Amid outrage over the older, sexier version of a beloved film character that Disney introduced recently, the company appears to have back-tracked. A company spokesperson said Thursday that the makeover was never meant to be permanent and assured fans they would see the old Merida again soon.
Merida is the heroine of the recent Pixar movie Brave. (Disney is Pixar’s parent company.) In the movie, Merida has untamed curly red hair, is rarely seen without a bow and arrow slung over her shoulder, and has no interest in meeting a prince and getting married.This makes her quite different from many of the other “official” Disney princesses, like Snow White, Cinderella, and Ariel, who are always perfectly dressed and coiffed and have little to do than wait for (and occasionally sing about) the man of their dreams.
Many saw Merida as part of a new model of princesses who are strong, brave, and able to take care of themselves. In the film, she fights bears rather than watching princes fight over the right to marry her. This image fits with Disney’s “I am a Princess” ad campaign, which also tries to re-brand princesses as strong.
While this may work in movies and television commercials, it is a tougher sell in the merchandising world. Beautiful, sparkly princess with well-groomed hair and skinny waists have become a multi-billion-dollar annual industry that sells clothes, toys, diapers, shampoo, snack products, make-up, and other assorted products.
In an attempt to make Merida fit into this mold, Disney changed her hair from wild curls to silky tresses that cascade suggestively over one shoulder. Her simple dress was replaced with an off-the-shoulder, gold and turquoise number that includes a low slung belt to emphasize her now thinner waist. Her skin exchanged its ruddy red hue for porcelain white. She’s wearing lipstick and rouge. There were also changes to Merida’s demeanor; she now stands with one hip out and her head cocked seductively to one side. Her bow and arrow are nowhere to be seen.
Brenda Chapman, the writer and former director of Brave, explained in an email to The Independent, why she was upset with Merida’s makeover:
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 mold — 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.
Chapman was not the only one to complain. News outlets like the Today Show picked up the story and asked viewers what they thought. Meanwhile, a Change.org petition that asked Disney to “Keep Merida Brave” received 12,000 signatures.
A spokesperson for Disney told Entertainment Weekly Thursday morning that the redesign, which was done for her official coronation into the sisterhood of Disney princess, will be, and was always intended to be, phased out over the next few months.