Disney Drops "Sexy-Merida," But You Should Still Be Mad
Earlier this week public pressure managed to convince Disney to drop its make-over of Merida from the Pixar release Brave as she was being prepared for induction into the official 11 princesses in the Disney universe. Her princess model featured a more slender waist, slightly larger bust, make-up, tamer hair, and no appearance of her trademark weaponry. This led to calls of objectification and overly prissing up the girl we can all agree is the most assertive and badass of the royal female heroines in Disney.
Personally, it didn't bother me. Yes, I know, I'm a guy and I don't understand. I am, however, a father to a three-year-old daughter who loves Merida (Even if she sometimes confuses her with Amy Pond from Doctor Who) and the son of a woman who taught him to ride horses, rope cattle, shoot, drink, swear, and punch in the head those who so desperately need punching in the head. I consider myself more of a male tomboy than anything else.
I recognized the make-over for what it was... a unified marketing strategy meant to make all the princesses look like part of the same universe. Merida didn't just change for her inclusion in this weird, decorative stable that Disney created, every single princess did. All of them, from Snow White to Rapunzel. Click that Jezebel link up above, and you can see a side-by-side comparison of all the girls, everything from boob jobs to making Tiana slightly less black.
Flashback Are the Disney Princesses Feminists?
Merida, as a Pixar creation, looks not only different from all the other now-homogenized princesses, she looks almost deformed because her animated avatar isn't meant to be a very realistic representation of human form. It's sort of like if Nani from Lilo and Stitch was made a princess. They would have to straighten her curves because that movie's specifically rounded style of animation would cause her unaltered original drawing to look overweight and dumpy next to the redraws of the others.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves came out more than 80 years ago. The definition of contemporary, fashionable beauty has change dramatically over the course of Disney's career, and every single princess is the product of what the animators thought would appeal at the time. Throw in different artistic interpretations and you have a mess when you're trying to sell the Disney Princesses as some sort of actual equal collective.
No, I was never mad that when Disney announced Merida would be joining the Disney Princess brand that they also made her look, well, like the other Disney Princesses. That was utterly to be expected.
I was mad that they did it in the first place.
Number one, Pixar is its own little segment of the Disney empire, and it produces works of such incredible magic that Disney seems very reluctant to mess with them too much lest they kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. I like that Pixar exists congruent, but separate from traditional Disney, who proved in Tangled that they can go CGI with the best of them apart from Pixar itself. Hopefully Marvel and Lucas Films will exist the same way. The inclusion of Merida alongside the rest of the Mousian Dynasty feels, in an odd way, like an arranged marriage to unite the two houses.
You might recognize that as the exact reason Merida told all her suitors to kiss her grits and turned her mother into a bear. She wanted to choose her own path, not be co-opted into the plans of others.
Which brings us to another important point. What is the difference between Merida and all the other princesses? Answer, she's way more than a princess.
Let's look at the line-up; Snow White (Royalty, marries royalty), Cinderella (Wealthy land-owning family, marries royalty), Aurora (Royalty, marries royalty), Ariel (Royalty, marries royalty), Belle (Commoner, marries royalty), Jasmine (Royalty, marries commoner), Pocahontas (Daughter of a chief, marries (?) a diplomat), Mulan (Wealthy land-owning family, marries a general), Tiana (Commoner, marries royalty), and Rapunzel (Royalty, marries a commoner).
Of that list we can easily rule out Tiana, and Belle as eventually ruling as anything more than as co-regents because of their low births. The traditional, royal blood princesses are a problem, especially Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora as they appear to be only children. Considering the timing of their movies, though, I think we can safely assume that Disney intended their various princes to eventually be the ruling powers.
Historically, we know that Pocahontas never went on the rule the Powhatan. Neither Mulan or her husband are royal at all. Ariel as the youngest daughter of Triton has little claim to rule, and it's highly unlikely she would assume power even beside Eric (This all sort of hinges on the idea that all of the Disney Princes are in line to become kings).
This leaves Jasmine and Rapunzel, who marry commoners (and thieves at that). In Jasmine's case, it's pretty clear that she has not been groomed to succeed the Sultan, and Aladdin is being trained as Grand Vizier, a position of great power. For Rapunzel, the fact that she has been missing for almost two decades almost certainly means that other arrangements for the crown were made, if she was ever in line at all.
Merida, though... at the end of Brave she rejects all the suitors of the clans. While she plans to marry and continue the royal line eventually, and with the mate of her choosing, she ends her film single with her father's approval.
That means that her father has pretty much acknowledged Merida as his lawful heir. Merida isn't a princess; she's going to be the queen! All the events of Brave point not only to the idea of following your heart in love, but also establishing Merida as a political force powerful enough to thwart the will of her father's military allies single-handedly.
You think she's going to let her husband give her a teaching post like the Sultan later does to Jasmine? Not bloody likely.
Merida is unique in that she is the first female we see in a major Disney flick that will hold supreme executive power in a kingdom who isn't a murdering, vain occultist with a cannibalism fetish. That's how long it's been since we saw another solo queen in Disney, 1937 and Snow White.
Because of that, the idea of Merida as part of this weird tea party cult thing that Disney makes of the unified princess line was utter crap in the first place. The whole things is nothing but a parade of pseudo-celebrities playing house. There's nothing wrong with having pretty princess picnics of course. I'll probably have one tonight with my little girl before she changes her mind and wants to wrestle.
That genteel culture is fine for the, lets just say it, classic Caucasian princesses. With the exception of Merida and Rapunzel all the white princesses are pretty much useless and also kind of stupid (Don't say anything about Belle as a reader, she reads nothing but romances that whole film). I have no problem picturing them hosting parties and doing socialite charity work. Jasmine isn't much better. They're all as archaic as princesses in real life.
That doesn't fly for Merida, any more than it really works for Tianna, Rapunzel, Pocahontas, and Mulan. These women are doers. They have adventures because hell yeah, adventure time! They represent modern femininity, an identity where women will control if not every aspect of their lives then at least what they can. They have families and stuff, sure, but they also don't hesitate to walk their own paths.
My daughter owns 13 Barbie movies on DVD, and each one of them is an endless parade of the firstiest of first world problems mixed with a healthy dose of "Stay pretty and you'll be allowed to take it easy forever" thrown in. I hate most of them, and am glad that these days she asks for Merida instead. I like that she feels a connection to female figures that do something rather than have something done to them.
I understand that the Disney Princess thing is about using Disney heroines to let little girls play dress up and pink out with starlets, and again, there is nothing wrong with a little girl wanting to do that at all. But making them all this weird Stepford cult of sameness detracts from their individual stories. Frankly, for more than half of them, who cares? Their stories are primarily them being purely ornamental, anyway. Let 'em hang from Christmas trees for all I give a hoot.
For the rest, the girls who shoot arrows and know hair-fu and have military training and the like? Leave them out of that stuff unless they're saving the trophy wives. Let's see Pocahontas lost on the Scottish moors with Merida fighting werewolves, or something like that. If our daughters want to have tea with their action figures afterwards, they will, but don't strap the tomboys into corsets for the rest of their lives anymore than you'd ask Snow White to lead a charge against the Hun.
In short, we don't need Merida's original look in the Disney Princess line, we need her out of the line period. If you want to start another petition to pressure Disney, ask that any woman that has the ability to do more than impress a drawing room be given their own separate adventure club. Hey, then maybe we could even include some folks outside the hereditary ruling elite like Alice or Wendy for a damn change.
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