Update: Disney's Response To Princess Merida Controversy At Odds With Petitioners

Uh, here we go: Merida was coronated as the official 11th Disney princess Saturday. Photo: YouTube/DisneyMoms who are celebrating Disney for pulling from its website a controversially redesigned, sexier version of “Brave” princess Merida should hold their horses.

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On Tuesday, Carolyn Danckaert, the activist behind last week’s wildly popular online petition to “Keep Merida Brave,” announced via Facebook news from supporters that "the new makeover version of Merida is no longer appearing on Disney.com." But the controversially modified version of the princess still appeared on Target's Disney princess website, where new product tie-ins are sold. 

“From our standpoint, it’s not a victory,” Danckaert, who has garnered more than 200,000 signatures on her Change.org petition, told Yahoo! Shine Thursday morning.  

It may not have been a victory from any standpoint. 

According to a Disney spokesperson who contacted Yahoo! Shine late Thursday, the controversial image never appeared on the company's official website to begin with. She offered a statement, which read: "The artwork used on Merida's official social media sites has always been the imagery from the movie. We routinely use different art styles with our characters and this rendition of Merida in her party dress was a special one-time effort to commemorate her coronation. Merida exemplifies what it means to be a Disney Princess through being brave, passionate and confident and she remains the same strong and determined Merida from the movie whose inner qualities have inspired moms and daughters around the world." 

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But Danckaert is still concerned over the princess's image. "This has never been about how [Merida is] presented on the website," she tells Yahoo Shine, "but, rather, what will be her enduring image with the product tie-in phase? Now that she’s been inducted into the collection, how is she going to be used in the Disney merchandise line?” 

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The makeover was put in place to coincide with Merida’s coronation Saturday as Disney’s 11th official princess, and, at least in part, to lend Merida more easily to product designs, according to a report in Inside the Magic, which covers Disney news. And this is what set off alarm bells for Danckaert and the thousands of women supporting the cause, including Peggy Orenstein, author of “Cinderella Ate My Daughter.”

“I’ve always said that it’s not about the movies. It’s about the bait-and-switch that happens in the merchandise, and the way the characters have evolved and proliferated off-screen,” Orenstein wrote on her blog in response to the Merida redesign. “Maybe the problem is partly that these characters are designed in Hollywood, where real women are altering their appearance so regularly that animators, and certainly studio execs, think it’s normal.”

A Disney representative told Inside the Magic the controversy had been "blown out of proportion," and that the new rendering was meant only for a "limited line of products" as a "one-time stylized version."

The makeover, which is a newly created 2D version of Merida (who is a 3D Pixar character in the film), included making her appear older and giving her a tinier waistline, along with sultrier eyes, a coquettish expression, tamed curls, and more exposed skin peeking out from a bedazzled, off-the-shoulder version of the constricting teal dress the rebellious character despised in “Brave.”

Even the film’s creator Brenda Chapman chimed in last week, calling the redesign of her character “atrocious” and “blatantly sexist.”

Disney’s Merida website seems to be so far sticking with the Merida storyline, touting her as “Strong. Fearless. Adventurous,” and featuring a video with strong-girl images, including that of a young Merida fan who practices archery. But with the newly created 2D version and its prominent placement on products including nightgowns, costumes and backpacks, as well as in the version of a very un-Merida looking doll, Danckaert, who runs the girl-empowerment website "A Mighty Girl," is still worried.

“I think Disney is sending mixed messages here, because it’s trying to appeal to both sides of the equation,” she said. “On one hand, they want to appeal to parents who like the fact that Merida is her own agent. But when you look at the new line of products and how she’s being marketed, that’s not the image that’s being presented, at least on the Target website, where she is sparkly, and looks like a 27-year-old, and has no bow arrow in sight.”


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