Gender Roles – Women
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Men
Gender Roles - Women: 4 Stars
Merida is a spirited and courageous young woman who feels stifled by her mother's constant coaching on how a princess is supposed to behave. She prefers to ride through the woods on her horse, Angus, shooting arrows, climbing mountains, and drinking from ancient waterfalls. While Merida doesn't have any specific goals or ambitions, she clearly has her own vision for what her life should look like. She boldly rebels against her mother's plan to have her married, outperforming each of her suitors during an archery contest to win her hand.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 4 Stars
Merida’s wild hair and bow and arrow are a perfect match for her fiery personality. Although she is a princess, she doesn’t wear a crown or adorn her red curls with jewels and flowers. Her appearance is that of a young woman who is more concerned with sports and adventure than attending balls and performing waltzes. Some of her adventures might be a bit more manageable if she were able to ditch the dress, but at the very least, her clothing is simple and doesn’t detract from her personality.
It’s also notable that Merida’s mother, Elinor, while traditionally beautiful and queenly, does have a few visible streaks of gray in her own tame brunette hair. The inclusion of this healthy cue of aging is both rare and refreshing.
Plot: 4 Stars (Spoilers)
Brave begins with a daring young princess and an intriguing story of an ancient kingdom that was divided by greed and lust for power. Unfortunately, the story takes an unexpected turn and Merida is tasked with resolving a messy mother-daughter feud, rather than uncovering ancient mysteries and freeing lost souls. After Merida puts her mother under an unexpected spell, the action becomes more fanciful than dramatic, and the tale of the ancient kingdom is reduced to an unexplored subplot. Nevertheless, the action does turn dangerous enough to involve swords and battle scars, and it is Merida and Elinor, not the brave King Fergus, who come to the rescue in the end.
Character Development: 5 Stars
Merida is a well-developed female protagonist, complete with enviable strengths and noticeable flaws. She is faced with re-evaluating her own worldview when she sees the chaos that has erupted as a result of her decisions. She is even given the rare opportunity to deliver a rousing speech to calm and inspire the restless clansfolk who are close to brawling and drawing weapons on one another.
Elinor also comes to terms with the role she has played in creating the rift between herself and her daughter, and coaches Merida through her speech, making it possible for them to come to a place of reconciliation and understanding.
Love: 4 Stars
Merida never falls in love or marries any of the suitors from the neighboring clans. Unlike most stories that begin with a princess rebelling against a forced marriage, the ultimate solution isn't marrying for love, but actually embracing her penchant for independence and freedom.
Family: 4 Stars
Brave features a uniquely progressive father who is neither overly protective of his young daughter, nor anxious over her marriage prospects. To the contrary, it is King Fergus who gives Merida her first bow and arrow - and even challenges Elinor on her assumptions about princesses and weapons. He unapologetically tells his wife that “Princess or not, learning to fight is essential.” It’s clear that King Fergus has always intended that his daughter be able to fend for herself, making the chore of finding her a husband far less urgent. It’s unfortunate that Elinor counterbalances his progressive thinking by forcing her own ideas about ladies and princesses on Merida. However, this is the very conflict that sets the story in motion and is eventually resolved in Merida’s favor, making her family dynamic far more open and enlightened than most.
Gender Roles - Men: 2 Stars
While Brave does a fine job of creating a female heroine that defies tradition and expectations, the male characters in Brave generally conform to the warrior mold. They are piggish and crude with little character development, and barely given the opportunity to display sensitivity, compassion or anything other than typically masculine personality traits. Some of Merida’s suitors are a bit scrawny and unimpressive, and Merida’s own father shows some sincere sympathy for his wife, but as a whole, their roles are flat and one-dimensional.