The recently controversial redesign Disney’s done in order to induct Merida of Brave into the canon of their other princesses isn’t the first time Disney has done a sparklier, cleaner, trimmer version of their princesses. But it’s caused particular backlash in part because Merida represented a different kind of femininity than most of her other princess counterparts.
She’s the only member of the group, for example, who doesn’t have a love interest by the end of her movie. And unlike her action-girl counterpart Mulan, whose character development comes when she reconciles and embraces the dual presence of what her culture regards as “feminine” with what it regards as “masculine” in her identity, Merida’s identity reconciliation isn’t actually about gender. It’s about personal responsibility. While her betrothal is the catalyst of her rebellion, Merida is just as frustrated by her mother’s insistance that she learn history, politics, and how to inspire her people; subjects that while boring, are absolutely necessary for the responsibilities Merida will take as she grows older. It’s these skills that Merida uses to defuse her betrothal problems, and when she does create respect among her clansmen for her desire make her own choice, when she wants to make it, her relief is shared by her potential fiances as well. In Merida’s world, those responsibilities and her desire for freedom from them are not actually seen as masculine or feminine: she’s expected to rule with her husband, and before her brothers, despite the fact that one of them is actually the first born male in the family, and she’s being schooled in those skills by a female expert: her mother.
But I digress: it was inevitable that she’d get a 2D redesign to make her fit in stylistically with these lineups, criticized by many Disney fans for slimming and whitening characters, as well as smoothing the differences between their faces and replacing original hairstyles with more stylistically modern ones. I also understand why, after a movie that’s entirely about Merida accepting responsibility while using that responsibility to preserve her freedom from the traditional patterns of her society, and after all of the other traits that make Merida unusual (if not entirely unique, although that’s almost entirely because of the presence of only one other princess, Mulan) among the Disney Princesses, that folks would see this as a betrayal of her character. There’s a bit of a feeling like: if we have to homogenize and glitter up the Disney princesses (for the purposes of delighting little girls, not necessarily a bad thing), can we at least keep a few of the princesses who are less “classically feminine” (in our extremely limited cultural definition of the phrase) than their counterparts more in character, with more of the design cues that accompanied them for the majority of their films, where they spent the majority of their time not being “classically feminine?” It’s about options, and having a lineup of Disney Princesses that presents a diverse definition of “femininity.”
It doesn’t surprise me that Disney has said no, because they’re not likely to lose much by saying it. A Disney representative told the LA Times that despite a Change.org petition, “Disney has no intention of abandoning” its redesign.
The modified Merida was created specifically to welcome the character into the company’s princess collection. And according to a Disney representative on Wednesday, the image of Merida that sparked this maelstrom is part of a limited run of products including backpacks and pajamas. But images of the original Merida will also be available on consumer products, the Disney representative said.
Hope was sparked recently by reports that Merida’s image on Disney’s official princess website had been “restored” to that of her CGI version from the Pixar movie, but quashed by the reveal that her redesigned look had never actually appeared on Disney’s official site, but on Target’s website and on a site specific to the “coronation ceremony” played out by park staff at Disney World last weekend.
(via The LA Times.)