The recent Disney Pixar blockbuster, “Brave,” is so much more than another fairy tale. The protagonist, “Merida,” challenges both her parents authority and a culture entrenched in rigid gender roles. The fact that she was also a member of the ruling class further inhibited any sense of female empowerment she may have dreamed of, yet she persevered and won.
This re-retelling of an old folk tale may in fact, be the beginning of a new trend that refuses to teach children about stereotypical ways of living and could set the stage for further creative works to move into the twenty-first century regarding the themes and issues that animated movies represent.
There is no denying that the fairy tale, while keeping with notions of “happy ever after,” and “good versus evil” themes offer the feel-good sentiments that most find entertaining, many are also historically sexist by maintaining the rigid boundaries between what a female can and cannot do. Note the princess is always “rescued” by her “knight,” the stepmother is usually “evil” and “ugly,” while the male leading character is usually “charming,” respectable, or “heroic.”
Fairy tales have always had the ability to capture the imaginations of children and adults alike, and they span every country in the world. Many of the traditional stories as we know them today have been re-told, and several versions survive today. There are several explanations for this, and the likelihood of travelers retelling a story they heard in a different community is the most plausible explanation. By virtue of memory, one cannot accurately memorize large chunks of narration, thus to complete a thought, or in this case, the traveler would simply “fill-in-the-blanks,” to complete the story to his audience.
So, the re-retelling of old stories is an age-old practice, thankfully our friends at Disney Pixar not provide cultural relevance (the story is set in the Scottish Highlands), but they also reflected the era in which it is being re-told, and thus manage to sidestep criticism for teaching our young people to abide by rigid gender divisions.
What do you think about re-retelling fairy tales?