Disney Debate: Merida

Welcome to Disney Debate!

Over the next 11 weeks, we’ll discuss each of the “official” Disney princesses. Read the information and question below and then use the comments section to join the debate. Engage with people’s comments by replying to them, and add your own points by creating a new comment. Comments must be civil to be included.


Brenda Chapman, who created Brave, said of Merida, “She’s strong inside and out – she’s not just a simpering pretty face waiting around for romance! She was created to turn that whole ideal on it’s head!” Filmmakers and critics insist that Merida represents a giant leap in the right direction — away from damsels in distress who wait for men to save them, and toward independent women who don’t need a man at all.

Is this the direction you want to see Disney princesses going in? If so, why? If not, why not?

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26 thoughts on “Disney Debate: Merida

  1. My opinion on Merida: I haven’t watched it. No prince, no interest. And I thought the music was going to be good, Celtic, folk music type, but I listed and it was more just a goofy version. I usually forget about her, as do most people really. But wasn’t this Pixar before Disney bought it? That explains a lot.

  2. My problem with Merida is that she specifically does not take responsibility for her actions. At one point she emphatically states that she did not cause her mother’s predicament when is was only her actions that lead directly to it. (Awkwardly wording to not give away plot point and it’s been a minute since I watched this movie)
    That one fact makes Merida only superficially ACTING “Brave” without her actually being BEING Brave.
    That one plot point broke this movie.

  3. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the idea that girls don’t look perfect (and actually, I know a couple of people of whom Merida puts me in mind with her crazy hair and her facial structure), I really was bothered by her imperfect looks (that hair… has she ever HEARD of a brush?) After reading some of Faith’s posts, I bet it’s because the way a princess LOOKS is symbolic of of the goodness of her heart.

    I don’t like the idea that Disney is trying to take symbols and use them literally – it makes the tropes useless going forward and also tanks our collective intelligence. Merida is a great example of that.

  4. I really didn’t care for this movie at all not because Merida was a brave woman but because the careless girl turned her mother into a bear and she came pretty close to not rectifying it. The whole story line just didn’t go over well with me. I do however like the idea of strong women not waiting for men to save them because that’s where we are today. A lot more women today have to go out into the work force and be the sole support of the family so why not have a strong, brave, independent princess; just not one that carelessly endangers her family.

  5. I loved this movie for that reason and in most Disney films at least one parent is already dead or dies during the movie. Even animal movies like Lion King. So this movie showed how a self centered teenager learns that the consequences of their actions can lead to drastic problems. She had to admit she was wrong and heal the tear both symbolic and litterally in her relationship with her mom. No prince needed. She fought the bear, she fixed the problem. Girls are not fragile and are way more independent and stronger than the traditional princess movies give them credit for

  6. Honestly, I wasn’t fond of the movie the minute I saw the trailers, from the guys acting like complete doofuses, to Merida having that extremely bad Scottish accent (I’m sorry, but Groundskeeper Willie and Palpatine have better Scottish brogues than she does), heck, even the fact that, for a person who was under an arranged marriage she STILL had the freedom to choose her groom, yet she STILL pitched a fit. I also read a comment on Breitbart that basically stated that Merida essentially planned to drug her mom, even if the Bear thing wasn’t her actual intent. All those complaints about Ariel, I’d argue fit with Merida far more. Ariel at least acted like a standard teenager in reality, while Merida acted more like the so-called “standard” teenager on TV, especially the ones who if they were real would be closer to teen sociopaths like, say, Jerome Valeska from Gotham.

    1. Huh. I find it funny that you thought her accent was bad… I mean, Kelly MacDonald (the actress who voiced Merida) IS Scottish. If anyone knows what a Scottish accent sounds like, she does.

      1. To be fair, Palpatine, one of my examples of people who had better Scottish brogues) was also portrayed by a Scot as well (Ian McDiarmid, the guy who portrays him, hails from Scotland). And besides, the guy who played Eli in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain actually does hail from England as well, yet apparently they STILL screwed up his accent despite that (at least, that’s what some people on GameFAQs indicated), so sometimes not even actually hailing from a country’s enough to justify it.

  7. No, mutual interdependence is how God created man and woman to be. we help each other, each in our own way. We are not to be gods or slaves or antagonists or enemies of each other, but friends and lovers and helpers and, yes, protectors.

  8. So, yeah, I don’t hate Merida. I think there are issues with some of her actions, and some parts of the plot in her movie, but on the whole…she has some redeeming qualities.
    For example, in the end, she is actually about to make peace and follow through with the arranged marriage when she realizes that her duty to her family and their kingdom is important. There are glimpses of maturity in that scene. Of course, her mother, conveniently, has a change of heart, and Merida does get to break the rules and have her own way which was a bit lame because that’s not always how real life works, but whatever. Either way, she rises to a challenge, which I like about her.
    But I do agree that the total lack of symbolism and the overplayed independence of the heroine are a bit off-putting about Brave as a Disney Princess film. To me, though, there’s something about the relationships Disney started to push, starting with this film: mother-daughter in Brave, sister-sister in Frozen, girl-ocean? or girl-demigod/friend? in Moana. Those aren’t necessarily bad, but it just seems like purposefully trying to deviate from that true love between a Prince & Princess relationship of their classic films. Even with Maleficent it couldn’t be about Philip and Aurora’s love, Maleficent had to be the ‘true love’ that broke the spell. Brave was just the movie that started it all by being, well, ‘brave’.

    1. Yes, they are still telling the prince and princess story but trying to insert other (non-romantic) characters into the role of the prince. I think they’re doing this intentionally to make an ideological point. But the only way to really make a legitimate movie about sisters (or mothers and daughters, or friends, or whatever) is to completely break out of the prince and princess plot line.

  9. I love Merida’s hair—it’s movement, it’s real-ness. I love that she let it be free. I love her character design.

    Not gonna lie, I followed this movie from its early stages when it was The Bear and the Bow, and I was waiting for the princess to free the entrapped prince-in-a-bear’s-body. It could have been an epic fantasy with a touch of romance with a strong heroine who faces tough choices: is the prince still human though a bear? Does she choose him or her family, etc.

    This is how I deal with movies that disappoint me: I rewrite them. XD

    1. I do the exact same thing, and I think that’s the only way to explain why there are bears in the movie at all — if one of them was really a cursed prince a la Beauty and the Beast. But, alas.

  10. While there is a part of me that likes that the story isn’t about romance, after reading your articles on the symbolism of the Prince I’m not sure it’s a good idea.

    If the story lacked a Prince simply because the story didn’t include one, that would brew ones thing. But these stories don’t include a Prince because they believe the princess shouldn’t need or want one, and I think that’s an unhealthy idea to encourage. We all go through phases of “who needs a relationship, anyway?” (usually in middle school when we’re in denial), but that’s not the age group that the stories are written for.

  11. I watched this movie for the hair. I remember when the Incredibles first came out there was lots of talk about how difficult it was to animate Violet’s hair and have it move naturally. By the time Brave rolled around, they’d given Merida pounds and yards of hair and animated nearly every individual strand, and honestly I watched that for most of the movie.

    While I agree that the overt message is the fish/bicycle one, what do you make of the healthy relationship of the parents? Is that Pixar influence (again, coming off the Incredibles)? Disney Princessville doesn’t have a lot of intact families, and certainly not with long term, lusty relationships. (I’d swear I remember Fergus leering and asking hopefully, “Yer naked?” there at the end but it’s not in the clip I just watched to refresh my memory and I’m too lazy to find our dvd. Perhaps it was edited out “for the children.”) Their obvious happiness together serves to mitigate the “who needs a man anyway?” trope just a bit.

    Not trying to redeem the movie, just fascinated by the garbled messaging. The bear-as-prince version would be so much more coherent.

    1. While I agree that Fergus and Elinor love each other, I think their relationship fits within the feminist framework because Fergus is so clearly emasculated by Elinor. At one point in the film she literally drags him by the ear as if he was a child, and he needs her to do all kinds of things for him, like making speeches (which he ought to be able to do, as ruler) and keeping order. The movie promotes the notion that men are glorified children and women need to keep them in line.

      1. Brenda Chapman has said that she wrote the piece for her daughter, which is interesting as the story is about the interaction between daughter and mother with the suitors being excluded ejected entirely. I’ve know a few parents who have managed to keep their offspring from launching in order to keep them about them well past adulthood for selfish reasons. The ending of this movie seems to be heading in that direction. Not exactly a universal “theme” for a Disney movie.

      2. I agree! It’s one thing to make a movie for your daughter (that’s sweet) but making a movie that tells your daughter she must never leave you is another thing entirely (that’s creepy).

  12. You want Merida done right? Just watch Brother Bear, with Kenai. Much better character and that movie is much more serious and is something of a tragedy, and tackles the issue of responsibility and growing up much better than Brave did.

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