Here is the first of our contemporary Princesses that created criticism for both being too masculine and too feminine. Good times! ‘Brave’ was Pixar’s first foray into the fairy tale genre and their first movie to feature a female lead. A lot of people were anxiously awaiting the movie to see how it turned out. I think they did well. The movie is beautiful. The plot is unique and engaging. Merida is a Princess worth waiting for.
Merida is strong. She can defend herself. She doesn’t want to get married. She wants more from life. She is the Princess who doesn’t want to be a Princess. She doesn’t want to be a role model, figurehead, or dutiful daughter. She doesn’t want to be an object for some random prince to ‘win’. She wants to ‘change her fate’ and become more than those around her want her to be. She isn’t in love and has no current desire to be so. None of that changes as the plot unfolds. She learns a little diplomacy. She learns that all actions have consequences but she never conforms to traditional expectations. Even better (to me anyway), the love story was not romantic, but maternal. The love that drives Merida in the story was the love between her and her mother. Their relationship was strengthened in the course of the movie and they came to respect each other and their differing ideas.
For some, Merida’s independent attitude and avoidance of marriage was offensive. For the religious right, she was entirely too masculine in her attitudes and habits. Her refusal to marry as her parents demanded set a poor example for young girls. Young girls are supposed to want a pretty dress and a handsome prince, for Merida to actively despise these things was troubling for some. I was not one of them.
The next controversy came when Merida was officially inducted into the Princess pantheon. The rough and tumble, outdoorsy Princess lost her bow and instead gained a sparkly dress, a fancy hairdo, a much smaller waistline, and cleavage. The outrage was loud and definitive. Fans were not pleased by the new look. Disney was inundated with complaints including those from members of the ‘Brave’ creative team. People felt like all the best parts of Merida had been subsumed into an older, more sexualized image. Surprisingly, Disney backed down. They took down the updated version of the character and restored her original body shape and dress. She has her bow in almost all of her licensed images. Merida was so strong a character that even the great Disney Corporation itself couldn’t force her to conform to their Princess expectations.
‘Brave’ is a great movie with not one, but three strong women. It passes both the metrics with flying colors.
Bechdel test*: This movie is at its heart a movie about Merida and her mother, Elinor. Unsurprisingly they have quite a few long conversations. Merida also chats with the witch in the woods, not about a prince, but about how to take control of her own life. Result: PASS
Percent of words spoken by women**: 74%. Wow! How impressive is this? A movie about a princess in which it appears that she does most of the speaking. It doesn’t hurt that her mother runs the kingdom’s diplomatic relations and the magic user of the piece is a wacky witch. The comic relief comes primarily from her three brothers all of whom are silent.
*The Bechdel Test evaluates film based on whether there are at least two named women who talk to each other about something other than a man.
** The data comes from linguists Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer, who have been working on a project to analyze all the dialogue from the Disney princess movies. The project was reported in The Washington Post by Jeff Guo.