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‘Brave’: new Disney Princess Merida gets girly Mattel makeover

'Brave,' Pixar's latest animated movie, stars its first female lead. Princess Merida is a strong, independent female character, who, like Katniss Everdeen in 'The Hunger Games,' is not concerned with her looks. So, why is Mattel marketing her as a stereotypical Disney princess?

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Fortunately, the version of Merida available for $16.50 from the Disney Store is truer to the film’s character. I checked out the products available in my local Disney Store and found them to be preferable to Mattel’s versions.

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Guest blogger

Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a children's media culture expert. A professor of advertising and media studies at Salem State University, in Salem, Mass., her research focuses on girls and media. The author of "Growing Up With Girl Power: Girlhood on Screen and in Everyday Life,"  she blogs about children's media and popular cultur and lives with her husband and son in Peabody, Mass.
 

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It has a more focused expression, the crooked smile (also found on the toddler doll), the lighter touch around the eyes, the film-centered accessories. All in all, it’s a nice doll. (I just hope Disney can resist making a super sparkly version.)

In short, a comparison of the different Merida dolls make it clear: Although Mattel designed a Katniss Everdeen doll that reflected the character’s strength and personality, when it came to Merida, Mattel didn’t even try. 

But why would that be? Both Katniss and Merida are strong, independent, and enjoy archery – yet their treatments by Mattel couldn’t be more different.

The answer: Just as the films target different audience members, these dolls target different markets, as well.

According to Amazon.com, Mattel’s recommended age for the Merida dolls is “36 months to 8 years.”

Amazon says the recommended age for Mattel’s Katniss doll is 6 to 15. However, according to Barbiecollector.com, the Katniss doll is actually meant for adults. In point of fact, Katniss is from the Black Label line – all of which are described as being meant for adult collectors, ages 14 and up. Katniss’s design was led by one individual, Bill Greening, who describes himself as a "Hunger Games" fan and who approached the design with care.

“Hopefully 'Hunger Games' fans can appreciate the attention to detail,” Greening says. “The doll’s minimalistic style and details – such as her loosely braided hair and makeup-free look – also really embody the heroic character Katniss.”

Fan response has been tremendous: The Katniss doll sold out almost immediately and is now on back order with an expected availability four months from now.

Unfortunately, because Mattel’s "Brave" line is intended for the preschool-to-grade-school set, Merida received no such treatment from Mattel. Presumably designed by committee, the Merida dolls rely on stereotypes about little girls’ interests. Make a little girl’s doll whose face isn’t redesigned to conform to Mattel’s beauty norms? Present a little girl’s doll as strong and independentrather than dainty and sweet? Nah, that would be much too risky! Mattel clearly believes that long eyelashes and gemstone dress-up activities are a safer marketing bet.

In my opinion, Mattel underestimates little girls. Give them a Merida doll that reflects the movie’s character, and they will love it. Mattel is also blind to why parents have responded positively to the "Brave" trailers: many appreciate that Merida is not a stereotypically princess-like princess.

What a shame that Mattel couldn’t afford young girls who love "Brave" the same respect they afforded to the teens and adults who love "The Hunger Games."

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Rebecca Hains blogs at rebeccahains.wordpress.com.

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