Out of all actor or actress reinventions, I never thought I’d be writing about the retracted reinvention of an animated character. When Disney released “Brave” last year, the reviews might have been mixed, but everybody seemed to agree that the independent, down to earth tomboy aspect to flame-haired Merida was an ideal female role model. And why Disney ignored so many online comments from women praising the Merida character is one of those mysteries of whether executives ever read suggestions from their demographics.
All told, one could easily argue that the reinvented Merida looked more like how she’d look 10 years later rather than being sexed up. Regardless, the idea of plump breasts, a skinny waist, and a slight “come hither” look is all but set into the mindset of Hollywood as being necessary to make women look appealing. Why that idea persists when actresses looking said way never win major awards doesn’t seem to ever be answered.
Part of it is likely fear of being brandished too old fashioned. In that regard, it shows how executives may never really understand the minds of the public. Even if sex does sell, it’s seemingly limited to certain markets where you’d expect it.
The family-going public has made it clear enough that they want their Disney films to stay as Disney as possible. And when Disney the company goes against their own grain, it becomes a loud warning tale that could carry over with real actresses who think they have to reinvent their personas to gain more sophisticated audiences. That meme of young starlets having to look like a porn star to be accepted into Hollywood society may be backfiring as much as the Merida makeover.
Movie executives who started the trend of sexing up young starlets for more adult roles must have realized how obvious it would someday become. When Jodie Foster played a pruriently shocking role at age 13 for “Taxi Driver”, it was something out of this world. Today, a similar starlet doing a more adult movie seems to be too obvious in the intended career trajectory.
Despite “Spring Breakers” breaking even at the box office, the former female Disney stars in the film had to endure barbs from some critics who bashed the ostentatious bad girl personas. The only exception in the last year and a half was Rooney Mara’s dark side transformation in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” where mental illness in the character was the saving grace. That may be the only way now to depict a bad girl on the big screen with an actress known prior for family films.
Reality seems to be catching up, though, and there’s proof that the majority of movie audiences despise the sexed up, bad girl character in movies. When those audiences do want it, it has to be subtle and not so obvious in its cry for attention. With Merida in “Brave”, it was far too noticable and the equivalent of Audrey Hepburn getting breast enhancement surgery 50 years ago.
Yes, that classic Hepburn look may be on a comeback. Moviegoers are falling in love with female characters that are grounded, not overly beautiful, and purely natural. Merida fit all those characteristics and appears will remain that way with Disney’s retraction.
Let it be a warning to all those real-life red-haired actresses out there who are moving up the career ladder while maintaining the same Meridian features.