Merida- ‘Brave’ This is a controversial pick, I know. ‘Brave’, as a whole, is not a great film; however, there are elements of it that Disney rarely explores, so Merida gets to be on the list, and Moana gets an honorable mention.
My favorite element of this film is the exploration of the mother-daughter relationship between Elinor and Merida. This is rare in Disney films because mothers generally don’t get screen time. ‘Brave’, ‘Tangled’ and ‘The Princess and the Frog’ showcase the importance of this relationship for young girls. However, Merida’s and Queen Elinor’s relationship is rocky and goes through that typical teenage daughter vs her mother journey. Merida and Elinor are both headstrong and independent. You feel the tension and anger between these two that shifts to love and admiration by the end of the film. As their relationship strengthens, Merida develops into the proud daughter her mother always wanted, and Elinor becomes the mother Merida needed. Without losing their true nature, Merida and Elinor feed off of each other and become strong as a unit at the end of their story.
Tiana- ‘The Princess and the Frog’
Tiana goes through a journey with elements unseen in a Disney film during this historical time period. She has these aspirations that were difficult for women and especially black women. We see glimpses of sexism, racism, classism and how it affects her, whether it be the Fenner Brothers’ blatant display of these three or the “progressive liberal” version from the La Bouffs.
I also wanted to touch on how rare it is to see a strong family unit in Disney films. Tiana has an amazing relationship with both of her parents, and the support she gets from them physically and spiritually is great to see. Her mother pushes her to achieve beyond the material and not work herself into an early grave. Her relationship with Prince Naveen is modern for women of this current generation – having your accomplishments and having a partner that completes that missing romantic desire. She learns that she can have both: love and her dream of having a restaurant.
Disney, I am begging. BRING BACK LOVE INTERESTS FOR WOMEN IN YOUR FILMS! It is not anti-feminist to be in love or to be loved.
‘Tangled’ is the perfect emotional film for a perfectly emotive protagonist. The humor, the love story, the villain, the soundtrack, the concept of identity, everything works in this movie.
When Rapunzel finally reunites with her birth parents, who do not say a word throughout the film, you feel the pain, the fear and the happiness among them. Rapunzel is much like her two mothers, though we only get to know one of them throughout the film. The tender, impassioned nature vs the commanding, ambitious nature Rapunzel inherits from her two mothers is on constant display in every scene, in all her decisions. She’s naively clever, developing as she formulates her version of independence.
Yes, Mother Gothel and Rapunzel’s relationship is based on lies, felony kidnap and emotionally manipulation, but it’s still a strong relationship until the lie is revealed. Until the lie is revealed, the two complete each other until Rapunzel learns that there is life beyond her mother. To become the best version of herself, Rapunzel had to let Mother Gothel go, and she almost didn’t without Eugene’s sacrifice. Her relationship with Eugene is heartwarming, and the fact that he was willing to die to free her from Mother Gothel… that’s true love right there.