I recently saw Pixar’s new feature length film “Brave”, and quite enjoyed it… I’m sure Jessica and I will discuss this later on the radio show, both it’s strengths and weaknesses, but in the meantime it’s got me thinking about a staple of Disney archetypes; the rebellious daughter.
Enough has been written over the years lambasting Disney’s seeming hatred of intact families, which is not really the issue in this Pixar movie; there’s no widowed father or orphan child in this film. Instead, we have the Rebellious Princess trope played out to it’s fullest. Merida is wild and free and won’t marry to keep the peace because she’s her own person you see. It’s a great motivator, one that I think any girl can sympathize with, which is why it gets used so often in children’s movies. However, the behavior displayed by many of the young women in these films makes you think that maybe they are spoiled and horrible and shouldn’t have their own way.
It’s worrisome to me that “strong and independent” is signified by “disobedient and sassy” in so much fiction aimed at young girls. While I’m all about being true to yourself and finding your own path, I don’t understand how selling your voice for basically plastic surgery to win a man’s affection leads to a happy ending (which is why it doesn’t in the original story, obvs ). It’s also worrisome to me that the main reason that most Rebellious Princesses rebel is over, you guessed it, romantic love.
The converse is, of course, the princess that is subservient to the point of destruction, e.g. Belle volunteering to stay with the Beast, Cinderella staying with her evil stepmother.
(It gets sorta spoliery here… not much, but just so no one yells at me, spoilery).
Brave deviates from both in a wonderful way, as there are consequences to the protagonist for her rebellion. She actually takes responsibility for what she’s done. However, other than the realization that she’s been selfish, all the concessions in the movie are on the part of her mother and there is no indication that she has decided to concede anything towards maturity.
While I personally love the tomboyishness of Merida, it shows again that there’s little balance in children’s films for young girls to look up to. Why must you be a frou frou Cinderella or an arrow weilding warrior princess Merida? Yes, yes, I understand that these movies are for children and they’re not thinking about complex feminist issues… but guess what? Their subconscious is.
I used to think that “my princess” was Belle, because I loved reading and had brown hair. I started to think that my princess was Merida because I like being outdoors and I’m obviously not Pocahontas. Are you Ariel or Cinderella? Betty or Veronica? Why do I have to pick just one princess?
Why are all these girls princesses? I know little girls love princesses, but I also loved stories about the peasant daughter in the woods growing up. I liked Laura Ingalls Wilder. When I saw the teaser trailer for Brave (the very first one, not the one with all the voices) I was so happy because I thought that I was going to get my peasant girl. Maybe she was defending her village from faeries! Maybe she was going to brave a dark forest to feed her family! It was so lovely and felt like a Miyazaki movie meets the Secret of Kells or something. By the time the full length trailer came out it was obvious that it was not the case, and though I adjusted my thinking for viewing, I was secretly disappointed.
Brave is a beautiful film. The animation is lush and the humor keeps the otherwise standard plot going. It’s clunky compared to the subtlety of other Pixar films, but still heads above what’s been coming out for kids lately. But, when I ask my future child who “her princess” is… she better damn well say “Coraline”.