Don't Conform, Transform
This week I went to see Brave with my 8-year-old daughter, Allie. I liked the movie and the characters. Merida’s imperfection, both physically and in her actions, resonated with me. She struck me as an authentic character who struggled with figuring out who she was and what she wanted to become. I was getting ready to write a blog post about the movie. But as I listened to my daughter talk about what she liked about Brave, I realized that instead of writing my own thoughts, I’d love to share an 8-year-old girl’s thoughts about the movie Brave and what it meant to her. Following are some questions that I asked Allie and her responses.
As a media literacy exercise, asking your children these types of questions is a great way to get them thinking about what a piece of media means. Sometimes they may surprise you with their insights, their perspective, or things that they saw that you may have missed yourself.
What did you think of Brave?
It was different from other princess movies. All of the Disney princesses don’t look like real people. They just don’t’ have things that ordinary people would have, they’re too perfect. Merida is like a real person. She has freckles and hair that doesn’t look perfect. Her hair acts like real hair! Her brothers have ears that stick out, all the people in the story look like real people, they’re not perfect looking. I liked that.
And, Disney princesses don’t usually do anything wrong. I liked that Merida made mistakes but then was able to fix them and learn something.
I noticed that there’s not really a boy involved in the story that goes to save the day. She’s the one who’s saving the day, with her mom. In Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, the prince saves the day. But in Brave, Merida and her mom save the day, and her dad works with them, so it’s really about the family saving the day.
What did you like about Brave?
I liked how she could shoot arrows and ride horses. Even though she was a princess, she didn’t want to act all fancy and wear fancy dresses and things like that. I liked that she didn’t want to get married because most princesses in the movies really focus their life on getting married and things. Merida was different. She wanted to be a princess but be a normal person who could do her own thing.
In most Disney movies, the girl has something bad happen to her and someone saves her. In Brave something happens but she learns a lesson and has to solve the problem. The lesson was that you have to listen to somebody to solve problems in a relationship. Before you try to change someone, you need to learn to listen to him or her.
I liked the family because Merida is brave and her brothers are crazy and funny like real little boys. Her dad is kind of silly and her mom wants everyone to act the way they’re supposed to. They aren’t a perfect family, but they’re more like a real family that fights and makes up and makes mistakes and works problems out.
Disney princesses don’t usually have weapons. Somebody else fights for them. Merida fights for herself, and her mom and family fight with her. I like that they stick together.
What didn’t you like about Brave?
I didn’t like it when Merida and her mom were fighting. They were both not listening to each other. But, I liked that they learned that they needed to listen to each other. They learned to listen to each other and understand each other’s ideas.
So Merida learned some important things in the movie. What did you learn from watching the movie? Are there ideas that you’re taking away from it?
For a long time people have been thinking that boys do the fighting instead of the girls. That boys are stronger than girls in lots of ways. That makes me feel like girls aren’t strong enough to fight for themselves, to stand up for themselves, to be the hero who solves the problem. Seeing Merida fight for herself and her mom made me feel like girls can be the hero. As a girl, I see that people think girls aren’t strong enough to stand up for themselves, but seeing Merida makes me feel that they can.
Brave also shows boys that girls aren’t just weak and pretty, they can smart, they can be strong. Being a girl isn’t just about being pretty. That makes me feel really nice inside, that this message is getting out into the world.
Hearing Allie’s perspective was really interesting to me. Being a go-getter kind of girl herself, I thought she would like Merida’s character because of her independence and strong will. What I didn’t expect to hear were the ideas about families working together and learning to work out difficulties in relationships. I wasn’t even sure if she would notice that there was no romance in this film, as compared to other princess movies, but she did notice, and she liked that. At her age, romance isn’t high on her list of priorities, but identifying herself with strong characters is. That’s what Brave gave her the opportunity to do: See a strong girl who isn’t perfect learn how to live and love better, and how to find herself. That’s a message that I can be glad to have my daughter learn. And the fact that she’s beginning to see that media carries messages that can inform and persuade people is a huge step toward becoming a critical media consumer. Take the opportunity to talk with your children about the messages that they’re getting from the media they consume, you may be surprised at what they share with you.