Voices of: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly
This latest film from Disney/Pixar is set in the Scottish Highlands in medieval times,
and the filmmakers take great pride in presenting their first animated heroine. Merida
(voice of Kelly Macdonald) is a willful teenager who tires of her mother’s (voice
of Emma Thompson) constant efforts to mold her into a proper princess. Her father,
the king (voice of Billy Connolly) plays a sometimes overt, sometimes covert, stereotypical
father who halfheartedly supports his wife in this, but clearly encourages his daughter’s
rebelliousness. He also fits the stereotype of a macho man who lives for his past
feats of bravery (in fighting bears) but instantly defers to his wife in their confrontations.
He and the other men in the film are frequently shown as bumbling doofuses.
The last straw for Merida is her mother’s insistence that she be betrothed to whichever
son of the lords of the land wins her respect. These fathers and sons (a thoroughly
repulsive lot) have all been invited to the castle for the purpose of proving themselves
to Merida. Although she is averse to the very idea of marriage, Merida, an ace archer,
decides that archery will be the game of choice. She ends up tricking them, and
after a terrible quarrel with her mother, she races off on her horse to chase after
“wisps” (will-o’-the wisps) who lead her to a witch’s house. She is charmed and
talks the witch into creating a spell she can use on her mother, without understanding
fully what she is asking for. She deceives her mother to get the spell activated,
and then sees what the spell has meant.
At first, she is not willing to own her responsibility for the chaos that ensues,
and it will take all the effort she can muster to make things right again and to
actively create her own destiny. She clearly learns something in the process, namely
about her role as a princess and being responsible, and she even shows she has listened
to her mother’s history lessons by using them to remind the lords and their sons
about individual freedom in an inspiring speech.
The inspiration for the story is derived primarily from one of the writers/director’s
(Brenda Chapman) personal experiences with her own young daughter, and to illustrate
the daughter’s strength of character and will. I personally feel the conflict is
overdrawn—I think it is supposed to be a characterization of a universal truth or
situation—to make the point, and it would have been better to make the message subtler.
But the bigger issues I have with the rather weak story is the characterization
of the males as incompetent and laughable. Why does female liberation have to be
shown as being achieved at the expense of men? This misses the point entirely.
The other objection I have is that some of the fights—particularly between the bears—is
much too violent for young children, the main audience of the film. These fights
are gruesome, with the snarling loud music elevating fears. But the colorful animations
and breathtaking Scottish landscape help compensate for this element.