Merida’s Makeover and Character Continuity

Via: Gagging on Sexism
Via: Gagging on Sexism

You’ve undoubtedly read the stories by now. You know, the ones proclaiming Merida’s coronation as the latest entrant in the ‘Disney Princess’ brand and (on the other side), the ones decrying her redesign into one with more than an air of sexuality about it. The point of this post isn’t to belabor either side (although this blogger leans heavily towards the latter), rather its to discuss how Merida proves how unwieldy characters can become within large corporations such as Disney and why they need to keep tighter grip of the reins.

Why It’s a Problem

So why would such a change be of issue in the first place? We all know that multitudes of artists work on these characters and the very nature of merchandise (with all its differing surfaces and sizes) necessitates changes to permit an acceptable level of familiarity across the range.

Well, normally it isn’t a problem because the characters remain relatively consistent. In Merida’s case, however, the change is near radical. In fact, all the Disney Princess have undergone some sort of noticeable change from their original appearance on film.

Another reason Merida’s case stands out is that she’s undergone not so much a redesign but a transformation. Even by comparing her looks (and her measurements) one can deduce that she isn’t likely to exhibit the same character traits as her CGI original. Such a transformation runs the risk of confusing consumers.

The Confusion Caused By Merida’s Transformation

In times gone past, the change wouldn’t have been given that much thought. After all, merchandise always lagged behind the films and the medium through which the largest audience would see it (home video) was released many months afterwards, when memories had faded somewhat.

Fast forward to today, and the omnipresence and semi-permanence of the internet has meant that fact-checking and comparison can be done instantaneously. If a corporation makes an overtly obvious change to a character, you can be sure that someone somewhere can confirm the change and indeed, analyse it to astonishingly high degrees of accuracy.

Changes in character can be easy for adults to gloss over, but kids can find it hard to reconcile the apparently unnecessary alterations. Kids place a lot of value in characters and they readily identify with them; changing the character can  cause not only confusion, but also trauma. That’s not to say that Merida’s change will cause the latter, but it will not go unnoticed by kids (mainly girls) who’ve identified with a character who’s most significant trait is not fitting in with a crowd.

Even mature adults (and particularly parents and those of us in the field) are having trouble reconciling the change in any kind of rational light. Peggy Orenstein gets pretty close to the truth:

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.

This is true, and certainly part of the cause. The Disney Princess brand relies upon a broad range of characters to appeal to all types, but who still reside inside a statistically maximising percentage of the population. In other words, the characters can be different, but not too different lest they be marginalised and hence, unprofitable.

How To Fix It

Since the confusion and frustrations that are caused seem to be emanating from the changes made, wouldn’t the simplest thing be to just keep them the same as they were in the film (or concepts in the case of CGI)? We’re long, long past the time when merchandise had to look different on account of manufacturing technology and the like. Today, it’s possible to maintain a high degree of quality across the board. There really is no reason why a Merida doll has a different structure to her animated counterpart, or for that matter for a stock image of her on a T-shirt requires a redesign.

Heck, even the Disney Princesses themselves do not need such a standardised sense of design. What it amounts to is the merchandising or marketing division of the corporation attempting to stamp their impression on characters created somewhere else (by animators). It amounts to overstepping their boundaries insofar as they may adapt characters to their work, but outright changing them is unconscionable.

A Comparison of Merida and Rapunzel

Guess which one scares me more?

It struck me there just last week that we’ve seen two major princess movies from the Disney umbrella in the last few years, although despite claims that we’ll see no more, one is already well under way. So I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the two already released to see just how different, or similar they are. The two in question are of course Merida from Pixar’s Brave and Rapunzel from Walt Disney’s Tangled.

For starters, they’re both teenagers. Yes, every adults favourite people to hate and for good reason. Teenagers tend to be obnoxious, whiny, annoying, conniving, rude, clumsy and above all, rebellious. Both Rapunzel and Merida imbue all these qualities ans more in their respective films. Merida directly disobeys her mother as does Rapunzel.

Both seem to have issues with issues with the life that is set out for them. Merida as a wife to an eejit and Rapunzel as an everlasting source of life for Mother Goethal. Neither is satisfied and both disobey the requisite adult. However, that is where the similarity ends, as Merida dashes off into the woods, her mother is fully aware that she has left. Rapunzel, in contrast, sneakily knows that her mother is gone and is more than willing to head off without her knowledge. Rapunzel is clearly the fuller character in this case.

Both characters coincidentally have wild hair, but whereas Rapunzel’s is a plot device, Merida’s is more of a set piece that is played up multiple times throughout the film. It’s fair to say that while Rapunzel’s hair adds to her character, Merida’s can’t help but distract the viewer, as was the case when it was highlighted in just about every single review of the film.

Both princesses are strong female characters 9the kind we all know and love) but Merida is undoubtedly the lesser of the two. The reasons here are complicated, but the long and winding gestation and execution of Brave are probably the root cause. In Tangled, Rapunzel’s character evolves throughout the film. She has to learn to trust Flynn Rider Eugene Fitzherbet (a good ol’ Irish surname there) and only by going through her experiences does she learn the truth about her past.

Merida on the other hand is very much presented as is. Yes, she does learn a lesson in the course of the film, but that doesn’t change her character. She’s still fundamentally the same person at the beginning as she is at the end. We learn (comparatively) little about her. A rather disappointing state of affairs given the wonderful setup we’re given (ancient Scotland and all that).

The princesses approach to love is also drastically different. Rapunzel is more than happy to comply with the established Disney norms; Merida, not so much. It should be noted that neither approach is right or wrong but in Tangled, love is clearly meant to imply marriage whereas in Brave, marriage does not necessarily imply love; an important distinction but one that tends to go against the formula for princess movies.

Overall, both are likeable character that despite their teenage label have mass appeal beyond the kids. It’s curious how different the two characters are despite Pixar’s attempt to make Brave a different kind of film. In the end though, we should be grateful that both films give the characters enough room for them to come into their own.

 

Brave Review: Merida is Not The Feminist Heroine Many Were Expecting

Via: Nerdy Feminist

“You’d better say it was excellent.”

Such was the direction I received from the fiancée for this review. However it is something I simply cannot do for the entire film. For parts? Sure, we’ll get to those in a minute, but as a whole film, Brave is very good, but it isn’t excellent; there are simply too many areas where it comes up short.

First, the good stuff. Yes, the scenery really is as good as it looks. Pixar has done a superb job in replicating rural Scotland, complete with the wild open spaces and the intimacy of the woods, that provides ample eye candy throughout the entire film. Perhaps it is because of my bias (I’m from the part of Ireland that is just as, if not more, wild and rugged) I was entranced by the scenery for the entire film. Well done to Pixar for doing their homework!

Now onto the not so good stuff.

The Plot

The plot, while fine as a concept, stutters in execution. Pitting daughter against mother isn’t entirely original, but at least the ancient Scottish setting was a new twist. Sadly that doesn’t come to pass. Brave can’t decide if it’s a serious drama or a comedy. In the end it tries to be both and thus becomes a film of two halves. I’ll let you guess which half sustained my real interest and which was accepting of my superficial attention.

Unlike How To Train Your Dragon, Brave makes the mistake of proclaiming to be a dramatic film but whereas the latter makes no bones about its comedic side, Brave feels like its being funny in order to hide something and one can’t help but suspect that its to do with the removal of Brenda Chapman halfway through production that caused the, quite frankly, lazy use of comedy to patch up the hole left behind.

The Animation

While the background and scenery animation is superb, the same can’t be said for the character animation. Yes, Merida’s hair is stunning, but that is merely a distraction. Every other character seems to pop around as if on a very heavy dose of caffeine and once the action kicks in, I simply could not have been reminded of Shrek at a worse time.

Characters were simply far too jumpy, case in point is the royal family’s housekeeper (the one that, uh, hides the key in that place). As she runs through the castle and finally gets to the kitchen, there is no grace in her stumbles. They speak nothing of her character, she could have been anyone and the effect would have been the same. What differentiates Pixar from DreamWorks at this point? Nothing to be honest, DW at its best could easily pull off character animation as, if not more, graceful than Pixar has in Brave.

The Characters

This is the acid test for Brave. It was intended to be a ‘different’ Pixar film, one with a female lead, a princess, and a setting in Scotland; all traits that Disney itself would have used in the past. The film was marketed as such with a heavy emphasis on how Merida was something different from what we had seen before; a teenager, a rebel and so on.

Sadly, all the characters are stock for a Hollywood film.

There’s the idiotic father, the prim and proper mother, the rebel teenager and the three triplet boys who are simply incapable of doing anything good. While the father and the boys are merely filling comedic space, the mother and daughter who are the focus of the film, should have been much more complex.

For all the hubbub about Merida being Pixar’s first feminist, there is little evidence that she is anything more than a spoiled child who is in need of a life lesson or two. If anything, it’s Merida’s mother who is the strong female in the film, being more than capable of stopping the men right in their tracks, especially her husband!

Merida attempts to make a case for finding her own way, but with such an emphasis on ‘fate’ and placing your future in someone else’s hands, namely a [redacted spoiler],she spends more time being led down the garden path and having her decisions made for her than discovering them herself. She’s not the strong female protagonist that many (including myself) were expecting.

Even the other princesses in the Disney films seem to come off as stronger characters. Jasmine was coy enough to play along with Jafar to help Aladdin. Ariel knew what she wanted but really had to work in order to win over the prince. Belle had to work at the Beast fairly hard and overcome many obstacles to save the day. Merida on the other hand, simply has to reverse what harm she did and follow the steps laid out for her, and that isn’t a particularly difficult task.

Once the big change comes about, the Queen instantly becames a different character, an unlikeable character, a comedic character. She isn’t the same and the change dramatically shifts the tone of the film, for the worse. Yeah, there are a few genuinely loving moments, but I just couldn’t shake the fact that the queenias an innately funny character. A shame really because her serious side could have easily been kept while keeping the humurous side to her transformation to a minimum.

Conclusion

Pixar has been one of the most successful animation studios over the last 25 years. They’ve been knocking out hit after hit after hit on a more consistent basis than anyone else before them. Many have proclaimed that each new film has the potential to be the first Pixar ‘flop’. Cars and Cars 2 were certainly not the critic’s favourites; in a sense they are ‘critical’ flops.

The reality though, is that we are seeing Pixar slowly slide into mediocrity. They set the gold standard for films and unfortunately for them, everyone else is catching up. Toy Story 3, Cars 2 and now Monster’s University represent Pixar slowly cashing in its goodwill chips at least DreamWorks make no bones about using sequels to make money. Expect to see Pixar films doing well, but to become increasingly ordinary; the spread of the Disney corporate machinery is inevitable after all.

Brave is Pixar trying too hard. It’s fine to portray the film as an epic with a strong female lead but when you’ve built your brand on delivering on your promises, it’s devastating when you come up short. Brave was the first Pixar film where I lost interest during the screening. I was expecting so much more from a studio that has proven the ability to deliver, and it almost hurts when to see a film with such a great premise come out half-baked.

ReelGirl Sums Up What Pixar’s ‘Brave’ Really Signifies

The ReelGirl blog, written by Margot Magowan, recently featured a post that discusses Pixar’s upcoming film ‘Brave’ in the context of Pixar ‘firsts’; this case being their first lead female protagonist. Margot sums it up thusly:

Wow, a female hero is as rare and remarkable as a rat who can cook.

Which is basically the truth, strictly in terms of Pixar films.

Can this be held against Pixar? I’d say not. They’ve only released a relatively small number of films, and a good chunk of them were knocked out during just one lunch! It’s a natural progression that they would get around to doing a girl-centric film eventually. Besides, The Incredibles had an actual female hero in Elastigirl. OK, granted she wasn’t the lead, but she was effectively the co-lead and equal partner in the film.

I agree with Margot in that it is a tad unfair to be crowing about a film that is supposedly a ‘first’ and that also features something that should, and has, been a given in animated films for quite a while.

The Four Animated Movies of 2012 That I Can’t Wait To See

I’ve used Cartoon Brew’s list as a guide for this:

  1. The Secret World of Arriety – The latest offering from Studio Ghibli; goes without saying
  2. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax – The future missus wants to see this because Taylor Swift is in it. I’m not going to object.
  3. Brave – Pixar’s latest, how will it’s Scottishness hold up nest to HTTYD
  4. Hotel Transylvania – The concept art is awesome and Genndy Tartakovsky is behind it. This should be good

 

The Atlanta Braves Oppose Pixar’s ‘Brave’ Trademark Application

Hilarious image shamelessly yoinked from Filmdrunk

I’m really not quite sure what to make of this. According to /film (who got it from Stitch Kingdom), the Atlanta Braves baseball team have filed an objection to Disney/Pixar’s use of the word “Brave” as a trademark for the upcoming film, Brave.

Trademark law make a distinction between singular and plural versions of a word, but that has not stopped the baseball team from claiming that:

that damages will occur as a result of Disney’s trademarks being approved as they have used the singular form before on merchandise and insist it is common for fans, media, et. al. to use the singular form when referring to a single player, whereas the pluralized form refers to the entire team.”

Long story short, they’re saying that by Disney trademarking ‘Brave’, poor Joe Public might get confused between a baseball player and a red-haired Scottish heroine who lives in the middle ages.

Yup, that sure is real confusing, especially as one is an actual, real-life team of people playing sports for money and the other is a fictional character who only exists within the film (and on related merchandise).

There’s no way this objection should fly although, as ever, “discussions are ongoing” between the two parties. So expect an “agreement” to come eventually.

Just what a waste of resources though and it doesn’t exactly put the Braves in a good light either, what with the pettiness of their claim and all.

David OReilly & Tomm Moore on Pixar’s Brave

Just a while ago over the twitter-waves

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/davidoreilly/statuses/136888431501524992″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/tommmoore/statuses/136890423162576897″]