Merida from the 2012 film Brave was officially ushered into the Princess franchise this month and, in celebration of this "coronation" of sorts, a new design of her was released. The new one is on the left, the original is on the right.
Not only were fans upset about this, but so were the creators of Merida. The outrage over this was strong enough to create a petition on Change.org, as this Huffington post article describes, and got the interwebs pretty thoroughly steamed. Disney later apologized, saying that Merida just wanted to "dress up" for her coronation ceremony and stated that they would be keeping the original image of Merida.
Right, because that part where Merida has to get dressed up in the film is really want she wants; she loathes having to wear a tight dress the Highland Games ceremony. This is more than just a feminist thing for me - this is a characterization thing. Fan fiction shows that there are numerous ways to interpret a character - some that work, some that don't. But when your own film studio blatantly does not understand what their characters represent in the film and try to make them into something else... it's really quite sad.
What's worse is that while Merida may be the most obvious change in appearance translating from the films to the princess franchise, she is not the only one. Here's a grouping of the current princesses, showing how they look in the films (more or less):
Why they would do this in the first place really confuses me. Why take wonderful characters from the film and whittle them down to facades of what they once where? Rapunzel's spunk is gone, replaced with nothing more than glossy hair and a super-sparkly gown. Mulan is practically unrecognizable, with long hair that she had for about the first fifteen minutes of the film before she cuts it all off to go in disguise to war. Pocahontas looks like every stereotypical drawing of an American Indian/Native American I have ever seen (okay, she's kind of stereotyped to begin with, but this is worse). I'm not even that big of a fan of Cinderella but... that is not her. That is not the girl I saw in that film growing up. And Belle... (sobs). Where is the sassy book-loving "I am not taking any of your shit, Gaston?" Belle?
There can be only one rationale for this: Disney's Princess franchise is run by people who think that by creating idealized versions of princesses, glittery, flouncy, flimsy women, that they will entice people to buy their products. It's all about the money and, in a market where toys are so heavily split between "girl toys" and "boy toys" that I as an adult can't walk past the toy section without being self-conscious of my gender, you can see why Disney followed suit - or, perhaps, set this paradigm. But it completely goes against what most of these characters represented in their films. These designs merely reinforce that women should care more about their appearance than anything else and that they should all look a certain way. The diversity in beliefs and motivations that the princesses did represent is squashed here with each princess in a similar pose and displaying the same coy attitude. And I hate it.
Disney has never been perfect - it has a lot of drawbacks, which I've discussed before. But I still have and will always have a fondness for Disney - I grew up with the films and I found characters I could relate with. I was a bookworm and felt like I never fit in and found a very kindred spirit with Belle. And I still enjoy their stories and relate to them. Rapunzel's story got me through a rough patch two summer's ago and God, the feels I have about Merida. So it deeply concerns me how misled the Disney Princess franchise is.
That being said, I feel a new array of hope at the parents who leaped into action on Change.org and petitioned for the original Merida to be reinstated. While Disney may be throwing these stereotypical princesses at kids, parents look like they want their kids to have more than that, to see princesses who are prized for more than their beauty and fashionable dresses, but what makes them princesses - strength, wit, empathy, courage, endurance. Princesses are not fashonistas but rulers, leaders. Instead of seeing glitter surrounding these women, maybe I'd like to see something more along the lines of this: