on May 14, 2013 at 7:12 AM
Who cares it’s a frigging Cartoon…. Get over it…. BTW did you see the Bruins epic win last night!! Now that’s real…

And have you ever seen Roger Rabbits wife?

From Mike Gallagher on May 14, 2013 at 7:46 AM
Geez..now I'm scared. I was gonna express my utter outrage that Jessica Rabbit is not represented, then I saw that Brian mentioned the same thing. I fear for my sanity :)
From Brian Emery on May 14, 2013 at 7:58 AM
Thanks Mike you made me laugh… Plus those curves on Jessica are almost as great as the Bruins win last night….. (Sorry I had to mention that again!) hahahahah

From TH Creative on May 14, 2013 at 8:03 AM
I'd say the trend is more like there are people who are both pro-Disney and pro-Universal and others who are pro-Universal and anti-Disney.
From Marie-Eve Landry on May 14, 2013 at 6:08 PM
I'm not against the aging process. I'm not against the pretty dress... but I really don't like the make-over. They could have made her look like an older Merida without changing all her features. She was perfect just the way she was.

From N B on May 14, 2013 at 7:21 PM
Disney already caved and put the original image back up on the princess page - This story made the MSN homepage...

I didn't mind the makeover, being a graphic artist and all, but the almond shaped alien eyes were horrible. Disney genius strikes again....

From 98.124.30.216 on May 15, 2013 at 8:12 AM
This absolute obsession with Disney Princess stuff in the parks has always left me kind of cold. I have three sons and they hate it. We have been to Universal 4 times in the last 5 years, our boys have no interest in Disney any more. They feel Disney is more for little kids and girls.
From Marie-Eve Landry on May 18, 2013 at 2:54 PM
Good point on the last comment. I think it would be nice if Disney made more emphasis on the princes and other characters... Like Chef Remy, Wall-E, Lightning MCQueen, etc.

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