Merida vs. Cinderella

The more I hear/read people talking about Brave, the more I feel she’s still getting too much credit, particularly when it comes to being empowered.  Cinderella seems the obvious person to compare her to as her situation was also dominated by her relationship with her mother-figure.  Cinderella is often viewed as one of the weakest female characters in fairy tales, while Merida was supposed to be a new, more feminist princess.  The more I think about them together, the more I feel Merida makes Cinderella look good.

First off, I have to say that I have never been as down on Cinderella as many people are.  I always felt she developed relationships with mice and birds in order to preserve her sanity and keep from growing embittered.  As a young girl thrust into a lonely, tough situation, choosing to put forth extra effort (which the mice clothes show she clearly does) for these reasons shows foresight, self-awareness, and resourcefulness.  Add to that, she is forced to work long hours, do many manual jobs, and clearly isn’t allowed enough sleep.  In this situation, putting forth the energy to do that much for yourself and to better your circumstances is incredible.  I think it’s courageous of her to try and hold onto her happiness.  It shows that she doesn’t internalize the messages she gets from her family, she still believes in her own self-worth.  The fact that she is doing so while trying not to vilify her family any more than she must is an added effort of will to keep her sane and from the trap of being bittered, again-lots of foresight, lots of willpower.  Many people have a down on her for not getting out and making her own way in the world, or not doing more.  I think Cinderella was already doing more than many real people would.  Compare her to someone in a dead-end job that they hate-they don’t get along with their coworkers, there’s barely any time for them to have a social life, there’s a lot of pressure and demands.  Sure, they’d rather be somewhere else but finding a job is tough-at least they have a place to sleep and enough to eat, and they know enough to appreciate that.  At least they’re better than these rich, lolly-gagging idlers who just do nothing all day.  You have satisfaction in knowing you can get stuff done, even if it’s not stuff you’d particularly like to do.  People might wish these people into better circumstances, but does it really reflect badly on them that they keep going on and doing their job because they feel that they must?  Particularly if they are still working to keep up a rewarding social life and to not become embittered?  That person is the common hero or heroine of today, and Cinderella is a wonderful guiding light from them.

 

To get back to the comparison, look at Merida’s position.  She’s already a princess, she’s clearly well taken care of physically, she has a family who clearly loves her, days of total freedom, and her biggest complaint is that her mom is trying to control her.  Yeah, tell Cinderella about it.  Now, for the crucial point: how they handle their one magic wish.  To be fair, Merida does show more spirit in needing to insist on receiving a wish instead of simply being given magic like Cinderella, but then Merida also had magical wisps giving her the hint to claim something important.  On to the actual magic.  Cinderella wishes for the equipment to get to the ball.  This may seem shallow or short-sighted.  However, after seeingBrave, I see Cinderella’s wish as more self-assured.  She asked for the equipment to accomplish a certain task-she trusted herself to actually see that task through.  Merida, on the other hand, in spite of starting out with a huge advantage over Cinderella, didn’t think she could “change her fate” on her own, even with a little help.  No, Merida only saw that her mother was in charge, not that Merida herself could take control of her own fate.  In terms of control, I think we can all agree Cinderella’s mother figure had far more control over her than Queen Elinor does of Merida, but Cinderella still managed to think of something she herself could do, if just given the opportunity.  Moreover, Merida was entitled enough to put her wish on someone else.  Cinderella, at least, takes all the consequences of her magic to herself, not using the moment to put something unwanted on her family or trying to change them to make her life easier.  That gives Cinderella’s magic the moral high ground, especially considering how much more Lady Tremain deserved a magical alteration compared to Queen Elinor.  This is even before considering that Merida’s desire to change that particular event shows that the educated princess totally missed the big picture and failed to consider the consequences her actions would take.

 

Who would you rather have running your kingdom?  The resourceful princess who was always forward-thinking and only experiments with magic on herself? Or the entitled princess who’s willing to magically ‘change’ family members and doesn’t wonder about the consequences?

I declare Cinderella the victor.  Merida’s a new, more empowered spin on a princess, my ass.

Wild Locks and the three Brave movies

There are too many differing things about this film.  You see, there’s really three different movies all packed inside Pixar’s latest release (expect non-specific spoilers):

The Good Kid-Flick: Brave is a beautiful film.  The soundtrack is lovely.  The attention paid to bringing out the Celtic flavor makes me smile.  The humor with Merida’s triplet brothers gets a bit half-assed at times, but it works for the intended audience, so who am I to knock it?  The family/clan humor works better, if through cliches.  The scene with the witch is wonderful, particularly her old-time voicemail system.  Disney’s trend of making horse companions increasingly helpful until they became the horse/dog/craziness that galloped through Tangled came back to the lovable realm, which I deem very important.  The overall story is cute and the main characters are likable.  Plus, King Fergus is just a really cool dude.

The Bad(ly) Anticipated Movie: My issues with this film began retroactively with the trailers, it turns out.  They clearly misled people to believe that Brave involves a great adventure.  The phrase “A Hero Will Rise” was clear claptrap to draw people in.  This story was about family, teenage/parent relationships, and vaguely one could argue it was about tradition.  What Brave is not about?  What people think of as a magical adventure with a young girl pitted against great forces in order to take charge of her own life.  If I’d known more of what the real plot was I probably would have seen it, but I certainly wouldn’t have been so excited or seen it so soon.  My next issue is the name itself.  Bravery is nobody’s issue here.  It’s not even a big theme.  You could argue that you need different kinds of bravery to do many of the things that happened in this film, but then you could also make that argument about maybe half the movies out there.  It just seems like one more ploy to direct audience expectations along more adventurous routes than what Brave actually delivers.

I also had trouble with a lot of aspects in the film itself.  First and foremost, I hated the way they invoked “fate.”  Frankly, there was no reason to bring fate into any of this-so a typical family squabble got a bit magical, it’s still a simple family trouble.  My main reason for disliking it though, is that it framed the whole story as if this is Merida taking charge of her fate.  I’m sorry, if running to a witch for a spell when you get frustrated and asking her to change circumstances for you is the same as getting empowered or taking charge of your own life, than I quit.  Nothing Merida did after that really had to do with deciding her own life, either.  Those actions had to do with other uplifting messages about relationships, but not freedom, empowerment, or “fate.”  Even at the ending Merida never really thought anything through or stepped up to the front herself, as far as her destiny goes.  Ultimately, that stupid spell thing worked and that, I cannot forgive.  Second, the whole storyline with the actual “villain” was so sketchily done it could lift right out.  It seemed like one of at least a hundred things they could have added to the plot to amp up the drama, that it was drawn out of a hat and none of the film makers really cared about that part.  There was never any real suspense, he’s barely there, and the movie expends no effort on getting us to really care.  Third, I felt like the characters didn’t develop enough.  Only three of them were fleshed out at all.  The two females evolved a little, but it felt like the end just brought them back to versions of themselves they’d been before and the whole thing was nothing but effects of a stressful time.  Fourth, I really did love Merida…as a rebellious fourteen-year-old.  Any older than that and her beginning choices seem so irresponsible and brattish that it’s hard to take seriously.  Particularly for the time period, when even fourteen was old enough to be married and pregnant.  On the other hand, at fourteen for the modern audience the idea of marriage would be alarming enough to appropriately invoke these reactions, but then the queen’s stance would be disturbing.  Merida is a princess, no matter how she feels about acting like a lady, it shouldn’t take so much for her to at least glimpse the big picture here.  Fifth, everything that happened felt like a cliche.  Princess unhappy with life, botched magic wish, family turmoil, princess causes political problems…what’s new?  Not that everything has to be new, but it should at least feel more fresh than stale.  Particularly if it is being marketed as a unique, new brand of princess tale.

The Ugly Feminist Film: As Pixar’s first female lead and a movie claimed to possess a new kind of princess story, Brave has a lot to say about gender issues in our society.  First off, is Merida really a new type of princess?  Chapman’s original idea was to make a new type this way: “Merida is not upset about being a princess or being a girl. She knows what her role is. She just wants to do it her way, and not her mother’s way.”  Well, in the film I saw living under the pressures of being a princess and conforming to the role of a girl/”lady” is pretty much what Merida was upset about.  Moving on, a lot was made of the fact that there is no love story.  The fact that this is a big deal says a wealth about society, already.  While it’s true there’s no romance, did it really leave the building?  The suitors are important, traditional gender roles are upheld, and love is upheld and promoted as the key to Merida’s ending.  Is Merida really an empowered, strong, female protagonist?  In physical prowess, she certainly is.  She’s very strong and stubborn in her choices, but I have doubts as to whether they show real empowerment or independence rather than simple teenage frustration and immaturity.  Bringing “fate” into the equation lends every doubt I have about Merida’s learning and sense of freedom more weight.  If this is the best Merida can do to grab hold of her own life, than I don’t really think so.

On the other hand, Queen Elinor’s habitual control over herself , her husband, and her kingdom demonstrates what a strong heroine can do.  Her relationship with her husband stayed practical and believable instead of being just a stereotype.  Her love of tradition and conventional roles never stops her from doing what needs to be done.  She is a woman of her time and a feminist who believes that a strong woman doesn’t need to break out of anything, she can simply be who she is and still get everything her way.  That, to me, is a much more powerful feminist statement than anything that happens with Merida.  Merida needs things to change around her in order to “change her fate.”  Elinor just makes hers, no matter what.  I really hope that after the events of Brave, she’s able to pass that on to her daughter.  If she’d done so in the movie, perhaps the talk of seeing your own “fate” would have fit in.

After reading http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/movies/pixars-brave-how-the-character-merida-was-developed.html?_r=1 I think I’ve figured out why they had such a hard time trying to make a “new” kind of princess tale.  First Pixar heroine and what do they seem to have spent most of their time on to get across the aspects of “freedom” and “wildness”?  Merida’s hair.  I rest my case.  (Well…at least that hair was awesome.)