Merida meets 'Murica
Published: May 13, 2013 at 1:42 PM
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.
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.