Or, to put it another way – is Disney Brave enough to make Merida an official princess?
Right this second, no. But I’d be willing to go all in that she’s a legit Disney Princess by the end of 2012. Why am I so sure? Because Brave Merida is making bank for Disney/Pixar. And as much as I love all things Disney, that mouse (like any corporation) is heavily fueled by the all-mighty dollar.
Edited to add – Tangled came out in November of 2010, and Rapunzel was officially welcomed into the Disney Princess franchise on October 2, 2012. Therefore I am extending my deadline to this time (July) 2013, because apparently it can take up to a year for the paperwork to clear. :) It’s also worth noting that Rapunzel had a procession and coronation ceremony at Kensington Palace in London, which is pretty darn fancy. Hopefully Merida will get the same treatment – but perhaps in Glasgow, Scotland?
For further (slightly crackpot conspiracy) theories, click through to my new article Brave Merida On Track To Become Official Disney Princess!
Alright, now let’s get to know Merida and her world…
Her official title is Princess Merida of DunBroch – a kingdom in the Scottish highlands. As the daughter to Queen Elinor and King Fergus, and the first-born of Clan DunBroch, she is clearly born royalty. Plus, she exceeds the official standards put forth by Disney:
“either royal by birth, royal by marriage, or considered a “princess” due to their significant portrayal of heroinism in their film and/or of a very high status in their country/region.”
So why might she be excluded from the lineup of official Disney Princesses? Well, Merida deviates from the norm is some clear (and clearly awesome) ways:
She’s the first human Disney/Pixar Princess, and that sets her apart from the crowd. I clarified “human” because we can’t forget the ant princesses Atta and Dot from Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. Since we are focusing on human princesses, though, she’s the first of her kind. There’s a bigger issue at hand, however, and Disney execs have to be a bit worried about it…
Merida doesn’t want a man. She isn’t seeking her Prince Charming. She’s fully capable of achieving her happily ever after without a prince by her side. She isn’t waiting in a tower (or a coma) for a magical kiss from a valiant stranger. She isn’t fretting about what to wear to the ball. She’s kicking ass and taking names, actively rebelling against the tradition of a princess needing a prince.
Merida’s rejection of the status quo is received by her fictional society/family, and the real world of Disney Princess merchandising. If Merida is not included in the lineup, it may be because she threatens the existence of the current royal hierarchy. Disney has spent billions of dollars making sure small children - girls in particular – want to be just like the Disney Princesses. We typically associate them with fancy gowns, handsome beaus, and a nuclear family inspired “happily ever after”. We tend to expect our princesses to find their one true love, settle down, and ideally produce some sequel worthy offspring in some sort of off-camera immaculate conception. That doesn’t mean we always want that ending – it just happens to be what we’ve come to expect based on past princess precedent.
So how can Merida meet the standards of the Disney Princess lifestyle without a desire for her Prince Charming? Will she be rejected from the lineup amidst whispers of scandal? Will Cinderella suggest that Merida is actually a lesbian? Is Snow White spreading rumors that Merida has been tilting the kilts of every Highlander she can find? Perhaps Ariel will turn her pert little nose up at Merida’s untamed ginger locks and conservative attire. (I love Ariel but you know that broad is jealous of any other redhead – especially one that doesn’t have to flaunt her goodies in a shell bra just to catch a sailor’s eye). Or maybe the whole spread will turn their collective animated backs on her, in a desperate attempt to shield their men from Merida’s oh-so-appealing, single and loving it lifestyle?
The only place we would really see any of that is amidst twisted (in a good way!) fan Tumblr feeds and SNL “Real Housewives of Disney” skits. But Disney Princess fans seem to have embraced Merida, so I don’t foresee any issues there. Part of this is simply because it is fun to lay claim to a certain princess. We do this as little girls, shrieking “I get to be Ariel!!!!” as soon as a game of pretend is proposed.
For some of us, these connections continue well into adulthood. We relate to these characters, or dress up like them, or get tattoos in their image. Disney sells wedding gowns, bridal party attire, and engagement rings inspired by their princesses, for God’s sake. Not everyone wants this, of course, but I’m guessing quite a few readers already have “their” particular princess in mind. Another princess equals another chance for everyone to identify with a unique character. Another costume for a cosplayer to dream up. Another attitude to try on for size. What’s not to like about that?
I do see the potential for vocal objections from Fox “News” et al. You just wait, Obama is going to mention that his girls loved Brave, and the next thing you know, Gretchen Carlson is talking about the liberal war on traditional marriage via Disney movies. Or perhaps it’s a war on American masculinity, or femininity – it’s so hard to keep track of their rants. Maybe Rush Limbaugh will finally fall over the edge and call Merida a slut because she dares to eschew marriage. Wouldn’t that be glorious? I truly can’t wait. It would be an apt sequel to the conservative brouhaha over (fictional) single mother Murphy Brown back in the 90s.
The current Disney Princesses can and will accept Merida, because they’re all controlled by the same hand at the top of their puppet strings. Brave and Merida = money, and as such, they will be brought within the fold. So far the film has surpassed box office expectations, particularly in terms of male viewership. There was a fair amount of concern that boys would reject a film of this nature, but the numbers indicate otherwise so far. I’m glad to hear that! It seems silly to suggest that young male media consumers are so constricted by typical gender roles – and so threatened by female protagonists – that they would reject a juggernaut of an animated film altogether. So far this film is a hit among young girls, young boys, and families – the holy trinity of Disney consumers. And that means ample opportunities for merchandising, cross-branding, and cash flow for all things Brave. Disney can easily focus on Merida’s independence and bravery (as well as her royal genes) as justification for inclusion as an official Disney Princess. So, even though she isn’t official as of right this second (1:53 pm on 6/26/12), her park and retail presence is already firmly established:
As for the existing princess procession? They should be used to new additions by now. Beyond that, they should be grateful. Any attention paid to the Disney Princess franchise is attention paid to individual Princesses. It is worth noting that some of them may have faded from public recognition without their inclusion in the official lineup. Aurora’s 5 minutes of fame may well have ended decades ago if not for the Disney machine pumping new life into the character crop every year or two. One need look only so far as Eilonwy for proof. Oh wait, you don’t know who she is? She’s a royal born princess that has been completely excluded from the official lineup, likely because her movie (The Black Cauldron) didn’t make much money.
After much consideration, I placed Merida in the “Official Princess” section in my Guide to Disney Princesses post. If she isn’t offered a coveted spot among those Disney divas, I will amend the article. (Unless I get Brave and decide that she’s the 11th official princess according to me, and then she will stay right where she is!)