By Laura Michet, computer game writer
Brave challenges assumptions about what a 'princess movie' should be, and what the role of women in children's entertainment should be. Instead of following in the footsteps of literally every single princess-movie-princess ever to have existed and ending with Merida in the arms of some gallant but spotlight-stealing young man, she goes on an adventure with her mom and ends up back where she belongs: back in the arms of her (now-much-improved) parents. Pretty much everything about this movie contributes to subverting our expectations about young women in film, including the 'awfulness' of the three suitors.
First of all, the movie focuses on Merida's relationship with her mother and plays down all other relationships in the story. Look how unproblematic her relationship with her father is! He's basically an affable but avoidant ally who telegraphs quite strongly from the very first scene onward that he will agree with whatever makes Merida most happy. No, it's her mom who creates the problems in Merida's life, and it's her mom whom Merida betrays, and it's with her mom that Merida experiences nearly all of the important scenes in the film. Brave is a mother-daughter relationship film, something that is not usually advertised as universal fare for moviegoers (which is bizarre, since father-son films ARE). Because this is the most important relationship in the story, all other relationships are kept out of the spotlight. If the moviemakers had included a not-weird potential suitor and suggested she might end up with him, imagine how much screen time would have had to be spent on building up a relationship with him! And if they still didn't want Merida to end up with him, they would have had to spend additional time explaining why they DON'T end up together! (You've gotta admit that in movies, we usually assume that the girl has to end up with the central dude, so long as he isn't hideous, their relationship isn't elaborately fraught, or he doesn't end up dead!) Making the suitors embarrassing and silly neatly solves this problem. Of COURSE Merida doesn't end up with any of them, we think: they're terrible!
So that's why there are no normal- or average-looking boys in the story: it's a way to skirt assumptions and focus on the relationship that really matters. As to why there isn't a really stunning dude in the film: Merida is what, twelve? Thirteen? She doesn't belong with a steady boyfriend or a suitor: she should be doing age-appropriate young-teen-stuff. And honestly, how many boys at the age of twelve or thirteen are already shaping up into hunks? Brave shows a remarkably realistic portrayal of age-appropriate kids (as do all Pixar films -- think of Russell, the boy from Up, or Boo, the toddler from Monsters, Inc). Merida isn't sexualized -- so why should there be a hunky, sexualized boy in the film alongside her?
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