The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

After Brave: Let Merida explore the world

with 17 comments

brave

Princess Merida of Brave might win the prize as my favourite film character of 2012.

There was so much about her to love: her courage, her skills in horse riding, cliff climbing and arrow shooting, her temperament, the gorgeous hair and the charming Scottish accent. But most of all I loved her free spirit and her firm refusal to hold marriage as the prima goal in her life.

That’s also the reason why I hold my breath throughout the entire film, not sure how it would end.

I didn’t doubt for a second that her mother would get out of her enchanted condition or that the princess and the queen would fall into each other’s arms, asking for forgiveness. It was also unlikely that the Big Bad Bear boss would be allowed to do any serious harm; after all it was a movie for children.

The question was how far the movie makers were ready to let Merida go. Could it be possible to have her walk through an entire film without ending up in the arms of some guy towards the end? In popular culture those hook-ups in the end are bound to happen. Women are allowed to be strong, courageous and adventurous, but only to a certain point.  In the end the “tomboy” will inevitably turn soft, becoming less daring and edgy as she finally embraces her “femininity”. It’s the same story every time, and it’s depressing to watch. Would Merida turn be another victim in a long row, yet another girl to be tamed, “for her own sake”?

If the film makers wanted to go that way, they could have done it easily. I would have been surprised if a pretty prince would have appeared in the place of the Big Bad Bear as he died, and Merida and he would have taken an instant liking and ended up married. Twenty years ago I’m positive that’s what would have happened.

But lo and behold! Merida was allowed to stay true to who she is, a natural force roaming the woods of Scotland. Things are certainly changing for the better and as a mother of two girls I can only regret that this film didn’t come out ten years ago. This is a film I would have loved to share with them when they were in the right age for it.

A step up
Brave is a big step up compared to most of the animated films I’ve seen in terms of equality. But the more I think about it, the more I see it as a step on the way rather than the end goal.

After all: the whole thing about marriage is still a very big deal in Brave. Merida isn’t primarily fighting the Big Bad Bear like a prince would have done: she’s too busy fighting for her rights not to get married and sorting out her complicated relationship with her mother. I look forward to the day when a hero like Merida will be allowed to do the same thing as a male hero would do:  killing dragons, saving the day, reaching the sky – rather than worrying about marriage.

In Brave the fairytale princess has broken the chains of convention and freed herself from the mandatory wedding business. With that out the way it’s time to move on.

It’s time to let Merida and her fellow princesses out in full freedom to explore not just their family relationships, but the world outside.

Brave (Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman, US 2012) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

January 5, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Posted in Brave

17 Responses

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  1. Sadly marketing and merchandise / secondary exploitation didn’t grasp it and sold her as stereotypical princess, up to changing her facial characteristics to that of typical Disney princesses for dolls.

    Hauke

    January 5, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    • Not having children in the target group, I never noticed the marketing and merchandise. It’s sad to hear they didn’t get it right.

      Jessica

      January 6, 2013 at 2:54 pm

  2. I thought this was a very good film, and I agree that it’s refreshing that Merida wasn’t given the “standard Happy Ever After With Prince Charming” ending. And it’s particularly nice that this validation of her sticking to her desires isn’t presented as a gender-specific thing (which is the other obvious trap — if it’s just “Let Merida be a tomboy instead of a girly-girl”, then she’s still being defined by others’ expectations; rebellion isn’t more individual than conformity, it’s just its mirror). But having the princes butt in and say “Well, actually, we’re not so fond of this arranged marriage idea either” made it an issue of individual interests vs. group conformity rather than just gender roles, without taking anything away from Merida’s courage in starting it, as she was still the ringleader.

    Morgan R. Lewis

    January 5, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    • I couldn’t have said it better myself. In the end it’s more a generational thing, about old vs new, reflecting how society is changing. People get married later – if they get married at all – and there are all sorts of versions of family life and relationships. It’s floating. The ideal isn’t that every woman and man need to end up in a traditional marriage. So in this aspect too Brave is very modern.

      Jessica

      January 6, 2013 at 2:54 pm

  3. I’m curious as to what you thought about the princess in Tangled (if you have seen that). On the one hand, she falls into all the cliches you talk about here. But on the other, it’s a story about escaping from an abusive family, learning to take risks, and picking the family and friends that you choose. So although its a romantic arc, I find it quite an empowering story too.

    spinks

    January 5, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    • I’m afraid that I haven’t seen Tangled, so I can’t answer to that. I trust your judgement though, so if you found it empowering it probably was.

      Jessica

      January 6, 2013 at 2:50 pm

  4. I was so pleased with Merida in Brave. My final essay last year was exploring The Little Mermaid as a female character and whether she held up to modern ideals of what a woman can achieve.
    Suffice to say, I was more than little angry at Ariel after I’d finished it (I compared Ariel to Nausicaa, because I’ve always found the female characters Miyazaki creates to be amazingly independent, even back in the 80s when he first started). I think Brave was the inspiration for that essay. I have friends with young daughters, I’m going to be quietly slipping them movies like this as birthday/Christmas presents!
    Merida is just kick-ass!!!!

    Ruth

    January 6, 2013 at 3:22 am

    • She is definitely kick-ass, especially compared to that poor creature Ariel. The only one that I can think of that might compare is Mulan, but my memory from that one is vague. I’m not sure if she got away from getting hooked up with a guy in the end like every other Disney princess before her.

      Jessica

      January 6, 2013 at 2:49 pm

      • If I remember correctly she was in a relationship at the end but not married – a marriage happened in Mulan II, a direct-to-video movie that I can remember vaguely only. It was much more atavistic in regard of gender roles, IIRC.

        Hauke

        January 7, 2013 at 6:15 pm

  5. Loved reading this, Jessica. You’ve put into words what Brave is truly about. Very few people have managed to do that, in my opinion. I’ve never been a fan of Disney Princess films. They all have their place, but they’ve never drawn me in. Not even the more recent Tangled. Something about them just didn’t “work” for me.

    Merida, I adore. I love her bravery and her passion and even her bull headedness. She’s got flaws and she’s human. More than a princess.

    Jaina

    January 7, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    • Thank you so much for your kind words Jaina! As much as I’m a fan of animated movies, I’m also getting tired of the extremely old fashioned values they convey, especially to girls, who really need better role models than those poor princesses, whose only purpose in life seems to be to get married. I hope Merida wasn’t a one-time-only, but will get many successors.

      Jessica

      January 7, 2013 at 7:14 pm

  6. […] Brave For once the animated princess didn’t have marriage as her highest priority! […]

  7. Sorry I’m so late to this Jessica. Playing catch-up all the time these days. Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed this. I thought you might. It took a lot of stick but there’s no denying the strong character of Merida being a good step forward in having strong female characters. The animation is also a step forward I think. This is the most visually impressive from Pixar so far, and that’s saying something.

    Mark Walker

    February 26, 2013 at 10:57 am

    • No need to apologize! I’ve hopelessly fallen behind as well. I really liked this one. I would have been even happier if Frankenweenie had won the Academy Award, but I wasn’t sad when Brave got it.

      Jessica

      February 26, 2013 at 9:43 pm

      • I loved Frankenweenie as well. Still not got around to finishing my review but its a great little film. I was between that and Brave. Like you say, im not sad either.

        Mark Walker

        February 26, 2013 at 11:26 pm

        • It’s a movie I actually would consider buying. I don’t buy a lot of movies, but I’d love to see it again once in a while when I’m in the mood for it.

          Jessica

          February 27, 2013 at 6:14 pm


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