Let’s start with a simple question. Have you seen the new Disney Princesses? I’ll give you a hint; they have a terrible, sexy new look.
And it’s not that woman can’t or shouldn’t look pretty; it’s that it’s unfortunate that all of our female role models seem to have “good looks” at the top of their priority list.
The Disney Princesses started getting new looks in summer of 2012. I first saw Cinderella at the Disney Studio Store in August of that year. It was hard to recognize her at first. Blonde hair, blue dress. I knew it was Cinderella, but I knew it wasn’t MY Cinderella. She was too juvenile, and wore too much make-up, and at her core felt OFF. But it was Disney merchandise, so I knew she had to be Cinderella.
And steadily, the other princesses introduced their new looks. Belle got loose tendrils of curls around her face. Pocahontas got unnecessary, culturally inappropriate jewelry. Rapunzel had her entire face flattened. Steadily, these princesses became unrecognizable.
Now, I’ve been complaining about these “new looks” for almost a year, posting on twitter whenever I saw a piece of merch with the new look and hoping someone agreed with me. It wasn’t until the most recent Disney Princess, Merida, got her redesign that the shit really hit the fan.
Quick re-cap for those who haven’t seen Brave (although I highly recommend it; though flawed, it’s an important and emotional impacting film). Merida is a tomboyish medieval Scottish princess. She prefers riding her horse to etiquette lessons, boasts of her physical accomplishments over intellectual ones, and would prefer to shoot an arrow over almost anything else. When her mother tells her of plans for an arranged marriage, Merida hopes a witch’s spell to change her mother will change her fate so that she does not have to marry. It works, eventually.
Merida is a punk. Her whole character design portrays her this way. Red hair. Unruly curls. Round face. This is not a girl who wants to fit in. And I think that’s what makes her so appealing, especially after so many Disney Princesses who seem to be poured into a mold. Merida doesn’t take shit. And when faced with a dilemma, she looks for a solution, even if she doesn’t find the right one. After so many years of questionable Disney Animation role models, it was nice to have one “strong” female character (even if it had to come from Pixar).
So maybe that’s why Merida’s redesign felt like such a betrayal. At her core, it did not feel like the same character. She was wearing her “royal dress”, which she hated because it didn’t allow her to move. Her hair is still curly but less frizzy. Her eyes now have “come hither” make-up, and her waist has been whittled. It’s practically Photoshop bingo, things you might expect on a gossip mag cover. But we don’t expect the celebrities on US Weekly to last as role models for 85 years. Merida, like the Disney Princesses before her, became more than ideals. They transcended impossibility.
So this is why I hate Merida’s redesign. It seems to be a betrayal of everything her character wished to be. And the very nature of a “re-design” betrays the animators who created this character. There is no situation in which “New” Merida (or really, any of the new characters) works. It’s purely a creation of marketing, designed to push these classic characters to an audience who tests well but doesn’t really care. I wish Disney would listen to its fans. We still want princesses. The real princesses.