Brave is the latest addition to the Disney Princess movies and is the thirteenth film to be made by Pixar. It is the first time Pixar has chosen to follow a female lead. But what has this done for feminism?
At first glance, Brave presents a traditional Disney Princess storyline: Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is a misunderstood teenager who is being forced to marry against her will. Similar storylines have been faced by Princess Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Princess Jasmine in Aladdin and Pocahontas. Set in the Scottish Highlands, Merida is a young woman challenging convention with her wild appearance, her talent for archery and her disinterest for anything her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), tries to teach her.
Merida’s mother represents everything that is expected of a Disney Queen-to-be. She performs with decorum, dines with dignity and is the mediator amongst men. She is the past. Merida is the future. She fights for her own free will, refuses to abide by tradition and behaves as men do. She even wins the archery competition for her own hand in marriage. It is refreshing to see the younger generation challenging the oppressive convention forced upon them by the older generation, as has been done so for centuries before. This is the kind of woman that young girls should be aspiring to be. And if a Disney princess is the only way that the message can be delivered to young girls then so be it. It is a step in the right direction after all. Isn’t it?
Well, it would be if the problems between Merida and her mother were not resolved in such a demeaning way. The Queen becomes more appreciative of her daughter’s differences and Merida accepts family life over following her own path. A more positive ending would have been to show Merida choosing her independence over the will of her family.
Another Disney feminist first is that there is no Prince Charming. There are three potential lovers, one from each clan, who compete against each other for Merida’s hand in marriage. All of which are unsuitable for Merida. It is so good to see, that for first time ever, a Disney Princess does not need a marriage in order to achieve her happily ever after. Instead of escaping an unwanted marriage by entering into another marriage with a man of her dreams, an alternative is presented. Merida is a free woman; free to be herself. Although a lack of love interest is evident, is soon becomes apparent that it is not necessary to the story.
However, overall the film lacks a decent plot and originality and does not contain nearly enough humour. It would appear that Brave contains the same disappointment shared by many for Pixar’s Cars 2. The large doting father figure and the three mischievous brothers have all been done before. If the storyline had been stronger, a more significant feminist message could have been delivered to a young audience. Pixar have definitely missed an opportunity to create an effective female hero in a male dominated industry.