When Pixar released the first teasers for Brave a year ago, I got goosebumps.
First, there was the title. Then, there was a glimpse of a main character with seriously wild red hair. On top of all this, she was an archer! Not a gardener or a reader or a singer. No, this girl, Merida, was a warrior.
Disney had already been moving – mostly– in the right direction with its recent movies Princess and the Frog and Tangled. But, I wanted to watch something with my daughter that was even more of a departure from the usual dude-rescues-damsel formula.
Brave is a radical departure from its predecessors in the princess genre, in the most satisfying way. What did I love so much about Brave?
Let me count the ways.
1. Merida is no victim. Since there is no evil stepmother or witch to curse or oppress her, we see Merida make a mistake, regret her actions, and fix it.
2. Merida is physical and outdoorsy. An early scene shows her riding her horse at breakneck pace, shooting arrows, and climbing a cliff to drink from a waterfall. There, at the top, she has a moment of pure joy and delight in the natural world around her and the strength of her own body. What a relief it was not to see a character who spends her time just reading, thinking, and daydreaming. How many times must girls see the message that the good girls sit calmly, doing quiet things? Merida makes a racket, and I love her for it.
3. There is no love interest. What?! Some people have complained that, in order to make a movie about an empowered girl, the boys are made to look like idiots. To that I say, the boys are not the point. They, like Merida, are being forced by their parents to participate in a courtship ritual in which they have no interest. I love the scene in which the lords are trying to figure out what to do, and the boys pipe up that they want to call the whole thing off. Merida’s standing up for herself gives the boys permission to do the same.
4. There is a mom. In most of the princess movies, the mom is either dead (Cinderella), distant (Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel), or inexplicably absent (Ariel). Merida’s mother Queen Elinor is not only a very large part of the movie, she’s complex and well-developed. In one of my favorite scenes, the Queen and Merida have just had a fight, and they both storm off. We see each of them expressing what’s in their hearts – the Queen to her husband and Merida to her horse – but when they are face to face again, they revert to old patterns: Merida huffs and stomps around while her mother dispenses orders. We see that the Queen has her own uncertainties and fears, but she wants her daughter to think that she’s got it all figured out, so instead of sharing what she feels she cheerily tells Merida, “Strive for perfection!”
5. The mother changes, too. In the course of the movie, Queen Elinor goes through a journey of her own, allowing herself to listen to and learn from her daughter. The script’s writers value the knowledge and experience of both characters, and so it makes sense that they find peace in appreciating what the other has to offer.
Brave might not have had a romance, but it was the perfect date movie for Winnie and me. I’m eager for Pixar – and others – to create more entertainment like this that shows girls doing, learning, and growing in all the complicated, real, and brave ways that they do.
Shannon blogs about her bookish life at www.shannonrigney.com