Update Friday: Disney issued a new statement on the Merida controversy: “The artwork used on Merida’s official social media sites has always been the imagery from the movie. We routinely use different art styles with our characters and this rendition of Merida in her party dress was a special one-time effort to commemorate her coronation. Merida exemplifies what it means to be a Disney Princess through being brave, passionate and confident and she remains the same strong and determined Merida from the movie whose inner qualities have inspired moms and daughters around the world.”
The controversy has continued to spread. Most recently, Jon Stewart has weighed in.
Disney did replace an image of the newly designed Merida with one of the original on its website this week, but the controversially modified version of the princess is still appearing on some merchandise. The updated Merida remains emblazoned on some limited-edition Princess Collection backpacks and apparel.
And from the LA Times yesterday afternoon:
Despite an online petition that garnered over 200,000 signatures protesting the re-imagining of Pixar‘s “Brave” heroine Merida, Disney has no intention of abandoning its sexier version of the Scottish archer.
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. Full article
They appeared with royal fanfare. Now, critics say, they have silently disappeared.
Images of a sexily made-over Princess Merida from the Pixar movie “Brave” are hard to find on the websites run by Disney, Pixar’s parent company.
And some critics of the makeover are claiming victory.
But it’s not official yet. Disney hasn’t released a statement on the reported disappearance of the images. (And the company did not respond to our question about the move.)
So, Brenda Chapman, the Marin County filmmaker who created and co-directed “Brave,” is still worried that the entertainment corporation will sneak the new Merida back onto its merchandise after the complaints die down. “I think they are biding their time to see how this is going to play out,” she told us.
And some of Disney’s sites in other countries still display the new Merida, she said.
What’s all the furor about?
When Chapman created Merida, she imagined an alternative to the traditional damsel in distress who waits for a prince to rescue her. That character came through in the movie: a girl whose wild mop of curly hair and bow and arrows symbolized her independence.
Disney released new images of Merida to coincide with her coronation on Mother’s Day as the 11th in its line of princesses whose image appears on branded merchandise.
The new Merida has a slimmer waist and bigger breasts, smoother hair and no bow or arrows. In some of the images Disney released, she cocks her head in a manner that some find coquettish. And she’s happily wearing the dress she hated in the film.
“To change that was sending a message that being who you are is not good enough,” said Chapman. “It’s such a horrible message to send out.”
In response to the initial criticism, Disney issued a statement implying that Merida’s “inner” qualities still shown through. “Merida exemplifies what it means to be a Disney Princess through being brave, passionate, and confident, and she remains the same strong and determined Merida from the movie whose inner qualities have inspired moms and daughters around the world.”
But Berkeley author Peggy Orenstein said the change in Merida is not just skin-deep. She studied how sexy Disney Princesses affect girls for her book, “Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.”
“It makes them vulnerable to negative body image, depression, eating disorders, poor sexual choices,” she said, citing a report from the American Psychological Association. “So it is an issue when we keep plying them with products over and over again that give them this message that now you can be brave, but you better be pretty.”
Many people agree. As of Wednesday morning, almost 200,000 had signed a petition saying “No to the Merida Makeover.”
“I think people are tired of having their role models taken away,” Chapman said.
It’s not the first time that Disney has made a tough princess sexier. Mulan, the Chinese warrior, got a more effeminate look, said Orenstein.
The issue is so important to Chapman, she said, that she is willing to risk repercussions to her career. In fact, Pixar dismissed her from directing “Brave” a year before the film was released because of other creative differences.
Currently, Chapman is headed to DreamWorks for a new project she declined to describe, and so far no one there has given her a hard time for her defense of Merida, she said.
She has struggled with the issue in her own family. When she began working on “Brave” a decade ago, her daughter, Emma, was only 4, but Chapman modeled Merida on Emma’s spirit and strength of character.
Chapman said Emma remains proud of Merida, but she came home from school saying her friends didn’t find the makeover much of an issue. “She’s pretty. What’s the big deal?” they said.
So Chapman wants the world to know that she doesn’t oppose girlie girls. “I don’t have anything against makeup and pretty dresses. I think girls should go with who they’re comfortable being. I’m fighting for the integrity of the character.”
She’s even willing to cut Disney a little slack on its Merida dolls. All the princesses have the same body, she said. The company just manufactures new heads for each one. It would be really expensive to make a new body just for one princess. “I’m a little more understanding of that,” she said.
But as of Wednesday morning, the version of Merida who appears on the Disney Princess website stands out among her fellow monarchs. Her image is taken directly from the film. So not only does she look less sexy, she’s also three-dimensional.