Did Disney Change Merida? A view from her official coronation at Walt Disney World

Merida with Queen Elinor, Olympian Gabby Douglas and her mom.

Merida with Queen Elinor, Olympian Gabby Douglas and her mom.

“If you had a chance to change your fate, would you?” Merida asks us in her Scottish accent.

Lately, it seems the question isn’t – can you change your fate – but can you Barbie-fy Merida? Is that really happening – so many of us are wondering?

But first – before I get to what I experienced first-hand at Walt Disney World and Merida’s official coronation on Saturday, some background.

To know where I am coming from, you need to know a bit more about where me and my girls stand with the Disney Princesses.

Myself, I am a self-dubbed M” gal. I adore Mulan and Merida. They are opinionated, loyal, strong and independent.

I have two little girls, two little red-headed girls, in fact, and both absolutely swoon over Merida. Especially my four-year-old. Ironically, last summer  when my youngest was just three, we actually went to the movies to see “Brave” and ended up leaving a few minutes before the ending because they both were terrified. But their love for Merida never wavered. Even through the scary bear scenes.

It’s primal, really, when little kids fall in love with fictional characters. My now four-year-old instinctively knows she loves Merida to the core. She is spunky and feisty. Merida is definitely spunky and feisty. She is brave and strong. My little one is brave and strong. She is confident and smart, my little one is also confident and smart.  And I secretly fear, much like her idol Merida, she will defy me at every turn when she reaches the tween-teen years. I sat through “Brave” last summer wondering if this was foreshadowing my future – minus me being able to catch a fish with my paws when I am turned into a bear.

But little kids, when it comes to their favorite characters,  they can’t eloquently articulate why they love that character – they just know. That princess IS them.  After Christmas, my little one wore her Merida dress to its threads. She slept in it, she wore it to school, she wore it at home. It’s now ripped, torn, dirty and it is part of her.  It is perfectly Merida, really.

So when the news broke on the eve of the Disney Social Media Moms conference, which I attended,  that Disney was going to change the way Merida looks, my blood boiled. I first spotted it on the A Mighty Girl Facebook page. Then came the Change.org petition with the image of the shocking transformation of Merida from sassy and child-like to glittery, adult looking and Barbie-like in physique. Worse – the image showed Merida in the very dress she hated, now almost glittery and sparkling. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was incredulous.   I shared the Change.org petition on my blog Facebook page and I signed it.  

But I also kept wondering - is this true? Doesn’t Disney risk LOSING money by so dramatically changing the brand of Merida? And Disney is a lot of things, but they are also a corporation trying to make  money. Lets be realistic here.

Frankly, as my head was swirling with all this news,  I couldn’t believe my luck that I was headed straight to Disney World with an exclusive invitation to attend Merida’s coronation on Saturday. I was determined to find the right person to talk too and ask about Merida’s change, even if it meant ruining my reputation and never being invited back to the Disney conference again. Merida is important in our house – so I had to find out what was going on.   

The conference began last Thursday night and it wasn’t until Saturday morning that I had the chance to find the right person to talk to about Merida – and to find out if it was all true.  Along the way I followed all the articles about Merida and tracked the growing list of signatures on the Change.org petition.

Was it true, I asked? Could they really be dramatically changing this new character – the soon to be official 11th Disney princess – who was blazing a new path for Disney princesses?

Shortly before the official coronation of Merida in the Magic Kingdom, which took place at the base of Cinderella’s castle, I found Margita Thompson, who works in public relations for Disney. She was nestled next to the table of Merida merchandise at our conference breakfast. Merchandise which actually didn’t look like the godforsaken image floating around the Internet – that had all of us seeing red.  She was ready to answer any questions and was well aware of all the buzz flying around the Internet. Instead of talking, however, the proof was in the pudding – she turned my attention to the new merchandise.

Disney World May 2013 027 Disney World May 2013 026 Disney World May 2013 025 Disney World May 2013 024

Admittedly, Merida didn’t look exactly like she did in the movie but she also didn’t look like a glittery, slutty Barbie. What struck me the most was this: Merida looked different in all the items depending on what you were buying and who you were buying it for. Looking for a Merida doll for a toddler? Then she looks like a baby with a round toddler-like face.  Looking for a Merida-Barbie like doll – then she has more of a Barbie appearance. Looking for some clothing? She looks less child-like and more Disney Princess like. You can see and judge for yourself – I took all of the above pictures- of the official Merida merchandise on display at Walt Disney World on the morning of Merida’s coronation.

The official Disney statement about the Merida change is as follows: “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.”

But here’s what I discovered on Saturday I discovered the Merida we know, the Merida we love – at her coronation. There was nothing different about Merida in the official Disney ceremony – she was MERIDA.

Not a prissy, frilly, sparkly Merida. She even walked like Merida – almost more of a stomp.

Merida riding in on Angus for her official coronation at Walt Disney World on Saturday May 11

Merida riding in on Angus for her official coronation at Walt Disney World on Saturday May 11

Behind bagpipes, with Scottish music blaring through the park, in rode Merida, into the Magic Kingdom, on Angus, in her dark green velvety dress – the dress that she adored . You can see it here for yourself…keep in mind…I am no professional videographer but here’s what I captured – but if you are a sucker for bagpipes, you’ll suck it up:

Right in front of us was the strong, independent Merida that we fell in love with. She wasn’t riding side-saddle in a sparkly dress, cooing at men and giggling, as you’d imagine that adult-like character version of Merida would – that is flying around the Internet.

And while I stood a few steps from the stage, I can tell you that it was Olympian Gabby Douglas who kicked off the ceremony. The very young girl who dazzled young girls across the world with her strength and athleticism last summer during the Olympics. Could there have been a better role model for young girls to introduce Merida than Gabby Douglas and her mother?  Wasn’t this exactly the message we want to send our girls? This was a Disney function – no one else’s – and it was right on message with the Merida from the movie.

 

On the stage, with the other 10 official Disney Princesses, Merida proclaimed the following:

“I am strong. I am brave. I am Merida. I am a princess.”

And low and behold, I actually captured Merida’s proclamation here – you should definitely watch this part:

My shot of all 11 Disney Princesses

My shot of all 11 Disney Princesses

Under the blazing heat, sun beating down on us before 10am on Saturday, I can tell you that Merida’s coronation was authentic and my girls were mesmerized.  When Queen Elinor took the stage, we all were reminded that not only is Brave about Merida’s strength and courage in blazing her own path and changing her fate but it is about her rebellion and love for her mother.  It was a perfect Disney moment on the eve of Mother’s Day and I was hooked (and sweating profusely, btw).  Were the 11 Princesses sweating – you can trust I was obsessively wondering, because I was a  sweaty, red-faced mess and we hadn’t even gotten to one ride yet.

The bottom line is this: I can’t tell you what to think of the Merida merchandise now. You’ll see the merchandise in the stores. I can only tell you that I went into the conference really fired up and left completely inspired. I don’t even know if any of these changes are actually happening….Jezebel is reporting Disney has now reversed its decision. Here is the Disney response to that reporting: “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.”

Here’s what I know: This is what our Democracy is all about – which is another valuable lesson for our kids – in my opinion. I am grateful for sites like A Mighty Girl who provide for us a centralized place to find strong role models for our girls, I am grateful for grassroots organizations like Change.org that allow us to sign petitions and collectively send a  unified, strong, powerful message to corporations like Disney that we want and need more princesses like Merida  and I am grateful to Disney for organizing Merida’s official coronation with the spirit and strength of Merida in mind and for showcasing yet another strong, brave girl, Olympian Gabby Douglas.

Gymnastics gold medalist Gabby Douglas attends a regal celebration to welcome the newest princess, the brave and passionate Merida, from Disney∙Pixar’s “Brave,” to the Disney Princess royal court May 11, 2013, at Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Gymnastics gold medalist Gabby Douglas attends a regal celebration to welcome the newest princess, the brave and passionate Merida, from Disney∙Pixar’s “Brave,” to the Disney Princess royal court May 11, 2013, at Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Merida stood on stage as the strong, brave and independent girl that she is and my girls heard that message and saw that green dress.  From my jaded, skeptical view-point, it seemed that Disney is listening.

 Now it is up to us to only buy the merchandise we believe truly exemplifies Merida’s character and to constantly talk with our kids about the characteristics that make Merida so special and so unique. I’m curious what you think – has it been overblown? Do you agree or disagree? And naturally, I’d love for you to hit “Like” on the old Wired Momma Facebook page – where we often have really great conversations.

Disclosure: I attended the Disney Social Media Moms Conference, which is an invite-only conference. My family paid a conference fee to attend and in exchange we were given park passes at a greatly reduced rate, three nights in a hotel and invited to meals and Merida’s coronation. My opinions here are all my own, you can be sure of that.

7 Responses to Did Disney Change Merida? A view from her official coronation at Walt Disney World
  1. Carter Ann McClelland
    May 16, 2013 | 11:44 am

    Thank you so much for this article. I have really been wondering if this was real, how “real” it was, and when the changes would take place. My daughter is all about the pink frilly princesses right now. She just turned 3. As much as she loves pink, purple, sparkles, and twirly dresses, she “is” Merida. Takes no crap from anyone, plays swords with her older brother, and will always speak her mind.

  2. Monica Sakala
    May 16, 2013 | 11:50 am

    Your daughter sounds awesome! I am eager to hear if it’s true that Disney is now reversing this change but all I can say is – you can see the images of the new merchandise from my crappy pictures above.

  3. Sisters From Another Mister
    May 16, 2013 | 12:45 pm

    Now the rest of us can simply forward your post to all we know. Brilliantly said, and thro the eyes of the ones who know best … your children.
    It was quite magical to be there, listen to the words on stage, see the special bond between Gabby and her Mom. A lesson to all, to be strong and be brave … and what little girl does not dream of being a princess at some point in her life.

  4. Monica Sakala
    May 16, 2013 | 12:50 pm

    I would love it if you shared this post! And exactly – I thought what’s happening with Merida should be judged by the kids who feel they are her – so it definitely passed my test. And the truth is – I was very skeptical going in to the conference. I’m quite disappointed with how this has played out in the media and online so far.

  5. Martha Gallagher
    May 16, 2013 | 11:05 pm

    Great review of Merida’s big day.

  6. Jenny
    May 17, 2013 | 4:49 am

    This was just a great blog/article which helped put the entire (non) issue into perspective for me. Thank you!

  7. [...] not a one-time piece of marketing art matters but Jenny at The Bloggess, Amy at Resourceful Mommy, Monica at Wired Momma, and Katherine Stone, Cecily, and Pilar Clark, at Babble have already covered most of it. So, [...]

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