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So you think that Disney Consumer Products isn't "Brave" enough to continue on with its Merida makeover? Think again

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So you think that Disney Consumer Products isn't "Brave" enough to continue on with its Merida makeover? Think again

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While I was away in San Diego, The-World's-No.-1-Brave-Fan sent me this e-mail:

I was wondering what your take was on that whole Merida makeover controversy which happened back in May. Do you think that it was wise of Disney Consumer Products to try & turn Pixar's first princess into one of their glitzy & glamorous Disney princesses?

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

What do you mean "try" ?

Look, I know that over a quarter of a million people signed that Change.org online petition asking Disney to " ... say no to the Merida makeover, keep our hero 'Brave'." And as a direct result of the media firestorm that followed, the Company did remove some 2D artwork from the Disney Princess website which showed a glamorized version of this Pixar character and then replaced that artwork with CG images of Merida as she originally appeared in Pixar's 2012 theatrical release.

The current version of the Merida page over at the Disney Princess website.
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But if you think that this very public gesture means that The Walt Disney Company has now abandoned its efforts to sell and/or promote a more glamorized version of Merida, please allow me to direct your attention to the July / August 2013 issue of "Disney Princess" magazine ...

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... which features a picture story that shows the glamorized version of this "Brave" character being welcomed into Disney's royal court by Belle, Cinderella, Jasmine ...

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... Mulan, Ariel and Briar Rose.

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Not to mention this "Emotions Eleven" Disney Princess t-shirt that the online version of the Disney Store currently has available for purchase.

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Or the backpack / lunch tote combination on the left in the picture below that's currently on sale at the Disney Store's Back to School shop.

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... or this rolling luggage case ...

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... or this Disney Princess pencil box.


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Look, to be fair here, the above items were already in Disney's distribution channels when the Merida makeover controversy erupted back in May. But given all of the bad publicity that Mickey has had to deal with since those images of the glammed-up version of this "Brave" character first began popping up online, Disney Company officials could have easily just opted to pulp the entire run of the July / August 2013 issue of "Disney Princess" magazine and/or removed all of these Disney Princess items from the Disney Store's online catalog. But the Mouse didn't do that.

And why not? Because the Company knows that -- in spite of the Merida makeover controversy back in May -- there is still a very large & incredibly passionate group of consumers and collectors out there who are eager to get their hands on glammed-up versions of this "Brave" character.

That's the part of this story which I think the people who signed that Change.org petition didn't entirely understand. That Disney Consumer Products didn't create a spanglier, sleeker version of Merida just because it was looking for ways to annoy female empowerment proponents. But -- rather -- because they were looking to create another product for Disney Princess fans to purchase.

And make no mistake, folks. Given that this particular brand generates $4 billion in sales annually for The Walt Disney Company, there are an awful lot of Disney Princess fans out there. And among the products that this coveted group of consumers responds mostly strongly to are (you guessed it) glammed-up versions of the Disney royals.

Now please keep in mind that it's only been since 2000 that Disney Consumer Products has been marketing these beloved Disney heroines as a group. Or -- rather -- a set. With the hope that girls and women of all ages will then (to borrow a line from the Pokémon theme song) " ... gotta catch 'em all."

Mind you, in order to now sell the Disney Princesses as an actual set of characters (rather than a loose grouping of individual princesses), Disney Consumer Products had to tweak the look of some of the Studio's earlier princesses so that their design would then be more consistent with Disney's more recent royals (i.e., Ariel, Belle & Jasmine). Which is why the Snow White of today ...

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All rights reserved

... looks decidedly different from the way that Disney's first princess was depicted during her debut in 1937.

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And Cinderella received a similar sort of makeover out ahead of last year's Blu-ray release on this Disney animated feature . With this being how Cindy looked back in 1950 ...

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... and the below image being the way that DCP has reimagined this Disney Princess for today's consumers.

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You see what I'm saying here, right? That it's not just Merida who recently received a makeover. That the other Disney Princesses have been glitzed & glamored up as well. All with the hope that the people who bought the Ultimate Disney Princess Collection when Tiana joined the royal family back in 2009 ...

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... and then sprang for a similar set of dolls when Rapunzel became a Disney Princess back in 2010 ...

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... would now want to purchase the 2012 version of the Ultimate Disney Princess Collection. Just so that they could then own a version of this playset where Merida has a look & a design that's consistent with all of the other Disney Princesses.

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That -- when you get right down to it -- is why Disney Consumer Products really gave Merida her makeover. They weren't actually looking for ways to make this Pixar character seem sleeker or sexier. But -- rather -- this was really all about DCP finding ways to make Merida's look consistent with all of the other Disney Princesses that were already out there. So that it would then be easier for Disney Consumer Products to sell these characters as a set.

Don't believe me? Okay. Then let's take another look at the CG version of Rapunzel from "Tangled." Back when the artwork associated with this character was still loaded with plenty of personality.

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Now take a look at the official Disney Princess version of Rapunzel. While this 2D take of this "Tangled" character is now admittedly looks much more regal & glamorous, it has also lost a lot of the quirky detail that originally made Rapunzel so appealing.

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But for little girls (who -- according to DCP's own market research -- would genuinely prefer to own a set of Disney Princess dolls where all of these characters have a very consistent look & design), the fact that the doll versions of Rapunzel or Merida that they're playing with don't actually look all that much like the versions of these characters as they appeared in their respective CG films ultimately doesn't matter all that much. What  DOES matter is that -- because the dolls in the Ultimate Disney Princess Collection set are all the same height and share the same design aesthetic ... Well, that then makes it that easier for these children to imagine that these Disney Princess dolls are actually friends. Which then makes playing with / owning a set of dolls like this a far more enjoyable / desirable experience. Which is what then helps to keep sales so high for this particular line of DCP products.

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So in the end, Merida's makeover wasn't really about feminizing and/or glamming up this particular Pixar character. But -- rather -- making the newest Disney Princess look more like all of the Disney Princesses that were already out there. Which then made things far easier for the folks at Disney Consumer Products when it came time to sell t-shirts & doll sets which featured this brand / group of characters together as a set.

Mind you, there are artists out there who have figured out how to draw / portray the Disney Princesses in such a way that -- while they still have a unifying look & design -- these characters retain much of their individual quirks & personalities. Case in point: Amy Mebberson's Pocket Princesses. Which actually manages to mine quite a bit of humor out of the idea that -- were Merida to ever actually be folded into a grouping of Disney Princesses -- this fiery Scottish lass would then probably have a lot of trouble fitting in.

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I mean, check out "Singalong," this limited edition piece that Mebberson just created for Acme Archives Direct. Which clearly shows how Merida probably wouldn't be all that enthusiastic when it came to all these Disney Princesses coming together and singing stuff.

Copyright Disney / Acme Archives Direct.
All rights reserved

Look, no disrespect to the people who sign that Change.org petition back in May. They saw that a CG version of Merida had replaced the 2D glammed up version of this Pixar princess which had previously appeared on the Disney Princess webpage and figured "We won." And they then moved on to the next online controversy.

But as for Disney Consumer Products, once the Merida makeover PR crisis had passed, it was pretty much back to business as usual in regards to the Disney Princess brand. If anything, given that "Frozen" is headed into theaters in late November ...

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... DCP is already transitioning from marketing a glammed-up version of Merida to looking for unique & exciting ways to introduce Disney's two new princesses -- Anna & Elsa -- to the world.

Again, let me stress here that I mean no disrespect to the 251,160 people who (to date) have signed that online petition over Change.org which asked The Walt Disney Company to " ... keep our hero brave." I'm sure that these folks had their hearts in the right place. But that said, I still don't think that they entirely understood what DCP was doing with its Merida makeover. Which was answering the need of a very specific, incredibly lucrative market segment that actually likes these glammed-up version of the Disney Princesses.

I mean, if you folks are really looking for something Disney Princess-related to get upset about, then please let me draw your attention to these ...

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... the Disney Princess Palace Pals. Which is this all-new collection of overly-cute kittens, puppies & ponies that DCP has recently come up with as a way to expand the Disney Princess product line.

I don't know why it is that something like the Disney Princess Palace Pals offends me more than a Merida who's been deliberately glammed-up. I mean, I get that a redesigned version of this "Brave" character would then be a better visual fit whenever she's grouped with Cinderella, Tiana and the rest of the Disney royals ...

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... whereas the  whole Disney Princess Palace Pals product line just comes across (to me, anyway) as this naked cash grab.

More to the point, while I can understand why some folks may think that this glammed-up version of Merida undercuts the original message of this Mark Andrews / Brenda Chapman film, here's the hard reality: Not a single frame of that Pixar film has been changed. More importantly, the  message of female empowerment that people got when they watched "Brave" after it first debuted in theaters back in June of 2012 hasn't been changed either. Nor will that message change in the decades yet to come whenever people sit down to watch this Academy Award-winner.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

These glammed-up Merida dolls and/or the other products that feature this "Brave" character folded in with all of the other Disney Princesses actually exist outside of that movie. So those products' ability to undermine the overall message of this particular Pixar production is -- at best -- minimal.

Long story short: Disney Consumer Products created this sleeker, glitzier version of Merida because it was looking for ways to expand its Disney Princess brand. No one at the Company deliberately went out of their way to try and undermine the "Change Your Fate / Control Your Destiny" message associated with "Brave." What this was really all about was finding new ways to keep that $4-billion-a-year business going / growing by creating a product that the people who actually like the Disney Princess line might then want to purchase.

And speaking of keeping the Disney Princess brand going / growing, if you enjoy that coronation ceremony that DCP held for Princess Tiana in Manhattan's Grand Ballroom back in March of 2010 ...

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... or the coronation ceremony that Disney Consumer Products staged for Rapunzel at Kensington Palace in London in October of 2011 ...

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... or the regal celebration that DCP put together back in May of this year where Merida was welcomed into the Disney Princess royal court in a ceremony that was staged in front of Cinderella Castle at WDW's Magic Kingdom ...

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... just wait 'til you see what Disney Consumer Products has in the works for Anna & Elsa. I can promise you that -- when it comes time for the two sisters who drive the storyline of Disney's "Frozen" to finally officially become Disney Princesses -- their induction ceremony is going to be very, very cool.

Beyond that ... My apologies for being off-the-air here at JHM for the past few days. But between some family obligations as well as that case of the creeping crud which I picked up out in San Diego last week, I've basically been out of commission since I got back from Comic-Con.

But even so, I'm now making plans to return to Southern California early next month. Where -- out ahead of the D23 EXPO -- Len Testa & I will be heading out to Palm Springs. Where we'll then be recording an all-new episode of our "Unofficial Guide Disney Dish" podcast series that then focuses on the history of Smoke Tree Ranch.

And while we're out in the desert, Len & I also plan on shooting something for the Touring Plans' YouTube channel. This all-new show is supposed to be called "Ask Jim Hill." Where (as you might have guessed by the title) I'm then going to try and answer Disney & theme park-related questions that people have sent in.

So if you'd like to be part of the first-but-hopefully-not-last episode of "Ask Jim Hill," please head on over to the TouringPlans blog right now and then submit a question that Len & I can possibly use as part of the premiere of this new YouTube show.

That's it for now, folks. Again, my apologies for the lack of stories this week. I'll get back to sharing all that I saw & heard at this year's San Diego Comic-Con shortly. In the meantime, you all take care, okay?


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  • Merida is supposed to be a sort of tomboy character, she wasn't "sexualized" in the film, in that she didn't care about her looks, it seems that the new Merida is obsessive about her looks and I also think she doesn't look like Merida anymore.  I think this is just a case of Disney selling an already made product, but I doubt they'll make stuff with new Merida anymore.  I kinda see that Belle is also more 'seductive' . . . maybe this is sending girls the wrong message.  On the box you can see that old Merida doesn't look classically "pretty" like the other princesses when compared to her doll, sure little girls will spot this too.

    One problem is that Brave's Merida is kinda a Mary Blair based character, sort of a little kid's head on an adult's body . . . she is what she is, don't think she should be changed.

    The Frozen princesses are drawn to look super sexy, yes, but after a point all of the Disney princesses look too much alike, like Barbies with slightly different hairstyles or something.

    Jim, what do you make of all the rumors about a Carsland at DHS?  Doesn't seem like there is room for such addition at DHS without crippling the park's attendance for a couple years.

  • I think that while somewhat minimal, some critical thinking about the brands presentation is interesting and can be good. For example, I always thought it was weird how often Mulan is presented in dressier outfits or the outfit in the beginning of the film, considering that was her worst moment, and she seems to not enjoy that stuff. Same with Merida--she didn't seem like the type in the film to care for her dress (she rips it while cursing it) or sparkles or princess-type things. I think that was the main reason that sparked it up. While the film has not changed and the message is not going anywhere, they are presenting these women as their less comfortable halves. I understand that they need to all work together in one brand, but a little difference between them is good too and a better message. Not all little girls care about sparkles and things and some do. Some like both, such as myself. Some would rather have Merida's bow and arrow than her sparkly dress. I think the bad reaction is less about how "all the princesses got redesigns though!!!" and more about how that was never the point of Merida's character, same with Mulan.

  • I know i just commented, but I was looking at the images again. I actually think the Merida design in the first image is great! She works with everyone else, but has her bow and arrows and simpler dress that looks more comfortable for being active in, which she likes to be. I think that glamming her up a bit for a "royal entry" to the brand in the later images makes sense, but I think just her and her arrows works fine for that as well. She seems less like Merida in the later images.

  • These fashion dolls are how these types of shows and films get made. The doll business is a leadin to fashion whereas action figures are more narrative-based (to a point, anyway- anyone seen the Lego mandarin ironman3 set?)... The way Mattel has made she-Ra action figures in its MOTUC line is quite telling- the characters have been more Filmation styled than toy styled, whereas everything else is more updating of the original toys. The point is, these things are based in actual children's play patterns. And there are bright spots too: shop.lego.com/.../Emma-s-Karate-Class-41002

  • I think the fact that Merida (and some of the more recent and independent princesses) can be both tomboy-ish/hardworking (Tiana) AND glamours sends a better message to girls than having characters be 100% one way or the other. It shows that you can be whatever you want whenever you want. If you want to go hunt bears one day and dress up with make up the next go for it! It's not YOU MUST BE A TOMBOY ALL THE TIME.

  • I think that a lot of the people (definitely not all of them, sure) who signed the petition knew *exactly* what Disney was doing and why. I mean, it´s not as if Disney´s marketing strategies were overly sophisticated... Personally, I am not in the least interested in "feminist" discussions or topics (sue me...), but when I see an image like that of Cinderella above, I just get angry... I wonder if Roy Disney knew what was still ahead when he told Andy Mooney to stop "positioning Tinkerbell as a prostitute"...

  • Thank you, Jim, for mentioning (and linking to) my favorite artist Amy Mebberson!  Her awesome pics get sent all around the web but she rarely gets the credit she deserves.  Glad Disney's letting her make officially licensed stuff now.

  • If you actually got Disney information from Disney instead of some hysterical fanboys & fangirls, you would realize that there was never anything to "back off".  One "controversial" image was from a press release announcing Merida's coronation.  Others were sent to Target for merchandise development.   Disney has the right to portray its characters as it sees fit.  One aspect of "fit" is that CGI depictions of human figures do not translate well to 2-D images on merchandise.

  • The argument that Merida's makeover was merely an effort to make her fit in with the other princesses only highlights what the signers of the Change.org petition were protesting - the over-sexualization of so many female characters. Merida was the poster girl, her original tomboy character made her new glamour stand out in stark relief. However, my concern (I was one of the signers) was the more pervasive and broad based dynamic that you have beautifully illustrated in this article. It's not just Merida, it's the whole princess thing...  And while I have no doubt Disney is only responding to what their market research tells them little girls want, the fact that this is what little girls want is the most troubling part of this entire episode.

  • This is the best thing I have read about this whole mess. I started reading it and sighed "oh great here's another person who has to complain about this" and then when I read on I was so happy that you explained it so well. I find nothing wrong with the design, as you said, it fits in with the others. I will admit, I wish they looked like how they used to look because I'm a fan of their original designs but if it has to be done then I guess it has to be done. Maybe a little less glitter though ha ha. I do not however, agree with people saying these designs will send the wrong message to little girls. Maybe parents should teach their children about being happy with who they are instead of relying on fictional characters. My daughters are growing up with Disney Princesses, I just bought them the new Frozen Dolls and they love to watch the movies and you know what they say? They tell me they love the stories and they think the designs are pretty, that's just my 4 and 6 year old daughters, my 15 year old daughters (They're twins) still love the Disney Princesses and never once had doubts about their body or anything of the like. Everyday I let my little Princesses know that they are beautiful the way they are and even my young ones know that the Princesses are only fictional characters and no one could achieve those body types. So parents, instead of coming online and complaining about Companies ruining your daughters how about you take time out everyday and let them know they are beautiful no matter what, inside and out and that they are who they are and don't need to be anyone but themselves.

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