As long-time readers already know, the Disney princesses and I have a complicated relationship. While I can vividly remember loving Snow White and Ariel as a child and teenager myself, I now cringe when my own daughter watches these movies.
For awhile, I mostly kept my mouth shut because I knew a lot of the messaging was going over her head, but as she’s gotten older and could handle more complex discussions, I’ve never shied away from telling her why Mommy thinks those girls are, well, idiots. In fact, it’s a now a joke in our house. I use my most condescending voice when E. watches Cinderella or Snow White, for example, to say things like, “Help me Prince. Help me mice. I’m just a poor old dumb girl who can’t help myself.”
E. thinks it’s pretty hysterical but so far, it hasn’t made her like the princesses any less. Thankfully, though, there is only one princess she’s truly crazed over — “Star Wars’” Princess Leia.
Keep your Fairy Godmother, Cindy, I’ve got this one covered.
OK, maybe putting a gun (even if it is just a laser blaster) in a 4-year-old’s hands isn’t the best message to send, but honestly? I’d rather her know she can take care of herself rather than wait for some magical event that is never going to happen (and for the record, I am FIRMLY in the gun control group, so there no, we’re not a pistol packing family, but I digress).
So as a family (and DadJovi is GREAT about this), we’ve always told E. that girls can take care of themselves, they can be courageous and do anything that boys can do. That’s why she couldn’t wait to turn 4 and battle Darth Vader, taking the stage at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, as one of the youngest padawans.
I tell you all this because I want you to know how many times we’ve discussed what “princesses” can and can’t do. I’ve never felt the need to outright ban princesses because I don’t think that’s an effective way to make my feelings on the subject felt. But E. has been hearing my Princess Speech, inspired in large part by one of my heroes Peggy Orenstein, author of “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” for a couple years now.
For the past couple weeks, I’ve been telling E. that we were going to see “Brave” and she’s been psyched. We’ve seen the trailers and commercials and I’d been positively glowing with anticipation that FINALLY E. would see a princess who is strong, smart, fierce and yes, brave.
Earlier this week, we were invited to a special media screening of “Brave.” The night before, as I was reading to E. in bed, we had this conversation.
Me: E., are you excited to see Brave tomorrow? I already think she’s going to be my favorite princess.
E: Yes, Mommy, I’m excited, but she’s not a princess.
Me: Yes, she is.
E.: No she’s not. Princesses can’t shoot arrows, Mommy.
I felt like I was shot with an arrow myself. At that moment, I realized that all of my educating, talking and pointing out the faults of the princesses meant nothing compared to the power of the Princess Marketing Machine.
We talked about it a little more and I just prayed that the movie would help me out. And boy, did it ever.
I loved the movie. Beginning to end, I loved it. I could tell you all the reasons I did, but instead, I’ll just direct you to my blogmate Michelle’s review. Just picture it in my voice and you pretty much have my review.
I’ll add just a couple more notes to it, though, because, when have I ever been known to keep a post short?
For starters, I’m struggling to know whether I should compare this to other Pixar movies or to other princess movies. If you’re going the Pixar route, I agree with Michelle that it doesn’t hold a candle to Toy Story 1 or 3 (2 was just meh, despite the introduction of Jessie). But I feel like Toy Story 1 and 3 are just those rare perfect movies that don’t even deserve to be qualified as children’s movies. They’re just great films. Period.
But compared to other princess movies, “Brave” rewrites the rules. Sure, she’s got elements of Ariel’s brattiness and Rapunzel’s boldness and love of adventure.
For me, though, the biggest differentiator between “Brave” and every other princess movie is the family.
FINALLY, a functional, loving family unit. The mother isn’t dead. The father isn’t absent or dead. The siblings are mischievous but not cruel. Sure, the dad is a bit of bumbling fool (poor dads. They’re treated almost as poorly as girls in children’s movies) but he’s kind, loving and clearly adores every member of his family, especially his wife. How refreshing!
Then there’s Merida herself.
This girl has got it going on. She’s funny, she’s smart, she’s adventurous, she’s a great big sister, she clearly loves her family and she has just right amount of “woe is me, life is so unfair when you’re a teenager” thrown in for good measure.
Plus, like our girl Katniss, she’s a great shot. When did the archery lobby get so powerful? Man, between Katniss, my boyfriend Jeremy Renner and now Merida, I think the universe is demanding I set up a bulls eye in my backyard.
Michelle was right about a lot of things, including the scenery in this movie. It made me so desperate to go back to Scotland. I went twice during college and this movie is one giant love letter to it. The way Manhattan seemed to be the fifth star of “Sex and the City,” Scotland takes a starring role in “Brave.” See it in 3D. It’s stunning.
Perhaps my favorite part of “Brave” is its ending. SPOILER ALERT BELOW (If you don’t want your animated movies spoiled stop reading until after you’ve seen the movie. Then, come back after you’ve seen it!)
As the movie kept getting closer to its end, I started getting anxious about which suitor Merida would choose. I had my suspicions about a legendary cursed prince. That seemed to be the logical “princessy way” to end it, in the spirit of “Beauty and the Beast.”
But in the end, not only did Merida not choose anyone, there was no convenient Tangled-style flash-forward to show our princess someday married. Instead, she gleefully rode her own horse off into the sunset alongside her mother (which, to me, was the real love story of this movie — their evolving relationship).
I was downright giddy. Our long national nightmare of marrying off teenage girls in children’s films may finally be over!
But my joy was only shortlived. The next day, I read this in Roger Ebert’s review of the movie:
“But Merida is far from being a typical fairy-tale princess. Having flatly rejected the three suitors proposed by her family, she is apparently prepared to go through life quite happily without a husband, and we can imagine her in later years, a weathered and indomitable Amazon queen, sort of a Boudica for the Scots. ‘Brave’ seems at a loss to deal with her as a girl and makes her a sort of honorary boy.”
With all due respect, Mr. Ebert, but you’re kind of an ass. I’m sorry. You ARE an ass.
In what universe is a girl an “honorary boy” because she prolongs marriage to, oh, let’s say her 20s?!? Heaven forbid that Old Maid make it to her 30s unmarried.
Mr. Ebert did do one thing for me. He proved with that misogynistic statement that we apparently need 100 more movies like “Brave” to undo the expectations that all girls are just pining for marriage. When Michelle and I were emailing about this yesterday she so rightly pointed out that no one ever wondered at the end of “Finding Nemo,” “Toy Story,” “Ratatouille” or “Cars” why the fish, toy, rat or racecar didn’t get married.
For me, though, the biggest endorsement came from E. herself.
As we walked out of “Brave,” talking about all our favorite parts of the movie, she said to me, “Mommy, Brave is now my favorite princess.” Me: “That’s great, E. Why?” E: “Because she can rescue herself.”
I wish I could teach her that lesson myself but I’m just thankful that I’m not the only one saying it anymore.
Yes, my darling girl, princesses CAN rescue themselves.
DISCLOSURE: I was given two free passes to attend a pre-release screening of “Brave.” All opinions are mine but the “Brave” photos are courtesy of (and copyrighted to) Disney/Pixar.
What’s your favorite animated movie? And who do you think would win in an archery battle between Merida, Katniss and Hawkeye? I am ashamed to admit how many times I’ve fantasized about this showdown and struggled to figure out who I’d root for. #dorkalert