Ever since we started doing the Princess Profiles series, I’ve been thinking on how to approach Merida’s profile. She’s fascinating to write about and I have plenty of thoughts on her and Brave in general, so let’s dig in, shall we?
Merida is the hero in Brave, Pixar’s 2012 movie. It took 17 years for Pixar to make a movie with a female lead and none of their films have been fully directed by a woman yet. Brave was Brenda Chapman’s baby and, for half of the production time, she was Pixar’s first female director. And although she got a co-director credit we all know the final product isn’t her vision. Jennifer Lee actually got to co-direct Frozen through to the end, so one can only feel Disney beat Pixar at having a female director helming a movie (It’s 2013! The fact we’re even talking about this is ridiculous).
Anyway, let’s talk about Merida. She’s such an interesting character. She’s brave, she’s determined and she really doesn’t want to get married at 16. But one of the most important aspects of the movie and Merida’s character is her relationship with her mother. Let’s talk about that!
The Mother-daughter Relationship
Pixar usually puts the spotlight on different relationships. They tend to avoid focusing on love relationships (except for WALL-E, the greatest love story of the decade) and this time Merida’s relationship with her mother, Elinor, is the heart of the story. This definitely gives depth to the character of Merida, as we see her struggling with wanting to be herself and not the person her mother wants her to be.
“A princess doesn’t raise her voice. She is “cautious,” “clean” and “above all, strives for perfection.”
That’s what Queen Elinor tells Merida repeatedly throughout the movie. It could also be said that that’s what some people think all women should be like (people who fit better in medieval Scotland than in this world). The pressure put upon Merida is as asphyxiating as that dress she’s forced to use. We can all relate to her, to that desire for freedom that drives her every action. But on top of that, I’ve had many female friends tell me that this movie is particularly special for them because it’s an amazing depiction of a relationship between a mother and a daughter. It’s wonderful that women are getting something aimed at them.
But I can’t help but wonder if the story would work better if Merida wasn’t a princess. Not a lot of women around the world are princesses, you see. And most of the female characters in animation are princesses so it would be refreshing if Pixar had given us something completely different and made the star of their movie an everyday person (like Carl Fredricksen). She’s also kind of a typical tomboy and I think we could use some female character that aren’t archetypes.
Merida is unique amongst the Disney Princesses (since Vanellope von Schweetz isn’t considered one for reasons that escape me. Maybe this will help us understand) in that she has no interest in falling in love. The movie doesn’t end up with Merida marrying anyone, she doesn’t have any romantic interests. Entertainment Weekly even suggested Merida could be gay (because if you don’t want to get married at 16, you’re gay?), but the great thing is that she could be gay. She could be straight. It doesn’t matter. The focus isn’t on romance, but on her family.
This is refreshing and it appeals to women (and men) who aren’t really interested in love right now. There are other big issues to deal with. Like our relationships with our parents.
Merida and Mulan
Since Brave was shrouded in secrecy for much of its production time, a lot of people assumed Merida was going to be Pixar’s Mulan. A girl who would save the day by being a war hero. Fortunately, Pixar did surprise everyone by making the story an intimate one. Merida doesn’t go off to kill Mor’du to prove herself a warrior. She doesn’t defeat the male suitors in the climax by beating them at archery.
The movie may not be Pixar’s most original film (we’ve seen princess stories where the biggest problem is marriage; we’ve seen people get turned into bears so they learn a lesson) but it is original because it doesn’t try to go the big, epic way. It’s an intimate character study.
So both Brave and Merida have strengths and weaknesses. As a Disney Princess, Merida is definitely a better role model than Snow White or Aurora. She’s strong and brave and fights to get what she wants. The fact she doesn’t fall in love positively differentiates her from all other princesses. Not that there’s anything wrong with falling in love, but girls and women deserve to see more sides of them represented. Not every animated female character should be a princess who falls in love. There should be tons of amazing female characters. Female leads as complex as Jessie and as interesting as Edna Mode or Colette. Characters that are feminine AND strong, not just tomboyish. I want Pixar and Disney and every studio to give us awesome female characters like Hermione and Luna Lovegood. I want my future daughter to have plenty of amazing role-models that don’t necessarily wear a crown. And Princess Merida is a step on the right direction.