Posts tagged merida
Posts tagged merida
I swear to god if I read one more post saying “Merida didn’t care about fancy dresses and what not” I will scream. Neither did any of the other princesses. Sure, Cinderella wanted to go to the ball but she didn’t even make either dress she wore. Her mice friends made the first dress, which was an updated version of her mothers dress, and the second one her fairy godmother gave her. She spends seconds admiring the dress in the movie. I’d hardly count that as her only caring about her looks and fancy dresses. Then there was Aurora who admired her birthday present from the fairies. Lets be serious, none of the princesses gave 2 fucks about their looks. They had other things to worry about like finding out they were princesses, surviving abusive homes, figuring out how to save a loved one, and figuring out how to turn the idiot frog back into a prince.
The princess merchandise sold does NOT fit the personality of any of the princesses. None of the princesses were in their ball gowns for the majority of the movies. They are not marketed in the dresses they wore throughout the majority of their movies. I’m sorry but Belle is much happier/comfortable locked in a library with her books than dancing around a ball room. Ariel is much happier exploring than dancing in a gown not even found in her movie. Cinderella only wore the blue dress for maybe 5 minutes in the movie. Her work dress is what she wore for the majority of the movie. She is frankly more comfortable in “average” clothes. Aurora was happiest singing and dancing in the forest with Phillip, not dressed in her ball gown. Tiana is more comfortable cooking and running her restaurant not dressed in some ball gown. You know how big of a pain in the ass that dress would be in the kitchen? The only princesses whose outfits weren’t radically altered were Snow White and Rapunzel. If Pocahontas didn’t look like she went shopping at Forever 21, I’d add her to the list. The princess line up does nothing to market the characters from the movies. None of the princesses in that line up are how they are in the movies.
If you are going to focus on Mulan and Merida, you better focus on all the princesses. It is ridiculous that people don’t mention that none of the princesses would be comfortable in the roles Disney gives them in the princess line up. Disney strips all of the princesses of their personalities and makes them all the same. That is a fucking problem. That is not just a problem for 2 of the princesses, it is a problem for all 11 of them.
I decided to rewatch Brave and it made me think about how the film is promoted/merchandised. I have a lot of Brave merchandise, including a lot of the pins they’ve made, but I’ve noticed is Disney sells mostly Merida merchandise. Which is fine, I love Merida. She is one of my favorite Disney characters and favorite Pixar character. However, I noticed Elinor is not in most of the products Disney sells and not a main part of the promotion. The movie is about Merida and Elinor, not just Merida, Merida and her brothers, nor Merida and Angus. It has always bothered me that there is no Elinor pin. There is a pin of Fergus but not Elinor. There is one pin of Merida and a bear, who is probably Elinor. However the majority of the pins are either Merida by herself or Merida and the triplet bears. Minus the pins being incredibly repetitive, they don’t represent the point of the movie. I am guessing with Mothers day we will probably get a Merida/Elinor pin but who knows. My favorite thing about the movie is the fact it is about Merida and Elinor. It’s about two women who misunderstand each other but learn to understand each other throughout the movie. Its a story a lot of women can relate to. The number one thing I’ve heard from fans of the movie is they could see themselves in Merida and related to her relationship with her mom. I get the whole point of the merchandise/promotion is to sell the movie but can’t they do that with Elinor? I know Brave fans like myself would buy Elinor merchandise.
At its core, Brave preaches acceptance. It’s about the compassion it takes to, as Merida and Elinor put it, “break tradition,” to change both society’s rules and the prejudices within ones’ own mind. It’s about the terrible things that can result when people—especially family members—don’t try to understand one another. And it’s about having the bravery to embrace one’s own identity. Those themes resonate with struggles far and wide, but perhaps most strongly, these days, with those of LGBT people. The film doesn’t need to tell us whether Merida is gay. It just needed to make us ask.
So after reading Richard Lawson’s piece on Brave, it was clear to me he missed the point of Brave. Which doesn’t really surprise me. I only have one male friend who has seen Brave and he liked it. He doesn’t get why I adore this movie and love it to pieces. He doesn’t really get why this movie is so powerful. Many of my female friends have seen it and they all have similar reactions to it. They’ve all liked it or loved it but every single woman has told me they connected to Merida and Elinor’s relationship. Every single one told me they could relate to the mother/daughter relationship in the movie. One of the most powerful scenes in the movie to me was when Elinor destroyed Merida’s bow and she realized what she did was wrong. When she was overcome by the realization that she destroyed her daughters favorite thing. I wont lie, I wish my mom had a realization like that when I was younger and she made me stop riding horses (taking away your daughters only form of happiness while she was depressed/suicidal was a stupid parenting move, but I digress). We all could connect to the struggle Merida had with her mom in the beginning of the movie and some of us could relate to when they made up and became closer. It is something every woman walking into that theater could relate to on some level and that is powerful. A father/son relationship is common in movies. An accurate depiction of a mother/daughter relationship is not. Hell, a good mother/daughter relationship in the media is hard to find. I was talking to my friend about this and the only show that centered around a mother/daughter relationship that was accurate was Gilmore Girls. There are some good mother/daughter relationships in the media (Mama Rizzoli and Jane for example) but they aren’t central to the plot of the show/movie.
I’ve yet to see someone who has seen the movie who doesn’t love Elinor and Merida. They may like one more than the other but they are both strong women. Elinor truly is the ruler of her kingdom. While Fergus is the king, he doesn’t rule the kingdom. He follows Elinors lead and lets her shine. She truly is the most powerful person in the kingdom and you don’t see Fergus acting like an ass about it. He realizes she is a better ruler and supports his wife. He gives advice when he can but ruling is just not his thing. It’s not something he truly cares about and supports his wife anyway he can. That is a powerful imagine of a working mother (she is running her kingdom after all) and a functional couple. In most Disney movies one or both of the parents are dead. You do not see a couple who are truly supportive of each other in most Disney movies (The Incredibles being one of the few exceptions, which is also a Pixar film). This movie gives women two great female role models, Merida and Elinor. Girls get to see a queen who is highly respected and loved by her people. They get to see her rule her land and be in a powerful position. How many strong powerful queens do you see in Disney movies? None. The Queens are either silent or villains. They also have Merida, who is head strong, independent, and believes in herself. They get a role model who is as confident as her mother and really will fight for what she believes in. She truly is the Princess I wish I had growing up. Not that I don’t love Belle, Ariel, Jasmine, and the other princesses I grew up with but their stories still revolve around the men in their lives not the women. It was nice and refreshing to see a Princess movie just about the women with the men as the background characters. That is truly revolutionary.
While these characters are good role models for girls, they are good role models for boys as well. I am so sick of seeing people think these two women can only be role models for girls. This movie does show kids that girls are just as strong and powerful as boys. Girls can change their fate like boys. Girls can be rulers of their kingdom and not just trophy wives. This movie smashes gender stereotypes (at least with the DunBrough clan). Fergus is a fun loving King who supports his wife. Fergus supports and loves his family. While Elinor is clearly the “head” of the family, Fergus and her support each other and their kids. They love and respect each other. While Fergus is a loveable guy, he isn’t the main character in the movie. He is a background character. The true role models in the movie are Merida and Elinor. They are the ones who are role models for everyone. They are the ones who are smashing gender stereotypes and showing both boys and girls that girls can do and be anything they want. It is showing boys and girls that there really is no “girl” or “boy” things. Elinor does both “men’s things” like running the kingdom and horseback riding (why is this considered a boy thing? I don’t get it but I digress) as well as “girl things” like making her tapestry. Merida in the end helps her mother with her new tapestry of the two of them and loves things like archery and horseback riding. These women are three dimensional characters who like a whole range of things. Neither of them hate “girl things” and devalue them. Merida learns to value what her mother teaches her in the end. These women are role models for both men and women. Fergus is a good character that both boys and girls can love. The triplets are funny and boys and girls can love them. These characters are not just for one gender.
I’m sure somewhere in this rant to tell Lawson to go fuck himself there was a point. My point is, since I probably didn’t make it clear, this movie is revolutionary, especially for Disney. Yes there are problems like the fact there is no POC in the entire movie. This is a movie women do relate to and that is a powerful thing. It is a movie that everyone can love. Merida and Elinor are role models for everyone. It’s nice seeing two powerful women being the lead in a movie and they are not battling it out over something. It shows kids that they can change their fate and they don’t have to do what they don’t want to. The fact it is a girl showing kids that is revolutionary considering girls are still denied agency in most films and society at large.
Brave, Pixar’s 13th feature film, is indeed rather brave. Yes, it strays from the romance focus; yes, it gives us a strong female lead; yes, it questions hetero-monogamous-marriage as the happy ending. But the real derring-do comes from the fact that it is woman-centered and focused on a mother-daughter relationship. Less overtly, it also supplies a witty visual onslaught of gender as performance, particularly via the body-swap portion of the narrative in which Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) acts out her uber-feminine ways in big bear drag.
The relationship between the rebellious Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), who is more interested in archery and horseback riding than in learning how to be a “proper lady,” and her very proper mother, the queen, captures the complexity of mother/daughter relationships and (mis)communication. Indeed, the film could serve as a companion text to Professor Deborah Tannen’s book You’re Wearing THAT?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation.
Noting that the book was inspired by a reporter asking her, “What is it about mothers and daughters? … Why are our conversations so complicated, our relationships so fraught?” Tannen wrote:
There is a special intensity to the mother-daughter relationship because talk–particularly talk about personal topics–plays a larger and more complex role in girls’ and women’s social lives than in boys’ and men’s. For girls and women, talk is the glue that holds a relationship together–and the explosive that can blow it apart. That’s why you can think you’re having a perfectly amiable chat, then suddenly find yourself wounded by the shrapnel from an exploded conversation.
In the film, Merida and Elinor have many such explosive conversations, with Merida railing against her mother’s attempts to imprison her in the princess box via directives such as, “A princess does not chortle … rises early … above all a princess strives for perfection. … A princess does not raise her voice.” In these exchanges, Elinor comes off not only as an overbearing uber-critical mother, but also as a defender of the patriarchy. However, referring to Tannen again, who speaks of her own mother’s focus on marriage, “I think she was simply reflecting the world she had grown up in, where there was one and only one measure by which women were judged successful or pitiable: marriage.”
Elinor’s quip to Merida, “It’s marriage. It’s not the end of the world,” reveals that she grew up in just such a world. And though the film is set in a mythic past, this is still largely true of our present–so much so that reviewers still have to insist, “The pinnacle of a woman’s achievement doesn’t have to always be a husband.” It is disconcerting that such a statement is still necessary here in 2012.
Also disconcerting is the same reviewer’s claim that, “For all the feminism, the boys will still get a kick out of the movie as well.” Ah, yes, ’cause feminism is sooooo off-putting, especially for the testicle-carrying pack. Thankfully, as Variety put it, “This new Celtic princess comes off as enough of a tomboy to ensure near-universal appeal.” Wow! So male-centered films are “universal,” while ones with females at the helm better have a “tomboy” element so as to be appealing.
A similarly bewildering response is the attempt to “out” Merida as a lesbian simply because she doesn’t wish to marry. For instance, Indiewire claims “Merida goes out of her way to assure middle-American audiences that she is not a lesbian.” (I missed this assurance from Merida, or maybe my more hopeful feminist-viewing self chose not to see it.) More problematically, the reviewer suggests that, despite assurances, “She totally is [a lesbian] and the movie would have been much stronger if it had actually admitted it.” This “she must be a lesbian” read is reductive. Sure, it would be awesome to have a lesbian lead in a family-oriented film, but let’s not force Merida into a sexual-preference label just because she is more interested in horses than in her decidedly unappealing male suitors. To her credit, Merida seems more bent towards a queer take on love than beholden to fitting into any hetero or not-hetero label, as when she asks in a crowd-pleasing speech, “Might our young people decide for themselves who to love?”
What makes the film most brave is not its non-glorification of hetero-romance and it’s poo-pooing of gender norms but that it focuses on female characters relationships with other females. Finally! Yes, readers, this film passes the Bechdel test with flying colors.Not only does it give us a likeable, non-evil woodcarving witch (Julie Walters), it also gives us (gasp!) a mother that is not dead, not jealous, not vengeful and not absent, plus a heroine who does not need saving any more than she needs/wants a man. This is a rarity in any genre, but especially in animation. Sadly, this is what some reviews cite as the weakness of the film. Indiewire, for example, bemoans the focus on the mother/daughter relationship as simplistic:
The movie changes … going from the tale of a plucky young girl who discovers herself and her power (and causes everyone else to acknowledge the same) to being both broader and more simplistic. It’s now about the relationship between her and her mother (Pixar can never walk away from a good buddy movie set-up), and instead of a young girl’s empowerment it’s about things like responsibility, entitlement, selfishness and communication. Things get much, much less interesting.
I’m not sure when responsibility, entitlement, selfishness and communication became so uninteresting. Maybe this is linked to Hollywood as a largely male club where adventure, death count and special effects are what counts as “interesting.” I found the film’s focus on Merida refreshing–not to mention how beyond gleeful I was that Merida never hooks up with, nor shows interest in, male suitors. Furthermore, though she clearly loves her fun-loving hulk of a dad, Fergus, she also loves and defends her mother–unlike the mostly absent mother/father-focused females that precede her. (For example, as noted at Hypable, “Mulan fought in the Chinese army for her father’s honor. Tiana builds a restaurant in her dad’s memory.”) Merida, in contrast, defends her mother, stating defiantly to the evil man-bear Mordo, “I’ll not let you kill my mother.” Sheesh, if only she had been around to tell Walt and crew to keep mom alive.
In addition to its woman-centered tale, Brave also offers a funny take on gender as performance when the very prim and proper Elinor is transformed into a hulking bear with a decidedly non-feminine body. Despite her new furry form, Elinor still “performs” femininity, prancing and posing and doing her best to have “good manners” with her unwieldy claws as she eats berries and fish. Though she can’t speak (perhaps a sly wish-fulfillment on the part of many a daughter, let alone the male filmgoer/maker, that mothers–and women in general–were rendered mute), she is actually able to say volumes with her actions and gestures, allowing for real communication between her and Merida to finally occur. Once the words are out of the way, once the past arguments between mother and daughter become impossible, the way for true communication is made possible. This is no doubt partly due to the fact that Elinor is able to get outside her own role as queen–one she earlier bemoaned by telling Merida, “I can never get away with anything. …I am the example.” Merida, in turn, complains, “My whole life is planned out.” Hence, for both of these females, the role of being female is confining.
Masculinity doesn’t get away without critique either. Instead, men are shown as adopting various masculine tropes as they try to out-macho one another to win Merida’s hand. Their propensity for endless, pointless battle is also skwerered, as they fight their way through the entire film, chasing a bear that does not exist through the castle while unaware of the real adventure, or the real stakes, that are taking place in relation to Merida and Elinor.
Despite its rather groundbreaking depictions of a positive mother/daughter relationship and a princess that doesn’t give a fig for traditional romance, the film is getting a rather meh response. Variety claims, “Brave seems a wee bit conventional by comparison with, say, how radically The Incredibles reinvented the superhero genre … on par with such beloved male-bonding classics as Finding Nemo. The Hollywood Reporter bemoans the “standard-issue fairy tale and familiar girl-empowerment tropes,” arguing that the film “has played it safe instead of taking chances and going for something new.” The Indiewire review cited above complains that as “it’s been this long since they’ve taken on a female protagonist … this really should have been a bolder, more experimental exercise.”
I didn’t find The Incredibles all that radical. White male hero–how experimental! And aiming to be “on par” with a male-bonding classic? Yeah, what we need is more films focusing on male bonding, with females as side candy.
As for the “familiar girl-empowerment tropes,” I wish these were more familiar. 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).
I did find the film to be bold, and that is sad. It shouldn’t be a bold move to have a strong female protagonist–but, alas, it still is. As Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood notes, Pixar’s next three planned films will not be about women nor directed by women.
Much like Merida grouses to her mom, “Do you ever bother to ask what I want?,” I feel like asking Hollywood the same question. And I want to tell Hollywood to give us more characters like Merida, Katniss, Lisbeth and Elizabeth Shaw. Give us more good mothers, more complex females characters interacting with one another instead of with the hunk-o’-the month, more women of all ages and colors and sexualities that don’t need saving, and more dads like Fergus, who, instead of “protecting” their daughters, say things like, “Princess or not, learning to fight is essential.”
Princess or not, Merida is brave. So, too, is Elinor. Thank you, Pixar, for finally having the ovaries to peg a summer-tent-pole movie around female characters rather than giving us more Woody.