|This poster makes me think she’s
about to defend family and kingdom.
Spoiler, she doesn’t.
I saw Disney/Pixar’s latest princess movie earlier this week – which I had much anticipated – and it’s stuck in my craw ever since.
If you haven’t seen it and you don’t want it spoiled, you should stop reading.
I was trying to reconcile why exactly I was so disappointed in it – thinking, surely it’s not just because it’s not the typical princess love story – when I finally hit on it: Brave is primarily concerned with the rewards of selfishness.
I admit I’m essentializing the story a bit, and it’s probably not what Disney intended, but I believe it’s the message that shines through. To understand how, let’s recap the movie.
Princess Merida is firey and independent. When she learns (somehow this is a surprise to her) that it’s her role in the kingdom to marry a clan chief’s son, she throws a hissy fit, has a fight with her mom, and runs away. She then purchases a spell that will change her mother so that she herself doesn’t have to get married, which of course backfires (as all ill-purchased spells do) and turns her mother into a bear. The rest of the movie is a mad dash to break the spell, during which Merida and her mom heal their relationship, her mom tells her she’s allowed to get married when she chooses to whom she chooses (which is what Merida wanted all along), and the spell is broken at the last minute. Hooray!
So here’s what I got out of it: if you are persistent enough in pursuing your own selfishness – putting yourself above others and risking the safety of others for the attainment of your personal goal – then it will pay off and you’ll get what you want in the end, even if you regret a bit the means you took to the end.
What a great moral. Now let’s reflect on some prior Disney animated movies to understand why Brave is such a disturbing divergence from some of the more beloved classics. Here there be more spoilers (if you live under a rock), so proceed with caution.
|Look at Mulan – she’s so cool|
In Mulan, which is arguably the most comparable to Brave because they both have kick-ass heroines, Mulan risks her life to take her father’s place in the Chinese army, risks her life to fire the cannon that buries the Huns and saves her fellow soldiers, risks her life to return to the Imperial City and save not only the Emperor but all of China from the Hun sneak attack.
In Tangled, Rapunzel is willing to sacrifice her freedom and be her Evil Witchy Fake Mom’s prisoner in order to save Eugene’s life, because she loves him. Eugene in turn cuts off her magical hair before she can heal him so that the Evil Witchy Fake Mom will have no reason to keep Rapunzel as her prisoner.
In Beauty and the Beast, Belle takes her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner, the Beast fights off wolves to save Belle even though she hates him, and then Belle returns to the castle in hopes of saving the Beast from the enemies (the town and Gaston) that she really can’t hope to defeat on her own.
The Little Mermaid is a bit more of a selfish story, with Ariel willing to do anything to be human and be around Eric, but when she thinks Eric has fallen in love with someone else, she’s willing to let him go and let him be happy – until she finds out that he’s actually under a spell, and then she risks her own life and her pact with Ursula to save him.
Then there’s the Pixar greats, like the Toy Story movies and Finding Nemo and The Incredibles and Monsters, Inc, and Up, all of which have strong messages of risk and sacrifice for those you love. I’m still not sure about the merits of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Cinderella, but I could continue on the theme of learning to put others before yourself in movies like Aladdin, The Lion King, and The Emperor’s New Groove, among others.
In light of the standard set up by many (not all, but a gracious plenty) earlier Disney and Pixar animated movies, I think Brave falls short. I think it could have been so much more, even keeping the focus on the mother-daughter relationship. I believe the great merit of animated movies – movies that children and adults alike can love – is a story that rings true with an appeal to a higher standard of character. I never felt like Merida was being particularly brave – I felt like she was being thoughtless and self-absorbed, for pretty much the entire movie. I realize Disney is trying to make up for the stereotype of Princesses rescued by the Handsome Prince, but Merida is not the kind of character role model I’d want for my children, or really for anybody.