No Prince Needed for Pixar's Newest Princess
It's been 85 years since Disney unveiled Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In that time, they've unveiled a steady stream of Disney Princesses. You've got your All-Star team (Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Jasmine, and Ariel) and your B-team (Sleeping Beauty, Mulan, Pocahantas, Rapunzel, and Tiana—the one from The Princess & The Frog). But they've all had something in common: they needed a man to rescue them.
Whether it was a variation Prince Charming or a land-dweller (in Ariel’s case), all of them had to be rescued from an evil relative or freed from an ancient curse to become the princess.
There have been flashes of feminism before. Belle was more interested in books and intelligence than falling for the beefcake Gaston; Jasmine refused to have an arranged marriage, and Mulan sought to be the first female soldier in the Chinese army. But their stories all fell back on that Disney idea of love, that all that was missing from their difficult lives was a man who could take them away (or rescue them from grave danger) so they could live happily ever after.
But that was then. Now we've got Brave, which refreshingly features the ideal Beyoncé sang about 12 years ago: an independent woman. Merida, voiced by Boardwalk Empire's Kelly MacDonald, plays our heroine, a Scottish princess not content to live a life of debutante balls and dress-up. She's more at home practicing her archery (eat your heart out, Katniss Everdeen) and playing with her rough-and-tumble younger brothers. She reaches a boiling point when her parents host an archery tournament with the champion winning Merida’s hand in marriage. So offended by the whole contest and its inept bowmen, she "plays for [her] own hand," pulling a Robin Hood and hitting a bullseye, then splitting that arrow in two with a follow-up.
But her head-strong attitude gets her into trouble as she sets out on a dangerous journey to further prove her mettle, making a questionable deal with a local witch to change her fate. She remains self-sufficient to press on in spite of overwhelming obstacles, and she doesn't have to rely on a man to rescue her. After nearly a century, Disney has its first true feminist heroine. It was worth the wait.