Thursday, May 30, 2013

Stay Brave, Merida

There's a lot being said on the Internet about Disney's recent portrayal of Brave's lead character Merida. The uproar is basically over corporate Disney now trying to pass off a tarted-up image of Merida. After some initial protest they appeared to have backed off somewhat but it's not entirely clear yet if they have backed off all the way. More background on this issue can be read at the A Mighty Girl blog and at Has Disney Taken the "Sex Sells" Principle Too Far?.

When we already have South Park making allegations of Disney trying to package messages of sexual promiscuity in a wrapper of "wholesomeness" (Wikipedia quotes regarding the South Park episode "The Ring," which parodies Disney: "Mickey explains that the [Jonas Brothers' purity] rings allow him to sell sexual stimulation to young girls while giving the false appearance of innocence and purity," and, "The episode portrays Disney as a corporation using the ruse of family-friendly morals to disguise their primary motive of profit.") does Disney really need to be adding ammo to their detractor's argument?

In addition to this being a protest against sending a message to little girls that their sole value lies in sexual allure it's also a matter of not wanting corporations to overrule artist's decisions, and, as an animation fan, wanting to see characters always portrayed in a way that feels true to their personality. For me, it perhaps even goes deeper, because as a Disney fan I am constantly finding myself dealing with two Disneys: the true, artistic side and the false, evil, robber baron corporate side that engages in questionable business practices (e.g., trying to declare residential areas adjacent to Disneyland as a societal blight) and charges $2.79 for water at its parks (unless it's gone up since my last visit). There's some hope that petitions such as the Merida-related one at can help tone down the less reputable aspects of Disney that its consumers have to begrudgingly put up with to get to the real stuff, the stuff created by the genuine artists. My feeling is that if you trust the artists then the business will take care of itself. If the petition doesn't succeed in changing corporate Disney's mind then it'll be interesting to see if consumer purchases (or lack thereof) does. It could end up being like the Disney merchandisers in 1989 who didn't think anybody would want a doll of a mermaid with bright red hair so they made Ariel dolls with strawberry blonde hair. Those dolls sold poorly but when the merchandise was modified to correctly reflect the vision of the artists then sales went through the roof.

Beyond all this it's a further personal affront by Disney to the creator of Brave, Brenda Chapman. First her movie was wrested from her and now the portrayal of her character is also being taken from her. So we have a situation where corporate Disney disrespects its consumers and its artists.

Of course, one upside to all this is that it shows that Disney/Pixar fans are deeply invested in these characters.

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