… Brave: it’s not a romance.
Brave is the story of a girl – Merida – who doesn’t want an arranged marriage; she wants to live her own life and to choose her own husband when she’s ready. To thwart her father’s attempts to arrange her marriage to a stranger, Merida contrives with a witch to make things go her way … you know how that goes: the witch is lying about various things, the “go your way” clause is suspiciously vague, and the price of the contract is much higher than the purchaser had foreseen or could afford. It’s also very rarely about actual money, so, to sum up, because of Merida’s impulsive witch-dealing decision, she must figure out how to turn her mother back into a human.
And that’s what the story is about.
The collection of would-be suitors her father has gathered in the castle? They don’t somehow sweep Merida off her feet and make her fall in love with them. The reason she doesn’t want to get married to someone her father picks out for her? It’s not because she has someone else stashed away that she would rather marry instead; it’s because she just doesn’t want to. At the end, does she see a vision of love and imagine a happy future with some handsome prince? Not even for a second. She does learn to appreciate her mother … and that’s what the story is about.
Merida is a strong female character, and her frustration at the double standard between princes and princesses is quite understandable. It’s wonderful to remind little girls – and boys – that women should have the same self-determination as men, and, as a mother, I of course am completely supportive of a teenager learning to appreciate her mom, but these lessons can be found (thankfully) in a lot of stories. Brave offers a little more: it offers the notion that, while love and romance can be terrific, and while marriage can be a rewarding experience with a partner who loves you, at the end of the day what matters is that you figure out your own self first, and become the person you are without anyone else mucked up in it.
Little girls (and boys) are still so often shown stories that are, yes, about strong characters – girls who are tough and smart and self-sufficient and brave, and boys who are all those things too and who love the girls for who they are – but they still focus on those characters falling in love and getting married and living happily ever after. I like those stories too. But Brave is a story just about the strong character – about becoming that person, about living happily ever after anyway, whether the prince shows up or not. And for all the little people out there – looking at the grown-up world and wondering if they’ll be good enough, or smart enough, or lovable enough – it seems more important to teach them that we’re all good enough, and smart enough, and lovable enough, no matter what others might have to say about it. It seems more important to teach them how to be happy with themselves through their own eyes rather than offering the “fairy-tale” world of defining themselves through others’ eyes. It seems really important to show them a world where everyone is an individual – whether they’re married or not, whether they’re girls or not – and that happiness is not something that can only be found in the romantic fairy-tale prince-and-princess ending.
In fact, maybe some not-so-little people could benefit from hearing that too.