The latest in a line of feisty, flame-haired characters
Pixar’s Princess Merida is but the latest in a line of cartoon redheads – but could Pixar have done more to confound stereotypes?
IS RED THE NEW blonde? It seems as though Hollywood – or at least the animated side of it – has taken its love affair with redheads to a whole new level. Makers of animated movies and TV series have always had a grá for ginger, from Ariel the Little Mermaid to Daphne in Scooby Doo and Jessie in Toy Story. But this week they’ve ramped up the rouge with their latest animated character, Princess Merida, the flame-haired heroine of Pixar’s Brave.
After years of being the butt of cruel jokes and lazy stereotypes, it’s payback time for this much-oppressed minority. In the film, Merida (voiced by brunette actor Kelly Macdonald) must use her warrior skills to lift a terrible curse that’s been put on her family. But she may also lift the real-life curse that many feel comes with being a redhead. Imagine: no more ridiculous nicknames, crass remarks or terrible jokes. And no more films portraying redheads as bumbling and bashful if they’re boys, or feisty and fiery if they’re girls.
But wait a minute. Merida is feisty, quick-tempered, stubborn, free-spirited – all personality traits attributed to your stereotypical redhead. What’s going on here? I’m not the only one to ask. In a recent article on slate.com, LV Anderson accused the film-makers of passing on this tired cultural trope to a new generation, thus condemning redheads to be further cast as “rebellious”, “obstinate” contrarians.
“For most of the film, Merida’s hair is a semi-autonomous character unto itself, coiling and drifting around her head like the tentacles of a sea anemone, and functioning like a sticker on her back that says ‘feisty’.”
Anderson’s not wrong there: Merida’s hair had to be treated as a separate entity by the film’s animators, and getting it to cascade gracefully and naturally as she galloped through the gusty highlands of Scotland was a huge challenge for the techies at Pixar.
To achieve what up to now only Wella could do, they had to invent new software (which they named Taz, after Looney Tunes’ loveable furry red rascal) to get Merida’s tresses to tumble in just the right fashion.
Merida’s hair consists of no less than 1,500 curls, each one individually programmed to stretch out and bounce back with every shake of the princess’s stubborn head.