How Pixar’s Brave Fought Gender Stereotypes

The 2012 computer-animated fantasy film Brave was a significant shift for animation as Pixar had completely rewritten its animation system for the first time in 25 years. Brave was the first Pixar film with a female protagonist and the first one animated with Presto. Not only was Princess Merida a strong protagonist for the film, but she also challenged gender roles for women during Medieval times. Throughout history, the sole career move for a woman involved marriage, and Merida’s mother attempted to push this belief on her early in the film. Merida’s push to go a different path sparks the main plot and spotlights women’s place in society.

Brave hits many points in family dynamics that were also visited in Disney’s recent Encanto. Merida and Mirabel both deal with family duties and expectations, but they respond differently. Merida does not want to marry the son of one of her father’s allies. She might be 16 years old, but she’s not interested in marriage at all. She’s interested in archery, and she wins the competition for her hand in marriage, which angers her mother. Merida does not subscribe to the societal belief that women must be married right away or that their only forms of identity be as a wife and mother.

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Queen Elinor is upset with Merida’s behavior, as there’s resentment over Merida’s entitlement to having a choice. Elinor understands the importance of Merida’s place in society, and she wants to ensure her daughter has the best life according to tradition. There’s a significant generational gap between the mother and daughter, which forces Elinor to confront the ways she dismissed Merida’s wants and wishes. When they’re forced to wander the woods together after a spell was placed on Elinor, they begin to understand one another and that their bond is more important than their arguments.

There’s a moment in Brave when Elinor relents before Merida does, defending her daughter’s choice not to marry until she’s ready, and it seems as if Merida will get everything she wants. But the situation grows worse in the castle, and Elinor turns into a full-on bear that retreats to the wild. Elinor thought giving Merida what she wanted would have broken the spell just as Merida had thought repairing the tapestry might, but both the mother and daughter were wrong.

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In the final moments of Brave, Merida has wrapped Elinor in the family’s tapestry, trying to undo the spell. Merida acknowledges the role she played in the conflict with her mother, and she apologizes for behaving immaturely. This breaks the spell, and her family returns to normal. The next day, they officially say goodbye to the suitors, and Elinor loosens the reigns on Merida, wanting her to pursue whatever makes her happy. This ending was necessary for Elinor’s growth, and the acceptance of Merida’s individuality gives her the room to explore who she is without attachment to marriage.

Pixar does not seem to shy away from difficult plots that focus on family and growth. Inside Out, Soul and Encanto have all made major waves in children’s animation by showcasing more complex situations. The characters are often faced with conflict beyond their previous beliefs, causing them to look within and question their place in society and what happiness means to them on an individual level. Brave did this well and gave audiences proper representation of a princess who did not need to marry a prince by the end of the story. Romance has its place in fairy tales, but exploring love between friends and family or loving oneself is just as important and needs the same representation given to Merida and Elinor in Brave.

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