If you could change your fate…would you? That’s the question posed by Merida in Brave, a movie that probably didn’t want the fate of being considered the runt of the recent Disney line-up of CGI animated princess films.
Disney princesses are practically their own genre. They’re role models for kids of varying ages. Their films combine a mixture of adventure, romance and just enough drama without getting too heavy. They’re often musicals, though not always. The formula is pretty tightly woven into Disney’s commercial fabric, so it’s really the smaller changes that separate them from one another. Merida is interesting because she’s neither the least popular (sorry, Pocahontas) nor the most iconic (hello, Ariel). She exists in this weird limbo between ‘oh, yeah, the one with the huge curly hair’ and ‘…who?’. Merida is a princess I find myself liking and not because I view her as some shining beacon of independence in a female character.
In fact, this is one of the most baffling interpretations I see made about her on the regular and one I want to take a deeper look at. Let’s start off with the checklist. She’s ‘tough’ (usually a shorthand for being physically active and/or able to throw a punch), is ‘independent’ (another shorthand for doing whatever one wants) and is basically a girl who’s got a brain and always speaks her mind. Basically, a stockpile of traits we’ve seen before. What makes Merida stand out is how she seems to be a critical eye on all of the above while remaining a flawed and dynamic character in her own right. In layman’s terms, a rich white kid whose rich white kid mannerisms aren’t cute or funny — they suck!
You see, Merida’s ‘tough and independent’ personality is what gets the kingdom in trouble and her mom turned into Baloo.