I've always had to separate my devoted Disney fandom from my feelings about the pink princess franchise. But with the release of Brave just around the corner, have we finally got a princess any woman can be proud of?
With her bright red, unruly hair and childlike frame, Princess Merida is already unusual among her peers. Seeming younger and certainly more lively, she trumps even Mulan in the tomboy stakes, despite dragging around some impressively swishy medieval attire.
Looking at the evidence, signs are strong that Merida will buck the trend of being a passive romantic interest. There's a common observation in the Disney world that where there's a female protagonist, it's primarily a love story, and where the main character is male it's a journey of self-discovery; in Merida's case she seems strongly in the latter category, which is especially relieving when you consider that she is at the heart of Pixar's very first female-focussed film. Bow and arrow at her side, she bounds around the trailer with irrepressible energy, talking about taking the chance to "change her fate". All bodes well.
And yet, of course, I have reservations. Without wishing to get all PROBLEMATIC about this, especially given how much I adore both Walt Disney Animation and Pixar, I did have a few questions. Why does the first female have to be a princess? Why, if her struggle is set in a fantasy Scotland where magic is real, does it still have to be a patriarchal world where Merida battles the expectation to be 'ladylike'? Why do the other female characters appear to be stereotypes like the hapless mother and the wise crone?
Then again, maybe that's the whole point. Maybe Brave quite deliberately creates this kind of world in order to tackle it head on. I'll be very curious to see, when the film is finally released in the UK - it's on general release in the US from the 22nd - whether it simply lets the feminist message be diluted into "look, she's got a bow and arrow, what more do you want?" or whether, as I hope, it's Pixar blowing a cheeky raspberry at the mother ship by providing a properly subversive princess that gives feminist parents a positive story to share with their children.
The raucous, cheeky humour and promise of action and adventure make it clear Pixar's marketing machine is aiming for more than one gender, and it certainly won't do boys any harm to be presented with a different image of what it means to be a princess. And, given we're not yet in a post-patriarchal world, maybe another generation of girls does need that battle spelled out for them at an impressionable age.
Interestingly, even most of the merchandising around the film seems to accept Merida as different to the other princesses. Although Mattel has brought out one disappointing line, as spotted by Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies founder Melissa Atkins Wardy, much of what I've seen in the Disney Store and online seems to be astonishingly un-pink, and to stick to Merida's youthful body type, rather than the more overtly curvy shapes favoured by animators post Little Mermaid. Most of them are dolls I would buy for my daughter without much of a second thought; although I adore, for example, Belle and Tiana as characters on screen, I do struggle with the pinkification around them, and this is a refreshing change.
I still can't decide whether the best way to raise a generation of feminists is to present our current situation and inspire the continuation of the good fight, as I hope Brave will do, or to pour our creativity into showing the world as it could and should be, without even entertaining thoughts of the status quo. Perhaps both are needed; more of both is hopefully what we're going to get.
Watch the Brave trailer:
Alexandra Roumbas Goldstein is a mum of one, digital marketer, cat fan, Disney obsessive and feminist, in any order you like. You can follow her on Twitter @mokuska.