Disney's 'Brave' makeover sparks fury from fans, director

Published: Monday, May 13 2013 4:20 p.m. MDT

The lead from Pixar's The lead from Pixar's "Brave," Merida (left), received a redesign (right) before becoming Disney's newest princess. (A Mighty Girl, amightygirl.com)

Disney crowned Merida of "Brave" as its 11th princess on May 11, but not before giving her a makeover and angering fans.

A petition on change.org encouraging Disney to ditch the makeover has garnered more than 200,000 signatures, and even the film's writer/co-director has criticized the updated image as "a blatantly sexist marketing move based on money."

As the controversy played out in the media, there were conflicting reports over whether Disney had succumbed to the pressure. Several websites, including Yahoo!, reported that the updated image had been pulled from the official Disney princesses website. However, IGN reports that the image on the website has always been that of Merida from the Pixar film.

This film image released by Disney/Pixar shows the character Merida, voiced by Kelly Macdonald, in a scene from This film image released by Disney/Pixar shows the character Merida, voiced by Kelly Macdonald, in a scene from "Brave." (Pixar, Associated Press)

Dubbed the "anti-princess," Merida's wild red curls, passion for archery and refusal to follow tradition won the hearts of parents and children alike last summer. The film won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature and has grossed more than $550 million with its Scottish heroine.

But in preparation for Merida's official welcome to the Disney princess collection, her curls have been tamed, her waist slimmed, her dress covered in glitter and her bow removed from sight.

Many parents were not amused.

Carolyn Danckaert, co-founder of A Mighty Girl, a girl empowerment website selling books, toys and movies for “smart, confident and courageous girls,” launched the petition.

Addressing Robert A. Iger, Walt Disney Company's CEO, Danckaert wrote:

"Merida was the princess that countless girls and their parents were waiting for — a strong, confident, self-rescuing princess ready to set off on her next adventure with her bow at the ready. She was a princess who looked like a real girl, complete with the ‘imperfections’ that all people have.

"The redesign of Merida in advance of her official induction to the Disney Princess collection does a tremendous disservice to the millions of children for whom Merida is an empowering role model who speaks to girls' capacity to be change agents in the world rather than just trophies to be admired. Moreover, by making her skinnier, sexier and more mature in appearance, you are sending a message to girls that the original, realistic, teenage-appearing version of Merida is inferior; that for girls and women to have value — to be recognized as true princesses — they must conform to a narrow definition of beauty."

Parents and fans of the film weren't the only ones unhappy with the change.

Brenda Chapman, who wrote and co-directed the film and has added her name to the petition, wrote a scathing email to her local newspaper, the Marin Independent Journal, about the redesign, calling it "a blatantly sexist marketing move based on money."

Writing from Chile, where she is currently working, Chapman wrote, "There is an irresponsibility to this decision that is appalling for women and young girls ….

"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."

A Disney spokesman told Inside the Magic, an online outlet that covers Disney news, that the change, in part, was to help create a 2D image to use for easy product design.

Another Disney spokesman told Yahoo! Shine that the design change did not change the character's spunky nature, saying, “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.”

Kristine Cook, a blogger at Mompop, agrees. In a recent blog post, Cook questioned why Merida's change in appearance was being correlated to a change in character or personality.

"In the case of Merida, we champion her ability to set a role model for young girls in how she takes charge of her life, asserts her opinion as valuable in the face of an oppressive society with oppressive, sexist traditions and finds happiness without the variable of that 'Prince Charming' quotient," Cook wrote. "I simply do not see how, with this change of appearance, that she has lost any of that strength, determination or value for our children — boys and girls alike."

Signers of the petition disagreed, with many arguing that the transformation takes away the uniqueness that made Merida refreshing and promotes the sexualization of young girls.

Bonnie Chernoff of Littleton, Colo., wrote on the petition, "The homogenization of the princess collective over the last several years dilutes the brand rather than strengthening it. The characters have basically become interchangeable, stripped of all their individuality. Is that really the message we want young girls to absorb?"

Petition signer Gabriela Houlgraves of Sittingbourne, U.K., said Merida herself would be protesting the transformation.

"This is not true to Merida's character — she would be up in arms about having to wear that dress and not have her bow and arrow."

For other signers, who fell in love with Merida for her relatability, the change was more personal. She was a princess who didn't mind getting dirty and preferred being outside riding her horse or practicing archery at the range.

Rowan McMonagle of York, U.K., wrote, "As a young girl growing up, I was bullied over three things — being Scottish, my red curly hair and being interested in cartoons, stories and activities which were 'for boys.' When I saw 'Brave,' it gave me honest hope that when I have children, and possibly a little girl, if she's like me, she'll have a role model who isn't frightened to be herself. This takes all of the things that made Merida wonderful and positive, and turns her into another one of the girls I was 'supposed' to be."

Katie Harmer is a journalism graduate of Brigham Young University and writes for Mormon Times. Email: kharmer@deseretnews.com Twitter: @harmerk

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