I don’t care how old you are, if you haven’t seen the latest Disney / Pixar film, Brave, you need to get yourself to a movie theater rightthehellnow. I’ve just added its protagonist, Merida, to my list of fictional heroes.
It’s kind of significant that I’m telling people to do this. Because, as anyone who knows me well is aware, I hate going to the movies. They’re expensive, and my health-obsessed body once had a really bad experience with overly buttery popcorn. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that it was enough to swear me off of seeing movies in the theater for a solid decade.
But so many of my feminist friends raved about this film that I finally decided to go see it.
Minor spoiler alert: Merida is the first Disney princess whose story is not centered around finding love though a male companion. In fact, she spends the duration of the film avoiding that very outcome. She does not get married in the end. She does live happily ever after, though– as a single, strong, free-spirited woman. In 10th century Scotland. And that’s one hell of an accomplishment in 10th century ANYWHERE. Or even 21st century USA, really, because unfortunately, we’re still convincing ourselves that we’ll never be happy unless we marry and procreate.
Bigger spoiler alert: Merida rejects it all outright from the get-go. When her mother, who has been training her to be a “lady,” announces that the kingdom’s princes will be competing for her hand in marriage, Merida tells her mother that she’s not ready, and in fact, she’s not sure that she’ll ever be ready to get married. When her mother goes ahead and invites the potential suitors to their kingdom to compete for Merida’s hand in marriage, Merida jumps right into the competition and fights for her own hand.
The only potential downer to introducing Merida as such a strong-willed character from the very beginning is that the film could have run the risk of pigeonholing her as a “man-hating feminist,” thus creating an uncomfortable polarization between feminists and people who do not identify as such.
But they didn’t, because the rest of the film focuses on repairing the relationship between Merida and her very traditional mother, Elinor the queen. They both have to change, and learn to communicate. I’ll stop with the spoilers,but suffice it to say that it’s beautifully done, and honest, and believable. And it’s also hilarious. It was brilliantly balanced. I laughed and cried. As a pro-choice activist who has come face-to-face with people whose views are the exact opposite of mine, I see this as an especially crucial theme to have addressed.
This film is long overdue, but I’m so glad that Disney / Pixar finally responded to the criticism they’ve received from feminists, and created a strong female protagonist to serve as a role model for the girls who see it; a fundamental part of my belief system as a feminist is (and always has been) that we’re never going to get anywhere until we teach children from the get-go not to build their lives around prescribed gender norms.