Recently, Disney released a new, 2D image of Merida. This prompted outrage because the character’s design was altered, for no good reason. The new Merida has been “prettified”–made more conventionally attractive in a way that undercuts the character’s strengths, to the detriment of the children who view her as a role model.
In response, A Mighty Girl released a petition to Disney that outlines the reasons why the redesign is problematic. The petition culminates with a request: to pull the new 2D Merida and restore the character to her original form.
Yesterday, Disney executives went on record regarding the petition. They’re refusing to retract the new Merida, saying she’s only temporary–and their comments show they’ve missed the point.
The L.A. Times reports on the refusal to retract the new Merida:
Disney has no intention of abandoning its sexier version of the Scottish archer.
The modified Merida was created specifically to welcome the character into the company’s princess collection. And according to a Disney representative on Wednesday, the image of Merida that sparked this maelstrom is part of a limited run of products including backpacks and pajamas. But images of the original Merida will also be available on consumer products, the Disney representative said.
But no one ever doubted that the original Merida would still be available on products; the objection is to the new Merida redesign. Full stop. The fact that it’s “part of a limited run” doesn’t make it any less problematic.
A Disney representative expanded on their stance in an exclusive interview with fan site Inside the Magic, calling the controversy “blown out of proportion.” This makes clear that Disney execs either don’t truly understand the objections, or are willfully ignoring them. According to Inside the Magic:
[Disney] had no intention of changing who Merida is. The artwork that has circulated online depicting the new 2D rendering of Merida was intended to be used only on a “limited line of products” as a “one-time stylized version.” They noted Disney uses different styles of art on characters regularly, changing them to fit their needs at the time.
And in this case, that time was the coronation. Noting that Merida wanted to “dress up” for her coronation ceremony, the new 2D artwork was created, first debuting on the official invitation that was sent out to the media.
So, Disney’s justification for making the change is that Merida herself wanted to dress up for her coronation ceremony. This seems disingenuous: Merida is a fictional character who doesn’t want anything; arguing that it was her choice is pretty insulting. Besides, at the actual coronation in the Magic Kingdom, Merida was dressed in attire more closely resembling her outfit from the film than from the new 2D art–so this really isn’t about the coronation.
And where is this “limited line of products” to be sold? At Target, according to Inside the Magic (which Amy Jussel points is hardly “limited.” Have a look at Target’s main page for the Disney Princesses:
In their exclusive piece about Disney’s response, Inside the Magic concludes:
Looking forward, [Disney execs] could not say exactly how she would be depicted alongside the other Disney Princesses other than to again repeat that this “one-time stylized version” was only intended for the coronation and some products, hoping to create some calm in the communities who are up in arms over the matter.
This brings us to the crux of the matter: If Disney hopes that the girl empowerment community and our allies will be placated because 2D Merida is only temporary, they’re missing the point. People are up in arms because the changes to Merida — even if temporary in nature — completely undercut the character, selling girls short.
Let’s review the chief problems:
- They took a strong character and weakened her.
- They took a natural beauty and glamorized her.
- They took a youthful 16-year-old and made her look like she’s 22.
- They disrespected the fact that Merida is a princess who goes against the grain, eschewing the trappings of being a princess in favor of being an individual.
By squeezing a character so widely regarded as a barrier-breaking role model into a cookie cutter mold, Disney’s Consumer Products Division sent the message that in the end, looks are all that matter.
In short, if Disney’s response is, “Don’t worry, folks; this new Merida is only temporary!”, they’ve missed the point. Let’s call on Disney to address their poor decision to redesign Merida in the first place–however temporary and “limited” that change might be–and reassure us that they will treat this character with integrity in the future.
P.S. I hope A Mighty Girl will consider updating the petition to a) include Target, which is apparently to be the main retailer of products featuring the new 2D Merida; and b) respond to Disney’s response, outlined above.
To read my previous posts on Merida, click here.
To read my previous posts on the Disney Princess brand, click here.
About the author: Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is an associate professor of communications at Salem State University, where she teaches advertising and media studies. Her new book, Confronting Cinderella: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, will be released by Source Books next year.