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Brave Turns 10: How Merida Kickstarted a New Era of Disney Princesses

Disney/Pixar’s Brave has hit a decade old. But over the years, it’s become clear that Merida set a new standard for Disney Princesses.

Disney/Pixar’s Brave has officially reached a decade old, proving that its themes not only still hold up but have also carried into countless other stories. But in the arena of Disney, it not only changed how its storytelling style would get done, but it also fundamentally redefined the term Disney Princess and what it meant. Perhaps the most impressive aspect behind these feats is how, even though it set the trend many films have utilized, it hasn’t gotten recognized for it.

Brave found inspiration in old fairy tales and followed a young Scottish princess named Merida, who loved the outdoors, archery and all things magical. However, her interests often put her at odds with her mother, who wanted Merida to act more princess-like and prepare herself to find a suitor and be married off. That led to tension in their relationship, which became more complicated when the mother turned into a bear. But through the magical plot line, the film still managed to show how not all family relationships are perfect and the importance of independence and communication.

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Since then, many of Disney’s films have focused heavily on finding one’s self and the tension that comes from family. In fact, some films have totally erased a traditional villain and replaced them with themes. That happened in movies like Encanto and Turning Red, which also focused on young women growing up and finding themselves in a way that didn’t align with their family’s beliefs. While these films also focused on generational trauma, Brave’s familial theme was expectations. Merida’s mother expected her to be a prim and proper princess, and Merida fought her every step of her way. Since her mother believed there was only one way to be a royal, the two inadvertently built a wall that took a strange adventure to tear down and allow them to talk. Future Disney projects like Ms. Marvel continued exploring this trend a decade after Brave introduced it.

There’s also a theme of self-discovery that permeates the film. For Merida, she always knew who she was and who she wanted to be. But what she struggled with was a balance with the type of person she would have to be from time to time. That caused a source of tension, and eventually, she had to learn to grow from it into someone both free and responsible. Films like Moana and Raya and the Last Dragon were perfect examples of this. For Moana, she got told to avoid exploring, even though the sea called her, while Raya, so focused on her mission, had to learn to trust in others. Both examples, while vastly different, represented a young woman learning more about herself when she felt she had learned all she could. But Brave laid the groundwork by making the theme a crucial part of its story.

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Most prominent of all the changes the film made was to the concept of Disney Princesses. In the past, their tropes often surrounded young women who were, at first, damsels that needed saving from their sad or dangerous lives. However, during the Disney Renaissance, they slightly adapted and became more independent, albeit still reliant on a love interest. But in Brave, Merida was the first princess who had no interest in a prince. Since then, it wasn’t until Frozen that a Disney Princess once again chose to walk to her own beat. Moana and Raya and the Last Dragon continued this trend as well, and since then, Disney Princesses have grown in character and importance. While a love story is nice, Brave proved that these archetypes could exist without one and still grow as their own person.

Brave was a film, when released, that unknowingly set a new standard for Disney and films as a whole. Since then, princess and female characters have received more agency and independence than ever. Not only has this offered a larger range of characters to explore from a thematic point of view, but now young girls have more relatable role models. But beyond that, people who have had their own issues with self-discovery or familial friction can see that things could still get better with time and communication. While it’s hard to say that it wouldn’t have happened without Brave, it’s clear that the film redefined the Disney Princess and thrust them into a new and exciting era.

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