Merida, the female lead of Disney Pixar’s new film Brave, is pretty badass. She rock climbs a waterfall untouched by some of the strongest men in Scotland. She inhabits her body, as classically feminine as it is, galloping on her horse and wielding her bow and arrow. She rocks her 1,500 ginger locks, natural curls and all. She takes ownership of her own future, changing tradition while managing to stay true to herself. She’s a strong, brave princess. But still, she’s a princess.
There’s been quite a bit of talk about Pixar’s new film, Brave. Natalie Wilson of Ms. Magazine highlights how the film comically explores the performativity of gender. Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress shows how Merida disproves the equation between gender performance and sexual orientation. Shakesville has raised dialogue about the tradeoff between Pixar’s first female heroine and their use of stale Scottish stereotypes of “the most identifiably tribal white culture to side-step charges of racism.” And Feministing discussed how Brave‘s plot was less than ideal.
But everyone is talking about how, as Bitch describes in their film recap, Merida is both “Princess-y” and “Not-So-Princessy” at the same time. Thus, the unconventional princess. The characterization of Merida may slightly vary from tradition. She might be the fairest of them all, but, as Jaclyn Friedman points out in Guardian, no one ever says so. And the story may even suggest, as Vagenda put it back in February, “IT’S OK FOR A PRINCESS IN A CARTOON TO HATE WEARING DRESSES.” The film may perpetuate age-old tropes, but as Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress points out: the plot “holds Merida morally responsible and asks her to make compromises and mature decisions in a way animated movies—even Pixar ones—very rarely ask of children and young adults.”
So Pixar created a spunky female heroine (yay)! But she’s still a princess (boo). Says Mary Pols of Time, “She’s a rebellious tomboy, but her concerns are still limited to those of a princess, the biggest of which remains, as ever, marriage.” Even when the subtle plot points show that failure to choose a suitor could result in war. However, princess or not, subverting the trope or not, strong women in challenging roles should be even more familiar. As Ms. states, “We need more girls who can hold their own, who rebel, who fight against being crammed into too-tight dresses and having their hair tamed (as Merida is forced to experience in the film).” But, as Friedman’s article asks, can they be something other than princesses?
Whether we loved Brave or it disappointed us, it seems we can all agree on something: more strong female leads, please! I’m completely with Pols on this one: “I have no doubt there are a lot of good men at Pixar, but if they’d grown up in an environment in which it was totally normal for them to see movies with girls in the lead, maybe it wouldn’t have taken 17 years for the studio to get around to making a girl the star.” Despite concern of popularity, Brave raked in $66 million in its opening weekend. Maybe Pixar will be brave enough to try another female lead. Hopefully next time she won’t be a princess.