You’re a pretty girl. You’ve got some acting chops. You come out to Hollywood and try to give the whole thing a go, and suddenly, you’re just average. That wild hair has become a liability. Those pretty eyes are a little too dull and oh, maybe just a centimeter too close together. Those lips could be a little fuller. And that waistline, well, let’s just say you should think twice before digging into that bread basket at dinner.
It happens all the time in real life. Is it a surprise that not even our animated images are safe from enduring a few cosmetic improvements? And for Merida, the tomboyish heroine of Disney and Pixar’s Oscar-winning Brave, she apparently needed a few enhancements before being unveiled as the 11th official Disney Princess.
So, without further delay, behold, the new and “improved” Merida.
Of course the backlash came soon after. Saturday, a petition on change.org was posted addressing Walt Disney Company executives including Chairman and CEO Robert Iger, criticizing Merida’s redesign and calling for a “return to the original Merida that we all know and love.” At the time of posting over 60,000 petitioners had typed in their names, emails, and home addresses to virtually sign the address and express their disappointment in Disney.
As with any visual medium, a character’s look is important, and in the film, Merida’s was not chosen carelessly. From her tangled red mane, to her dress adorned only by a bow and arrow, everything was a conscious decision. Her face looks young. So does her body. Her big blue eyes aren’t enhanced by mascara or falsely cartoonish lashes. Her nose is red and her cheeks are rosy, but only in that way that conveys that she’s been playing outside for a while. In February, Director Mark Andrews told EW that Merida’s look “reflects her personality as this chaotic free spirit. You never know what she’s going to do. As soon as she walks on-screen and you see her chewing on that apple you go ‘okay, she’s trouble but she’s fun.’ That’s visual storytelling.”
The Disney Princess Collection version of Merida is drastically altered. Her waist is slimmer, her eyes are turned down and enhanced by a streak of black eyeliner, her dress is more sparkly and suddenly off the shoulder, and her hair has been combed to create Kate Middleton-worthy sausage curls. I imagine seeing this image is almost like what it feels like for parents when their daughters put on too much makeup for the first time. But that’s not what’s going on here. This image of Merida isn’t meant to imply that we’re all growing up with her and that she’s just getting into makeup. This is a conscious effort to make her more generically beautiful.
The backlash is understandable, too. What if young girls get the wrong idea? What if they prefer this sexier, more glamorous Merida? Does it ruin the character that Brave created? Perhaps.
But, let’s take a step back. First, the Merida makeover is certainly not the first. Take a look at the image of Beauty and the Beast’s Belle in the Disney Princess Collection store, and then at a still from the movie. Belle is undeniably more sultry in the store version. Her eyes are a little more almond-shaped, her lashes more exaggerated, and her hair has changed to add some face-framing tendrils. It sort of looks like Belle, sure. But, really, it’s a bland, Barbie version.
Second, no one is altering the images in Brave. The Merida that we love in the film is going to stay that way. A Merida image that’s part of a corporate Disney initiative to sell dolls and t-shirts is something else. It’s a product. It’s commerce. And it doesn’t have to diminish what Merida stood for or represented in the film. Perhaps it’s even a good opportunity to have the talk. No, not that talk. The talk where you tell your daughters about air-brushing. Because in a world where Gwyneth Paltrow and Beyoncé are subject to digital enhancements, and where Natalie Portman wears fake lashes advertising the lengthening wonders of a mascara, are we really that surprised?
EW has contact Disney for a statement and we’ll update the post as soon as we receive one.
Follow Lindsey on Twitter: @ldbahr