This post is a repost of my thoughts after the release of Brave last summer. They struck enough of a chord that I am reposting this, along with my follow up, to go with the release of the movie on DVD. Which I cannot watch as my BRDVD needs a firmware upgrade. Grr.
Some disclaimers: First I'm going to spoil the end of the movie, just a little bit, but no more than I've been spoiled myself in reading reviews and commentary on the sexual preferences of Disney/Pixar's latest heroine. I also have to confess I've not seen the movie first hand. My wife and son have (they both loved it) and I've read a pretty good number of reviews, and honestly what I have to say about this issue has very little to do with the movie's over all plot.
Which gets us to the question at hand: Is Merida, Heroine of Brave, a lesbian? And if she is, does that matter?
Frankly I think that's one of the dumbest questions raised about this movie. It ignores what actually does matter:
That people are asking the question in the first place.
Okay, let's go over the evidence first:
Merida likes to do boyish things and rejects womanly things. It follows that she is a standin, then, for butch gay women. Of course, Mulan also did boyish things, while wearing boy's clothes and pretending, believe it or not, to be a boy, but her sexuality is above reproach because at the end of the story she ends up with her prince. While we don't have a "Disney Kiss" between Prince and Princess, we do have some assurance that the two love birds will run off into the sunset.
But I'll come back to that in a second. For now we're going to stick with the idea that being boyish means being gay. Which, what does that make Jessie from Toy Story? She's a cowgirl, sure but if the movie wasn't for kids, you know, dear reader, that she'd be swearing as much as the prospector. Belle in Beauty and the Beast is more into her books than the "girly" thing of chasing boys, though I will grant that books can be seen as a different kind of girly.
Thing is, being into boy stuff doesn't make one gay. I've had many students who excelled in athletics, liked cars, went bow hunting, and I'm quite confident more than a few of them were not gay.
Second major data point, as the critics show and I alluded to above, is that Merida is single at the end of the movie, with ne'er a prince in sight. She even gives a moving speech (I told you'd spoil you, but no you had to read anyways) about marrying who she wants on her own terms, not who her parents (or society) tells her to.
Now, this would be a great beacon of her counter-culturalism except that being true to yourself is a hallmark of Disney and children's films. In fact the closing titles of Mulan (back to her again) are indeed the song "True to Your Heart" performed by former Mousketeer Christina Aguilera. Seeking to marry for love carries all through classic as well as modern Disney, from Aladdin to The Little Mermaid. It's just that in those stories the perfect ending happens right now. None of those princesses have to wait for their perfect prince. So Merida has to wait a little. Big deal.
And lastly the movie just happened to premire during Gay Pride Week. So clearly it's all a conspiracy. After all, there are Gay Days at the Disney theme parks, right? Of course while those are not sanctioned officially by the parks, surely they're going to plot to release a movie with a tomboy of a heroine just in time to show their true colors, the whole rainbow if you will.
Or....... it could just be that time of year where you vie to release your summer blockbuster. Tough call.
Now, dear readers, I promised you that I'd tackle the real question.
I believe, fundamentally and as a parent, that it should bother you that this question is being asked.
We have a girl who likes to play rough, prefers bows and arrows to bows and flowers, wants to pick her own partner for life (never saying either way which it is), and demands to live her life on her own terms. And what does the "media" do with it?
They question her sexuality.
What kind of message does this conversation send to our daughters? What are we telling them as they decide they want to ride racing bikes around the neighborhood rather than host a tea party? What are we telling them when they don't want to play the "wife" in a game of house? What are we telling them when they say they want Legos (and I mean real legos not those pink knock offs designed "For girls") instead of Barbie?
We're telling them that those choices will lead to questions about them. Those choices will be examined for "deeper meaning." We're telling them that they should prepare to defend their choices because anything "not normal" demands defense.
I'm not a paragon of this. When my son started at day care, it was mostly boys and yes, he played with dolls. I used to tell the woman, a lovely person who I love dearly as a member of our family, that my son did not "play with dolls"; he was a solider doing relief work and there was administrating humanitarian aid. I always thought that I did so with a wink and a nod and that it was a little joke that I didn't really believe that boys couldn't play with dolls.
But, maybe I failed. Maybe I failed to make it a joke enough. Maybe I made a mistake in even joking about what boys and girls play with.
I don't think my daughter (or son) needs to grow up with people telling her (or him) at every turn what is expected of him because of the accident of his birth. If it's not biologically related, then it's a societal construct and as much as we built up societial rules, we can tear them down. And once in while we have to.
I have nothing but pride (yeah... pride) and support for what Pixar has made, even having yet to see it for myself. I don't doubt at all that they continued to push the envelop for technological innovation and story telling. And even if they simply put out a typical movie, that is still pretty good by most measures.
But what does concern me is the sheer number of bloggers, pundits, talking heads and otherwise Do-Nothings who are making a carreer not only out of fabricating controversy, but doing so in a way that puts the hearts and minds of our daughters at risk.
Grow up, people.
And then what I had to say after I saw it:
I finally saw Brave.
From a gripping story (for me at least) with well done characters, amazing animation, and a musical score that should be a gold standard for all future Disney releases. I was practically in tears with joy during the opening third of the movie as Merida embraced her passions and chased after her loves. It was heart lifting on levels I cannot put to words.
But let me try: I can only pray, and I mean Pray, that I see that kind of joy in the eyes of my beloved little Kaylee. I can only hope against hope that she feels so free to be the woman she knows in her heart she is.
But before I really get into a review I'd like to revisit something I posted on several months ago, specifically the scandalous implications that Merida might be the first Gay Disney Princess
SHAME ON YOU PEOPLE!
How slow of a news day was it that you decided that you needed a scandal so you could bash on something and have a topic of discussion? What is wrong with you that you would take a wonderful story about a Princess who wants to chose her husband rather than be forced to marry one that happens to be a good shot with an arrow and try to tar it by saying that it was all some big leftist agenda?
We can fix a lot of things, folks, but we can't fix blind hate nor can we fix stupid.
How many times have we seen those same stories, of a Princess forced to marry against her will only to soften the heart of her father so that he relents and she is free to marry for love, rather than tradition?
"I decree that from this day forth the princess will marry whom ever she chooses!" - The Sultan in Aladdin
It's not a new trope and the only difference is that at the end of Brave we don't know who that Prince will be. But we do have a woman who is not afraid to follow tradition and establish that she will marry for love and for no other reason. Then we add to it that she also has to learn that there is more to life than just following whims. Tradition has its place. Family has a place. Supporting and loving each other has its place.
At the end the story was powerful and compelling and showed surprising depth.
I've often defended the talking heads as having a "point of view". I admit that once up on a time I wondered about The Little Mermaid glorifying teenage defiance. But this time, no.
Merida was portrayed as a real woman would, with real conflicts and real choices. To claim it as anything else, I'm sorry to say, is nothing but ignorance.