Brave, the 2012 Disney/Pixar film, is, at least on the surface, a fairy tale for the modern age. There are some wonderful elements in it, like the fact that our Scottish heroine, Princess Merida, doesn’t rely on a man to save the day. Merida is an empowered young woman who wants to live her life on her terms, which is something that most viewers can relate to. There are also supernatural themes throughout the film, as magic runs amok in the world of Brave.
It’s the magic that most likely reels younger audiences in to the movie, but this is far from all that Brave has to offer. Adult audiences will also be struck by the mother-daughter relationship that is the heart and soul of the film. But that’s not the only element of Brave that will be noticed by adults. There is a lot going on in Brave and a lot to unpack, so let’s get started.
Unless you’re Rapunzel, hair doesn’t grow this long
Brave‘s Queen Elinor has gorgeous long hair that cascades down her back, past her knees, and all the way down to her ankles. It’s beautiful hair, but… how is it so long? While it’s possible for hair to grow a dozen feet or more, it’s pretty rare that such a thing would happen. According to HowStuffWorks, the average person’s hair won’t grow longer than about three feet, even if they never cut it.
It’s clear that Elinor isn’t actually wearing some sort of primitive hair extensions because, if she had been, they would have fallen out when she turned into a bear (and would have been gone when she later turned back into a human). Maybe long hair just runs in the family? Is it possible that Elinor is actually a distant relative of Rapunzel? It would certainly explain where Rapunzel got her long locks and would also be in keeping with Disney/Pixar’s love of including little nods to other Disney films in their movies.
Brave’s Merida should be harder on her dad
Brave focuses quite heavily on mother-daughter relationships. Like many teenage girls, Merida has a complicated relationship with her mom. If you watch the movie as a kid or as a teen, it’s probably easier to relate to Merida. She has some legitimate gripes, such as the fact that her mother is always urging her to act like a princess (which is basically code for a thankfully now-outdated standard of "ladylike" decorum) when she’d rather be running around outside and practicing her archery.
We can’t really blame Merida for rebelling, but it seems unfair that she’s always blaming her mother for everything that is complicated in her life. There’s also the fact that she’s critical of her mother, but seems to be best friends with her dad, Fergus. It’s not like the king is some sort of saint. Fergus is clearly willing to marry his daughter off against her will yet somehow Elinor gets the blame for all of Merida’s problems.
Brave’s portrayal of motherhood is wonderfully nuanced
Adults watching Brave will probably find Elinor a much more sympathetic character than Merida. The queen, after all, is doing what she can to give her daughter a good life — something easier said than done in an era when women had far more limited rights than they do in modern times. The patriarchy is in full swing in the world of Brave, and Elinor is raising her daughter the best way she can.
It’s clear that Elinor is struggling because she truly wants her daughter to be happy. She’s striving to be a good mother while still raising Merida to fulfill her duty as a princess, and we have to give her props for this. This nuanced portrayal of motherhood is a beautiful thing to see, especially in a Disney/Pixar film aimed at a young audience. Brave also shows us that womanhood is, and always has been, complex. There are so many expectations placed upon women, even princesses and queens.
Merida is way too trusting in Brave
Come on Merida, didn’t anyone ever teach you about stranger danger? You don’t think it’s at all suspicious that you were mysteriously led to this witch in the middle of the forest? Aren’t you going to at least ask her what that potion is supposed to do? This really doesn’t seem safe at all. Get it together, princess!
It’s like Merida has no sense of self-preservation. She goes rock climbing, runs around the woods by herself, and is all too willing to trust strangers. Isn’t she worried about being kidnapped? As a princess who is destined to form an alliance with another clan, you’d think that people would have impressed upon her the importance of staying safe, especially as her royal status makes her a prime target for kidnapping. Actually, come to think of it, why doesn’t Merida have some sort of bodyguard protecting her in Brave?
Elinor should have spent more time teaching Merida about politics in Brave
Elinor spends a lot of time teaching her daughter the so-called womanly arts like music and embroidery, but she should have spent more time teaching her about politics and diplomacy. It’s clear that Merida doesn’t fully grasp how precarious her situation is in Brave. Refusing to marry a son from another clan when those clans had been promised an alliance is risky, to say the least. This is how wars get started, Merida.
Maybe instead of making sure Merida knew how to cross-stitch, Elinor should have taught her daughter the story of the Trojan War. We’re not saying that it’s right to marry your teenage daughter off against her will (although it was totally normal at that point in time), but maybe if Merida had understood that failing to honor alliances could lead to bloodshed, she’d have been a little bit more careful.
How is the crown staying on Elinor’s head throughout Brave?
Animated films aren’t exactly known for obeying the laws of physics, so forgive us if we sound like we’re nitpicking when we wonder how on earth Elinor keeps her crown on her head when she turns into a bear in Brave. The crown is clearly a symbol of her royal status and her control, so we understand why the queen continues to wear it. We just don’t understand how.
It must take some serious balance to be able to keep that crown perched on her head, even as she runs through the castle and the forest. Of course, Elinor is pretty much as queenly as you can get, and we have to admire her poise, even in the face of being turned into a wild animal. Or maybe… it’s magic? Is this crown enchanted with some sort of spell that keeps it perfectly in place?
Why doesn’t Brave’s Merida stop her mom from eating poisonous berries?!
Apparently, Merida’s lack of preservation extends to others in Brave. When she and her mother, now in the shape of a bear, venture into the forest as they search for a way to undo the spell, Merida watches her mother eating some berries. "Find those by the creek, did you?" she asks.
Elinor nods and pops a berry in her mouth, only to spit it out after Merida informs her that the berries are actually poisonous nightshade berries. The warning was delivered with less urgency than you’d expect from someone who (presumably) doesn’t want her mother to die. Of course, one berry wouldn’t be enough to kill Elinor. According to All That’s Interesting, it would take 10 to 20 berries to kill a fully grown adult, and we imagine it would take even more to kill a bear, but this is still pretty sketchy behavior on Merida’s part.
Brave’s Merida has a bit of a vindictive streak
Honestly, it seems like Merida is kind of a sociopath at certain points in Disney’s Brave. First of all, there’s the fact that she doesn’t stop her mother from eating poisonous berries. Then, she laughs at her mom when she drinks worm-infested water, and she also gleefully informs her that bears eat raw fish. She seems to revel in being able to tell her mom what to do when she’s a bear and, at several points, finds her mom’s predicament amusing.
We get it, Merida. You’re filled with teen angst! No one understands you! Your mother exists only to suck all the fun out of your life! But wasn’t turning her into a bear enough revenge? Must you really be this vindictive? Forgive us if we don’t find anything amusing about a loved one potentially being turned into a wild animal and facing the possibility of never being able to return to their human life.
Is Brave’s Merida the original Bachelorette?
Elinor eventually helps Merida come up with a better way of claiming her independence than shooting for her own hand. Instead, Merida tells the clans that she and the sons of the other clans should have the right to choose for themselves who they will fall in love with. The other young men quickly agree, and their fathers eventually come around to the idea of letting them choose their destiny (within reason). Soon, it’s decided that, instead of planning a wedding right away, the suitors will instead try to woo Merida and win her over, basically making Merida the OG Bachelorette.
Think about it. She’s got a mansion (well, a palace, if you want to be technical about it) and several suitors competing for her hand. Merida just wants to find love and she’s determined to get it. Which of the clans will receive the final rose?
Brave could have carried a stronger feminist message
We’re all for female empowerment, and that’s why it feels like Brave fell kind of short. Sure, we have a spirited heroine determined to live life on her terms. Merida is a bit of a tomboy who loves to run and climb and is better with a bow than the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s Hawkeye. But at no point do we get the feeling that she’s determined to do what men are allowed to do because women are strong, too. Merida is just doing Merida.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong about this, with a couple of tweaks the filmmakers could have made the empowerment message a bit clearer and stronger. Merida’s speech about finding love, for example, would have given us stronger girl power vibes if she had said that a woman shouldn’t have to get married. It might not have been likely that she could do that at that point in history as even privileged women had little control over their lives, but, hey, this is Disney. If a queen can turn into a bear, then a princess can choose to be single.
Elinor isn’t the parent who doesn’t listen to Merida in Brave…
Most adults will probably be exhausted by Merida’s whole "woe is me, I’m so misunderstood" attitude early in Disney and Pixar’s Brave. What’s even more frustrating about it, though, is that Elinor is making a concerted effort to connect with her daughter while Fergus literally locks their daughter in her room so that he doesn’t have to listen to her.
To be fair, Fergus thinks he’s protecting his daughter. Fergus glimpses Elinor in bear form and is determined to hunt her down, locking Merida up when she tries to explain that the bear is, in fact, the queen. Still, he could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he had taken two seconds to listen to Merida. Incredibly, Merida still doesn’t realize that Fergus doesn’t have her back and never did.
It seems unfair that Fergus, at least in Merida’s eyes, is the "fun" and "understanding" parent when — to adult audiences, at least — it’s evident that all the real parenting is done by Elinor.
Brave’s Merida probably won’t make a very good queen
This is going to sound harsh, but Merida is going to make a terrible queen. First of all, she’s incredibly impulsive and doesn’t care who she puts in danger. Then there’s that whole thing where she trusted a strange witch in the middle of the woods. Trusting the wrong person can literally topple an entire kingdom — just look at the Romanovs.
In Brave, Merida also shows that she’s impulsive and just a little bit mean and has a quick temper to boot. In a fair world, she would have some time to grow up, find herself, and hopefully overcome some of her less endearing qualities before having the future of the kingdom placed on her shoulders. We’re not saying Merida is a bad person, but she’s definitely not the kind of person you want running a kingdom. It’s a good thing that she’s at least bought herself a little time and won’t be getting married at the age of 16. Hopefully, she has a little time to grow before she is put in charge of anything.
Elinor is clearly the brains behind the throne in Brave
Ah, Fergus. We love the gentle giant in Brave, but it’s clear that Merida gets her lack of leadership from her dad. He’s not exactly the wisest of rulers. Like Merida, he’s impulsive, has a temper, and doesn’t listen to anybody else. He also tries to punch a bear, a bear that has already come close to killing him in the past and that Elinor eventually ends up fighting off.
We’re willing to bet money that Elinor is the real power behind the throne. She’s far more even-tempered than her husband and much wiser. We wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the king’s rulings started off as subtle suggestions from his wife. We get the feeling that Elinor is pulling the strings while only letting Fergus think he’s in charge. It’s a shame that women at the time weren’t usually allowed to let their light shine because Elinor is clearly an amazing ruler who is keeping the whole kingdom together.
How was the spell on the boys broken at the end of Brave?
We’re pretty unclear on how this whole magic thing works in Brave. The spell turned Elinor into a bear at the beginning of the movie, but, by the end of the film, we have not just one but four humans in bear form as Merida’s three younger brothers accidentally ingested the spell. While Merida is eventually able to lift the spell on her mother by finally mending her relationship with Elinor and telling her that she loves her, we aren’t clear on how the boys also managed to turn back into humans at the same time.
Is it possible that the witch was just lying about how one turns back into a human? Maybe the spell was never actually meant to be permanent. Otherwise, it makes no sense that the rules for breaking the spell only apply to Elinor but not to the young princes.
Merida’s problems aren’t actually solved by the end of Brave
Not to spoil a happy ending, but what exactly is Merida’s plan after Brave ends? It looks like she got what she wanted and isn’t being forced to marry one of her suitors… for now. She’s only delaying the inevitable, though. At some point, she’s going to have to marry one of these men and is probably going to be obligated to produce an heir to ensure the continuation of the royal line.
What happens if, after getting to know them, Merida still doesn’t like — let alone love — any of her suitors? She’s either going to have to pick one of them anyway, or risk the anger of the clans by turning them all down. If Merida continues to refuse to marry anyone, the political ramifications could be severe. There’s a good chance that war will break out. Merida is basically going to be forced to marry someone or else deal with some pretty bloody repercussions. So much for happily ever after.