Sex Sells: Disney’s Misguided Redesign Of Merida From “Brave”

DisneyEntertainmentFilmNews 45 Comments

This past Saturday, in a faux coronation ceremony that would make even the Royal Family a tad envious, Walt Disney World officially crowned Merida, the feisty, redheaded, bow and arrow toting, “anti-princess”, role model heroine of Disney/Pixar’s film “Brave”, as the 11th Disney Princess. BUT… in order for her to make the royal court cut, the refreshingly, rough around the edges Merida required a glamazon makeover by some clearly misguided muckety-mucks at Disney.

Disney Princesses

From Real Girl Princess To Real Housewife of the Scottish Highlands

From head to toe, here’s what they did to the animated film’s spunky and tomboyish Merida in order to Disney Princess-ify her (i.e. make her acceptable for the official induction).

Original Merida from BraveHair: her wild curls were shellacked with gallons of anti-frizz serum and tamed into perfect flowing ringlets, while crazy amounts of overall volume were added… we had no idea hair extensions existed in the world of animation

Complexion: her ruddy “I just had the adventure of a lifetime” glow is now porcelain with just the right amount of pink rosiness placed perfectly on the apples of her cheeks

Eyes: went from big, bright eyed “I’m taking on the world” circles, to a much more sultry shape accented with black eyeliner

Disney's redesigned marketing MeridaSmile: her delightfully, open mouth goofy grin is now a sexy, pursed lip, come-hither smirk

Body: her waist has gotten inexplicably smaller and her breasts are now noticeable

Dress: is now off-the-shoulder, low-cut and covered with sparkles (essentially, they put her in the same constricting, garish dress that her character loathed in “Brave”); a slouchy, bedazzled belt has replaced her utilitarian leather belt that held her arrow sheath

Shoes: from round toe to bone crunchingly pointy… just what every adventurer needs when it comes to proper footwear

LAST BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST… the young, expert archer’s signature bow & arrow, a symbol of her strength and independence, are now G-O-N-E!

Disney’s sexed up, post-film marketing version of Merida has sparked outrage not only from “Brave” writer and co-director Brenda Chapman, but from parents alike.

Brenda, who won an Oscar for “Brave”, making her the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, based the strong and willful Merida on her 13-year-old daughter, Emma, intending her to be a more substantive role model for young girls.

“Merida was created to give young girls a better, stronger role model… something of substance, not just a pretty face that waits around for romance.” – Brenda Chapman

In response to Disney’s redesign, Brenda passionately explained, “I think it’s atrocious what they have done to Merida.” She continued, “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.”

Her character’s anti-“typical Disney princess” image was enormously successful. In addition to winning the Oscar, it scored a Golden Globe as well as the Bafta Award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and grossed more than $550 million.

Reportedly, Brenda has already given Bob Iger, President of Walt Disney International, “a piece of my mind” for the entertainment conglomerate’s decision to glamorize the tomboy character she brought to life.

In a recent public statement Brenda wrote, “There is an irresponsibility to this decision that is appalling for women and young girls…They have been handed an opportunity on a silver platter to give their consumers something of more substance and quality — that will still sell — and they have a total disregard for it in the name of their narrow minded view of what will make money.” She added, “Disney marketing and the powers that be that allow them to do such things should be ashamed of themselves.”

Brenda has added her name to the “Say No to the Merida Makeover and Keep Our Hero Brave!” petition that was created on Saturday, May 4 by A Mighty Girl, one of the world’s largest girl empowerment websites and marketplaces.

A Mighty GirlThe petition focuses on the redesign of Merida in advance of her induction into the Disney Princess collection. In it, they say to Disney:

“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.”

In its first two days, the petition had nearly 9,000 signers and at the time of this post it has surpassed 115,000 signers!

Maybe Disney will finally realize that it’s time for a new kind of fairy tale… the one they have been spoon feeding girls for decades is truly gag inducing, especially in today’s day and age.

  • Nora

    What amazes me is that Disney knew that young girls liked her the way she was portrayed in the film. So why on earth would they change her? Bad mistake Disney!

  • Amanda Bills

    My instructor this year actually worked on this Merida design, we’ve been talking about this in class.

    As for the poses, they came directly from some classic Aladdin ones. In fact, she (my instructor) was only given one or two concept drawings (inaccurate and off-model), and one bootlegged 3D model for reference of this character, since these designs was finished before the movie came out. The colorist was probably given even less to go on. She felt that some of the hype wasn’t warranted, like when press keeps sayings her new stances are “come hither” and dripping with “sex,” when they are, in reality, recycled poses from the male character Aladdin–that in itself is sexists, suggesting that a unisex pose, when done by a women in makeup, immediately turns her into a siren. I think a step back is warranted.

    I wish she could remain as is, in her signature, practical garb, and with her bow, but as an artist, I totally understand how when it comes to branding, you don’t want to play the game “one of theses things is not like the other,” and if she is a part of the Disney Princess line, she needs to stylistically fit in (plus there is a transition from 3D CGI to flat 2D drawing) so there will be stylistic differences. It’s not like this is a new design her next movie–this is to go with the Princess line. This isn’t new–every character in this line gets a redesign at some point. As far as “slutting her up,” for goodness sake she’s showing some shoulders; it’s not like she was totally resigned into a slinky tube dress. She can still be adventurous and dress up every now and then, right? Or do girls have to choose one or the other?

    Now, I definitely have TONS qualms with what Disney does to its female characters, and I’m really upset to see her bow gone and how gussied up in sparkles she is. It goes very much against–in fact, completely opposite–the message of the entire movie. I hate to see Disney/Pixar sending one message in film and cashing in on another in real life.

    But for me, knowing more about how the image came to be kinda makes it less threatening so that the message under the surface can be discussed. Yes, there is still inequality, and some of the absolute worst damage happens in the representation of women in media. Even in the good fight, though, it’s important to understand the mechanics of why so we can work towards effective social change down at the roots.

    Also interesting:

    • Anna D

      Amanda – While I appreciate the executional back story you shared, it changes nothing.

      1. There is FAR MORE to her new “come hither” look than simply her stance… in fact, in the new marketing image of Merida, her stance is the ONLY thing that actually resembles any allusion to strength. So your own argument works very much against you in this case… from what you shared, apparently she is standing strong ONLY because her stance is a recycled pose from a male character, Aladdin. Isn’t that interesting?

      2. You said, “I totally understand how when it comes to branding, you don’t want to play the game ‘one of these things is not like the other,’”. Seriously? Merida IS AN EXPERT ARCHER!!!! That is the essence of her character and brand. So you think it’s ok to drop the 2 things that actually make her, her? You yourself said, “It goes very much against–in fact, completely opposite–the message of the entire movie.” Talk about bad branding.

      3. You state that because you know how she came to be that’s why the redesign feels less threatening to you. So step outside of yourself for a moment and the context that you have for
      the imagery having had the privilege of studying under the woman who
      worked on the new Merida design. Other than people in your class, the millions of average consumers, especially little and young girls, who have seen the film and fell in love with Merida for exactly who she was are now getting a completely different message & image post film. Now that Merida is an “official” Disney Princess she has to look a certain way (pretty & perfect… against the grain of her character) and be dressed a certain way (glammy, sassy, sparkly… also against the grain of her character) to fit in with ALL the other Princesses. What a tragic message that is to give to impressionable young girls?

      • Hiei-and-shino

        “Seriously? Merida IS AN EXPERT ARCHER!!!! That is the essence of her character and brand.”
        Well, Mulan is a warrior and she is much worse than Merida.

        • Morgan Dunbar

          They totally white washed the ethnic princesses in the re-design and the completely changed Mulan’s face shape, what they did to those girls was almost worse. 🙁 And lord Belle’s new girlier hair. 🙁

        • Jodi

          None of the characters are holding ANYTHING.

      • Quinn Carpenter

        Seriously, if you have no idea how art, design, or style work, perhaps you should refrain. These things are hard enough without people incorrectly picking them apart. By all means, dissect! But do so with actual sense and evidence.

        Many of the key physical elements of the princesses are not present- Sword for Mulan, pan for Rapunzel, etc. They aren’t selling the items as much as the character, who should be able to stand on her own without the need for props.

        Most little girls are not as stupid as you think, apparently. They’ll treat her the same as she was in the movie because they know that’s the “real” Merida, the other is just the toy version.

        • M.l. John

          I should have read your response before I made one of my own.

      • M.l. John

        They didn’t leave Mulan with her sword. I don’t agree with the changes they made to Merida by any stretch, but no one up there is armed. Why should that be different for Merida?

        • M.l. John

          Also, Rapunzel has no frying pan. Maybe this is the princesses in a safe space.

          • Quinn Carpenter

            No, no. That’s really clever wording. I’m cackling over safe space because it’s just so true and yet the princesses are being attacked by people who have no idea but they saw one person say something about it and then decided like sheep that they knew enough to “fix” it too.

    • Jodi Renshaw

      Thank you for sharing this. Unlike Anna D., I appreciate reading the “other side” of this story. Thanks for taking the time.

    • Doc Grable

      Because only Aladdin ever crossed his arms, or stood in an ‘A’ frame power pose? I went to school for media arts and animation, and to only have two references for the work sounds a bit sketchy to me. Hundreds of designs are done to create a character.

      I simply find it disgusting that they took the original empowering work and glammed her up to be a Courtesan.

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  • gargouille

    As the author of the “Maiden Warrior” entry in the Greenwood Encylopedia of Folk and Fairy Tale, I can tell you that this stunt is worth a commentary and has now made it into that book. They took away her bow??? Back in the day, they managed to cute-up Mulan, too, but this actually Disneyfies DISNEY! Supersized glam. Many of us probably thought that was not possible. But that cultural institution frequently annoys for its inability to let women out of the bondage of history. Thanks for this great post. And very nice run-down of her surgically altered attributes!

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  • Wow, stripping Persephone of her bow and arrow? I identify with this archetype to a great extent… my hair is red and wild, I just tied it in a bunch of knots. I think Disney is pushing it… Persephone is crafty, and known to slay men that hit on her…

  • Reader

    [“Merida was created to give young girls a better, stronger role model… something of substance, not just a pretty face that waits around for romance.” – Brenda Chapman]
    Little late to the party, Brenda. Belle, Pocahantas, and Mulan beat Merida to it.

  • Jodi

    I think I would be more concerned that all the white girls take center stage in these promos.

  • roundeyed chinese girl

    What about Mulan? Did anyone talk about why Mulan looks like some slity eyed Chinese princess when her story is all about bravery and courage, about her joining the ranks of men in battle? I’m just wondering.. because that has been my question for years…..

  • Eloise Bates

    Off with their heads!

  • moose

    This is the difference between formal attire and informal attire.

  • moose

    And Aurora is starting to look like a Drag Queen.

  • Quinn Carpenter

    As much as I prefer the older design, the arguments in this article are pretty weak. That smirk is not really come hither, the breasts are in fact less noticeable.

    You do realize for the sake of unity that they would all be done in a 2D style versus a 3D one, right? That’s the main reason, I think.

    The glitter is still a bit much though.

  • Reader

    This is all just silly. I don’t really see any HUGE changes in how she looks. Other than the first is a computer generated image and the second is an illustration, all other changes seem pretty minor. I’m not seeing any “come hither” grin, or sultry…. anything. MAYBE her eyes aren’t as round and they threw some sparkles on, and (OH NO!) her shoulders are showing. Every princess on the roster has other outfits, but ALL are depicted in their most princessly garb because this is the face of the Disney “PRINCESSES”. To me, there is nothing wrong with this. These princesses, just like girls in real life, like to glam up for photos or put on their Sunday best from time to time. I can understand not wanting to teach little girls that beauty looks a certain way, but please, can we not take it all too much in the other direction? It’s important that little girls are urged to be what they WANT to be. Why is it bad if they want to be pink and sparkly? Showing Merida (just like the other princesses) in two different ways shows girls they can be whatever they want, when they want. You don’t always have to be a tom boy, and you don’t always have to be a princess. You can be whatever makes you feel most beautiful in your own skin. That is the message we should be sending. I see nothing “slutty” or provocative about this version of Merida at all. Maybe, if a parent is so concerned, they should concern themselves more with what THEY can and are teaching their children, and not what they think Disney is. It is what you make it. Teaching your kid that this new look is wrong is just as bad as telling them it’s the only thing that’s right.

    • anonymous

      You must be a guy.

  • kk

    Notice that in the Disney Princess spread, Pocahontas and Mulan are in the back, and Tiana is third from last.

  • reallybro

    People. Its a 2D drawing. Can you imagine how hideous her original look would be in 2D? No one would look at it twice. Go to the disney store and you will find to your amazement that the merida dolls look a lot like the original pixar version. They have the princess doll and a few ornaments from this new line but their posters and clothing have the original.

    That is the doll from this new line. The only huge difference is the sparkles and cleaner look (again meant to sell especially for the holiday season because who would buy a frazzled doll?) She even has her freckles and rounder face shape.

    It is being blown way out of proportion. As far as taking her bow and arrow…another poster mentioned where is mulans sword? Rapuzels pan? belles book? They aren’t holding anything.

    We need to stop focusing on why disney put a shiny dress on a princess and more on actually teaching our daughters the right and wrong way to act and behave. It starts at home. A sparkly dress won’t make our girls future sluts…their upbringing will. Parents need to own up to their mistakes and stop fighting online about her stance and smirk. Its just a doll!

  • brennabbbb

    Women do not need to sacrifice femininity in order to be strong characters. When you say she is no longer the character that she was simply because she doesn’t have her weapon, or she has added eye liner. That is simply say the presence of feminine traits has caused her to be weak. And without the traditionally masculine traits (like weapon expertise, and a more active pose-seeing how Aladdin has been in both poses) you no longer find her strong, I think that is a problem. She was not strong because she didn’t wear makeup in the movie, or used a bow. She was strong because she was someone who stood for her beliefs, fought for her own independence and hand, and she always said what she felt. She was also strong because when she was wrong she did everything in her power to right the situation. For me putting her in a dress that has more glitter, one slight change in eyeliner and removing her bow doesn’t make her who she is. Mulan is also in this picture, she is a warrior, literally fighting for her country, her family and her love. She is also in makeup, and she is dressed in a different, more sparkly, outfit then she did in the film. That didn’t raise anyone else to arms.
    I think we need to reconsider why we considered her to be a strong character. It’s not the things listed above, though I do think that disney princess’s tend to be unrealistically thin, and that her complexion and physical imperfections are something that should be addressed because they were strong in the film. She was done in a way that celebrated the flaws which was really amazing. But in many ways it was just the transition from 3-d to 2-d style work. Which unfortunately eliminated those good qualities. But I think the larger issue could be the ethnic disparity and how Tiana, also a recent princess, was pushed back behind all of the other white princesses.

    • M.l. John

      Good point; all of the ethnic princesses are in the back, now that I think about it. Even Snow White, a brunette, is in the back. Huh.

  • Ana Diniz

    Even the author is pissed…!

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  • Sieben Stern

    Dear Brenda Chapman – you lay with dogs, don’t get shocked when you itch from the fleas. You took your idea to Disney, not a small company with fewer shareholders.

    Also, I didn’t find brave as empowering as many did – her design and animation still emphasized her hair and the boys she rejected were fools, not handsome charming princes.
    There was a very ‘surface’ feel to her tomboyishness that left the charade wanting.

  • Sieben Stern

    merida rejected her foolish, ugly suitors. The only reason she DIDN’T get married was because there was no charming prince.

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  • women-are-not-bimbos

    they turned her into yet another Disney bimbo princess. Big surprise. This is why we must be the role model our daughters see everyday and not rely on the media to spoon feed it to them. Its very clear what the main stream world thinks of women, that we are weak, incapable of being heroines and are basicaly there to look appealing to the opposite sex. you say that they have barely changed how she looks? Really? Then where did her bow and arrows go? Why is she suddenly wearing makeup (which fyi was an non existent thing in the time period of this movie). Do you know how much time it takes to have hair that looks that good? Hours! Can you really imagine this new Merida, with perfect hair, clothing and no weapons, riding a Clydesdale bareback or climbing a giant cliff just to drink from a water fall? No this new Merida belongs at a ball, being twirled in circles by the next “prince charming” or singing sweetly while birds and forest critters frolic and round her feet, help her clean house and whip up some delicious culinary treat for her new beau, who btw if off having adventures, fighting monsters and generally having the fun that Merida use have before she was made over. We are teaching our children that the only thing that matters is looks. Doesn’t matter if your BRAVE and intelligent, so long as you look fabulous in a ball gown that all that matters. Disney you should be ashamed of yourselves.

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