When Disney’s “Brave” came out last year, I was thrilled. So excited, in fact, that I went to see the movie at the El Capitan Theater in Los Angeles, complete with a pre-movie live show!
I am a not-so-closeted Disney fan. Though I’d never take my love this far, I did grow up a mere 25 minutes from Disneyland, had an annual pass all through college, and, at 25, toted around a (somewhat embarrassing) Disneyland laptop sleeve given to me by my best friend.
So how could this ginger of Scotch-Irish descent not be stoked to watch the animated story of a stubborn, Scottish, redheaded princess? I couldn’t resist! I hadn’t lacked for a ginger Disney Princess to pretend to be while growing up, but Merida felt so much more authentic than Ariel. She had wild frizzy hair (no dinglehopper could comb that mass), and fierce independence — she’ll fight for her own destiny, thank you very much.
Sure both princesses are headstrong, adventurous, meet their share of ferocious creatures (bears and sharks), and defy their disappointed parents. They also are both into tchotchkes: Ariel has a whole grotto full of human paraphernalia and Merida buys a whole shop full of wood carvings. But the key difference is that unlike Ariel, who needs rescuing by Prince Eric from the clutches of Ursula the Sea Witch, Merida is very much the solution to her own mess. I could go much further into this, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll leave that to y’all in the comments!
Merida trades valuables with her own witch in an attempt to change her mother, with whom she just had a large disagreement. Unlike Ariel who gave away her voice to snag a man (break that don’t in a Women’s Studies class, why don’t you?), the bodily transformation happens to those people Merida loves, her mother and three younger brothers, after consuming a spell-laced cake. Merida must realize her own faults, learn compromise, and mend the mother-daughter bond or doom her mama to life as a bear.
Another large difference is the way the two princesses are presented visually. Arial is all curves, scantily clad and we see her time and again involved in some form of beautification. Merida is as refreshingly close to an authentic teenage girl as a Disney Princess has ever been. And this was the intent. Brenda Chapman, “Brave” writer and co-director, said:
“Because of marketing, little girls gravitate toward princess products, so my goal was to offer up a different kind of princess — a stronger princess that both mothers and daughters could relate to, so mothers wouldn’t be pulling their hair out when their little girls were trying to dress or act like this princess. Instead they’d be like, ‘Yeah, you go girl!’”
Or you would, if that image hadn’t been so warped. Sadly, Merida has been given a Disney Princess Collection makeover. The confident princess prided for her rejection of the movie’s societal norms has been slimmed down and glammed up. The quiver of arrows slung over her hips has been replaced with a bejeweled belt. Like any girl who has felt the need to dress up or bare more skin, Disney has taken the “Brave” heroine and refitted her into the Princess archetype. As a Disney fan, I’m disappointed in their narrow definition of what is Princess-like. After creating such a strong female character, they’ve now taken two steps back.
Okay, you’re probably thinking, “But Sarah, being a glamorous princess is part of the appeal! Disney wouldn’t be magical escapism if princesses were just like us!” To you I’ll admit, I certainly wore my Cinderella costume to the grocery store, and could almost never be persuaded to take off my ballet tutus. But I also suffered from body image issues, and went through a decidedly awkward phase of delayed puberty and unruly red hair. I looked nothing like the animated girls I’d grown up admiring, long before learning the true meaning of inner confidence.
Merida provides the model of confident strong women whose self-worth doesn’t rest on marriage material or beauty. She learns responsibility, compromise and familial love. If anything Disney should be looking to Merida’s example, and mold the other Princesses in her image: confident, strong and Brave.
To tell Disney to rethink their MerdIa makeover sign this petition over at Change.org!
Email me at Sarah.Gray@theFrisky.com.