Has Princess Merida Just Grown Up?

Disney unveiled the newest of the Disney Princesses, Princess Merida from the Academy Award winning animated film Brave, and as part of translating her from screen to full merchandise character they tweaked her appearance a bit, as you can see in the image below:

Princess Merida from BRAVE
Princess Merida, Before and After

First off, you can see that the style of illustration is different, Merida from the original film looks almost like claymation or some other stop motion animation figure (especially in the rounded face) while the more traditional hand-drawn illustration on the right — the “new improved” Merida — has a slimmer waist and more mature facial features. She’s also traded her practical leather belt that holds her quiver of arrows for a more fanciful belt that looks a bit like a prize from the County Fair.

Is she more buxom in the new illustration? Maybe, or maybe not. Is she slimmer? Definitely. But not by much.

But otherwise, what do you see that’s so different that over 110,000 people have been inspired to sign a change.org petition asking Disney to “restore Merida” to her original Brave appearance? Original Brave writer Brenda Chapman (who was fired from the production before it made it to the theaters) claims the makeover is “blatant sexism”. She explains, in florid rhetoric:

“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.”

That would be all well and good if the original Merida in the animated feature had been overtly heavy and dressed as a tomboy, but if you look at the image above, Merida was always a pretty young woman dressed in the romanticized period garb of a peasant woman. Yes, perhaps Disney might not have needed to give the new Merida a slimmer waist, but otherwise when I look at the two images above, I don’t see that dramatic a difference, and as a father to two girls, one 16, one 9, I am very sensitized to the sexualization of women in our culture and especially those presented as “role models” by companies.

My take: If I were Disney I’d quietly let the new Merida snarf a few bacon cheeseburgers and milk shakes to end up with a princess whose waist line and bust line are a bit more similar, but otherwise the eyes really aren’t “big and sultry” and the hair looks about as wild as it does in the original film. In other words, much ado about precious little.

What’s your opinion on this brouhaha?

9 comments on “Has Princess Merida Just Grown Up?

  1. The thing that made her extraordinary was that she DIDN’T have that polished, impossible model look. All the charm and sassiness, the REAL, that was there in the original rendering are gone, now. If I may wax poetic for a moment, She’s just girl with a beautician in the newer rendition.

  2. Ya… I’m not impressed. They took a raw, delightfully unpolished, strong girl and turned her into something closer to a romance cover model. Merida wasn’t about makeup and sparkles, she was about bucking the norms and doing good while doing that. They have ‘normalized’ her; all that spit and polish have tarnished what she stood for, IMHO.

  3. I’m with you. Riding horses and climbing mountains for years will be good for anyone’s waist. Sure, she doesn’t have her bow, but she probably hides a dagger under that belt.

  4. I’m thinking maybe Brenda Chapman is full of sour grapes and a bit insecure about her own physical appearance, maybe? Little girls don’t think in the mature, esoteric terms or examples that Brenda uses as her prejudiced standards for “blatant sexism”. Little girls think ‘Sparkly’. Generally speaking they approach someone’s appearance as it is presented, not as the subliminal “come hither” look that Brenda is obsessed with. I’m not going to go into my suspicions about Brenda’s prepubescent experiences that may have caused her to spew such a torrent of venom over a simple transition for a three dimensional clay figure to a one dimensional drawing. Heal yourself, Brenda!

  5. Not all little girls think “Sparkly” – speaking as a girl who grew up playing with Tonka trucks and being turned down for the high school rugby team because she was a girl. Merida was excellent because she *wasn’t* sparkly, and now that’s what they have gone and done.

  6. Yes, they have made the following obvious changes: neckline, bust moved down to adult position from preteen/teen position and made larger, glitter, eye makeup, hippier, thinner waist, its like the bad photoshopping they do on stars to turn them into someone else.

    But, this is Disney. I was expecting this, and never would have encouraged my children watch the movie in the first place looking for role models.

    We find our role models in books. Good books. Ones where the heroine is whatever you imagine her to be.

  7. I have crazy curly hair–always have and always will (I used to hate it and spent hours trying to straighten it–no matter how many people said it was pretty–because no one else had hair like mine) and even now that I’ve “grown up” it’s still just as crazy as Merida’s old style. And for awhile I liked that my crazy hair seemed like it was good enough for a princess too.

  8. At times we fret over issues like this as if they possessed a huge impact on our children. Then, we laugh off other images/messages in the media our children consume and say, “aw, it’s just a movie/TV show …”

    So which is it?

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