Back in 2000, Disney first presented the Disney Princesses, 10 of their most recognisable female characters all thrown together in one easy to type out/market collective term. This group of characters had come under fire over the years for the way Disney’s females tended to either value looks over everything else (Get away, ugly mermaid!), or have their self worth determined purely by whether or not they can get themselves a man.
And then along came, Merida, star of Disney’s Oscar winning Brave, all fiery mane and female independence. She became so popular so quickly that Disney has now officially named her as the 11th Disney Princess. And then promptly changed the character to piss off her fans.
Well, maybe they didn’t intentionally do it to piss people off, but that has still been the end result of unveiling Merida’s new look (seen flanking the original character design in the image above – click it to enlarge), now that she’s officially a Disney Princess. All of a sudden, gone are the tomboy-ish looks (and even her trusty bow and arrow in most pics). Instead, she’s now a little bit more sexualized with doey eyes, fluttering eyelashes and painted lips, she’s a little slimmer around the waist but a little wider around the bust, she’s now dressed up in one of those skintight, off the shoulder, glitzy ball gowns that Merida spent so much time hating on in the movie, and even her normally unruly mane of hair (her trademark character trait) is now just that tiny bit sleeker than it used to be
These may not be huge changes, but for a character who some considered as Disney’s “first feminist princess”, it’s enough. Enough to prompt a petition from outraged parents – which has already garnered over 100 000 votes and climbing – to immediately spring up online. Here’s what the petition, addressed to Disney Chairman Bob Iger, had to say:
“Merida was the princess that countless girls and their parents were waiting for – a strong, confident, self-rescuing princess ready to set off on her next adventure with her bow at the ready. She was a princess who looked like a real girl, complete with the ‘imperfections’ that all people have.
“The redesign of Merida in advance of her official induction to the Disney Princess collection does a tremendous disservice to the millions of children for whom Merida is an empowering role model who speaks to girls’ capacity to be change agents in the world rather than just trophies to be admired. Moreover, by making her skinnier, sexier and more mature in appearance, you are sending a message to girls that the original, realistic, teenage-appearing version of Merida is inferior; that for girls and women to have value – to be recognised as true princesses – they must conform to a narrow definition of beauty.”
Brenda Chapman, who was replaced as director on Brave midway through production, but is still credited as the character’s co-creator, is not pleased about these new changes either.
“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 mould. 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.”
Now naturally, there are some naysayers that would decry the protests of Chapman and co as nothing but feminist propaganda, but really, you have to admit that there was absolutely no reason to change Merida’s appearance this way. This smacks of focus-group sampling, where they suddenly need the character to appeal more to older males, and of course the only way they can do that is by dolling Merida up a bit.
Disney has “defended” this change with a limp-wristed PR release to Yahoo! that reads:
“Merida exemplifies what it means to be a Disney Princess through being brave, passionate, and confident. She remains the same strong and determined Merida from the movie whose inner qualities have inspired moms and daughters around the world.”
If Disney truly believe that a character’s outer transformation has absolutely no bearing on how she’s perceived by potential fans, then I really need to get me some of whatever they’re smoking over in the House of Mouse.
Last Updated: May 14, 2013