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As a little girl, Princess Merida’s father, Lord Fergus, presents her with a bow for her birthday, and Merida instantly falls in love with archery. During her first try, though, she misses her target, and goes after the arrow in the woods. There, she sees a blue, glowing path. When she tells her mother, Elinor, she learns that these are willo-the wisp, and can lead the discoverer to their destiny. A large black bear chooses that moment to attack, and Lord Fergus fights him off. We are then taken to Merida in her teenage years, where we see that her love of archery has not faltered. She now has triplet younger brothers, who love to cause mischief throughout the castle. Elinor frequently gives lessons to Merida in an attempt to mold her into a proper princess, but Merida is more of a tomboy at heart. Now that Merida is coming of age, her parents feel that the time has come to join her in marriage to a prince of a neighboring kingdom, in an effort to keep peace in the lands. Three suitors have been chosen to compete for her hand. Merida is instantly infuriated. She has absolutely no interest in getting married or being a proper lady. And the fact that she finds none of the suitors even slightly appealing certainly doesn’t help matters. Finding the willo-the-wisp in the forest, she decides to change her fate. However, she hardly anticipates the fact that the magic that is conjured ends up turning her mother into a bear. She must then fight to keep her mother away from the village men who wish to hunt her, while repairing the damage that has been done.
Every culture has their own opinions on how women should be raised to behave, and most would frown upon Merida’s love of archery and lack of interest in a spouse. This was especially the case in medieval Scotland, the setting of the film. Parents often push towards having their child fit into society instead of their child’s passions. They feel that this is what is best for them. However, this ignores what is truly important: the ability to be oneself. Forcing someone into a role that isn’t of their choosing rarely ends well. More likely, it results in spiteful actions that can often tear the very fabric of the relationship forever. The best way to mend it is to try to see things from the other’s point of view, and allow some of the freedom that is craved. Understanding and forgiveness can be unveiled from there.
(If you have additional ideas on how this film can be used for educational purposes, please let us know in the comments below.)
King Fergus: Pretend I’m Merida, speak to me. What would you say?
Queen Elinor: I can’t do this!
King Fergus: Sure you can!
[Elinor gives him a skeptical look]
King Fergus: There, there! THAT’S my queen! All right, here we go.
[takes a deep breath and speaks in a shrilly voice, impersonating Merida]
King Fergus: I don’t want to get married! I want to stay single and let my hair flow in the wind as I ride through the glen, firing arrows into the sunset!
Merida: I want my freedom! Queen Elinor: But are you willing to pay the price your freedom will cost?
Merida: [voice over]There comes a day when I don’t have to be a Princess. No rules, no expectations. A day where anything can happen. A day where I can change my fate.
Queen Elinor: [after Merida’s actions at the clan gathering, Elinor drags and throws Merida into the tapestry room] I don’t believe you! I’ve just about had enough of you, lass!
Merida: YOU’RE the one that wants me to…!
Queen Elinor: You embarrassed them! You embarrassed me!
Merida: *I* followed the rules!
Queen Elinor: You don’t know what you’ve done!
Merida: I just don’t care how…
Queen Elinor: There’ll be fire and sword if it’s not set right.
Merida: Just listen!
Queen Elinor: I AM THE *QUEEN*! YOU listen to ME!
Merida: OH! This is so unfair!
Queen Elinor: Huh! Unfair?
Merida: [grabs a sword and swings it around angrily] You were never there for me! This whole marriage is what YOU want! Do you ever bother to ask what *I* want? No! You walk around telling me what to do, what not to do! Trying to make me be like you! Well, I’m not going to be like you!
Queen Elinor: Ach! You’re acting like a child!
Merida: And YOU’RE a beast!
[points her sword at the family tapestry that Elinor had been working on]
Merida: That’s what you are!
Queen Elinor: [gasps] Merida!
Merida: [sticks the tip of her sword into the tapestry] I’ll never be like you!
Queen Elinor: No! Stop that!
Merida: I’d rather DIE than be like you!
[Suddenly, Merida slashes the tapestry, a line between the images of Elinor and herself. Elinor gasps in shock; Merida just stares at her angrily. Furious at what Merida said and did, Elinor marches up to her]
Queen Elinor: Merida, you are a princess!
[She takes the sword from Merida and tosses it aside. She then grabs Merida’s beloved bow]
Queen Elinor: I expect you to act like one!
[She throws Merida’s bow into the fire. Shocked at her mother, Merida runs out of the room in tears]
Queen Elinor: Merida! Merida!
[immediately regrets her actions and pulls the bow out of the fire; however it’s already ruined]
Queen Elinor: Oh, no! What have I done?
Merida: [voice over] Some say our destiny is tied to the land, as much a part of us as we are of it. Others say fate is woven together like a cloth, so that one’s destiny intertwines with many others. It’s the one thing we search for, or fight to change. Some never find it. But there are some who are led.
Merida: [voice over] There are those who say fate is something beyond our command. That destiny is not our own, but I know better. Our fate lives within us, you only have to be brave enough to see it.