Much ado about Merida

Last week I was invited to attend the coronation of Merida into the Royal Court at Disney World. I was thrilled to go, but on the very day it was taking place, I was quoted in a Huffington Post article that was critical of Merida’s new makeover. They used a quote in which I described Merida as the first feminist princess:

“‘Brave’ may be considered by many to be the first feminist princess movie. Merida does not pine for a prince to come to her rescue, and solves her own problems without the aid of a suitor.”

I still agree with that assessment, so I was surprised to learn, just hours before the coronation, that Merida had received some sort of makeover making her more skinny and sexy. This is the photo that was circulating, where you can see Merida looks older, with more slanted eyes, bigger breasts, and a cinched-in waist:

image

 

There was already a petition circling and I understood the frustration. I went to the coronation curious if this makeover would be evident at the park, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. The gal playing Merida was almost the anti-thesis to the other princesses in the park, and very much the Merida many of us fell in love with from the movie. She was spunky and fiery, and she walked like a tomboy . . . slouched yet perky and devoid of all the schmaltzy princess posturing.

merida rides in

She rode in on a horse, she strode up to the stage with swagger, and she yelled out “I am Merida, and I am a Princess!” with such conviction that a tiny lump might have formed in my throat.

merida

There was no sign of sexed-up Merida here. The Merida at the parks was a refreshing departure from most of the overly-feminine and demure princesses. And again, the aspect of this story that I love most: the relationship with her mother is central.

merida and her mom

So, no sexy Merida makeover at the park. Crisis averted there. But where, exactly, WAS this sexy new Merida? I perused the Merida merchandise at the park, and only saw the old Merida. When I got home, I did a google search for the new Merida, and the only results that popped up were linked to an article decrying the makeover. Was there even a new Merida at all? Who is this phantom menace?  Were we all getting riled up over a makeover that never happened?

Then I read an article in The L.A. Times, explaining that the revised image was never featured on Disney’s princess website, but was solely found on Target’s website, in addition to a specific site inviting mom bloggers to the coronation at Walt Disney World this past weekend. Funny I WAS A MOM BLOGGER INVITED TO THAT CORONATION. I don’t recall the sexed-up Merida, but she does, indeed, appear on Target’s website.

 

image

But in context, the new Merida makes a bit more sense. The original Merida is a computer-generated animation. The new Merida is a bit more 2-D, inline with the other princess. I am not a fan of the body modifications, but at the same time, I don’t think that Merida got a “makeover” so much as an unfortunate 2-D rendering on the Target website. And if you browse the Merida product line, you’ll see that the original Merida’s image is on all of the merchandise.

In the past 2 days I’ve seen a lot of people outraged that Disney refused to do away with the Merida makeover, but the thing is . . . there was never really a Merida makeover to begin with. Disney never updated their Princess Collection site with the new look . In fact, the studio insists the Merida images used on the Princess site have always been of the movie’s Merida. They can’t exactly “switch back” to something that was never changed to begin with.   So while I appreciate the critical analysis, I do think the furor was misplaced. Merida is still the spirited tomboy from the movie, and she still represents a great shift in the Disney princess culture.

I think Catherine put it best in her post today:

So that’s all there was: some iterative artwork, created for limited use to celebrate the coronation. The image being circulated was intended for limited product use, and (in a slightly different variation) for the coronation invitation. That image doesn’t represent a ‘new’ Merida replacing an ‘old’ Merida: it’s just another iteration of Merida, who is much, much more than just red curls and a green dress. The CG character that you see in the movie, and that Emilia and I saw in real life at Disney World she’s still the girl that she’s always been.

meridas fans

[photos by Josh Hallett]

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