Pixar comes at us with this original fairytale, their first attempt at the genre. Whenever I see a new fairytale I get excited that this form of storytelling is still alive, and as we see in this film, still strong. Pixar initially avoided fairytales to keep from being compared with the classic Disney films and to avoid having their animated films labeled as Kid-Flicks. I guess they don’t have to fear that any more.
Princess Merida is the eldest child of the king and queen of the DunBroch clan. The DunBroch clan is the head of the alliance of 4 clans in the Highlands of Scotland. Merida is a bit of a tomboy; from a young age she takes more interest in bows and arrows than bows and ribbons. Her mother, Queen Elinor, spends extra attention in priming her for her future role as queen. “A princess strives for perfection.” Merida also has three troublemaking little brothers. She feels as if they are given more freedom and that they get away with everything, where she gets away with nothing. With all this pressure on her, all she can say is, “It isn’t fair.”
Like Merida, we are each born with certain responsibilities, other responsibilities come along, and many we may wish weren’t ours to bear. As Christians, we may also see “worldly” people avoiding troubles or finding success in this life, often by immoral means, and think, “It’s not fair!” We’d be right, it isn’t fair, but like Merida, if we ask for true fairness, the result wouldn’t be that we can get away with the things that others, such as her brothers, get away with. It would actually mean that no one gets away with anything. She is essentially wishing for others to bear as much burden as she does, not lift her own. In the book of Job we see a man who suffers greatly and he shakes his fist at God saying, “It’s not fair!” the response from God is essentially, “You’re right, if it were fair, you’d have been destroyed long ago for your sin.” When most people ask for fairness, what they really mean is “let me do whatever I want without consequences.” Every breath is an unearned gift from God. Asking for fairness is akin to asking for our own immediate destruction.
As part of tradition, Merida’s mother decides to hold a challenge to find the boy who would marry the princess. After fighting with her mother about who will control her destiny, Merida tears the family tapestry and then runs into the woods. She comes upon a Will ‘O The Wisp and follows it to the cottage of an old Witch. The Witch gives her a spell to change her destiny, a cake for her mother to eat. The cake turns her mother into a bear, and Merida and her bear mom escape into the woods to try and undo the spell. The Witch tells her that the only way to undo it is to mend the bond torn by pride.
It’s at that moment when we are first shown the source of Merida’s problems is really her pride. Merida believes she knows best what her destiny should be. She doesn’t need her mother to guide her and she doesn’t need tradition to either. Pride again rears its ugly head. It’s the oldest sin, the one that separates us from one another and from God more than any other. We want to be in control of our own destiny. We think we don’t need mom, dad or God to guide us, because we know better than they do.
Reacting to the Witch’s words, Merida believes the solution is in repairing the torn tapestry. So she rushes back to the castle to try and patch it up. In the end, we realize that the bond that was torn was between her and her mother. Merida’s pride had kept her from admitting that the entire situation was her own fault. She blamed the Witch for giving her the enchanted cake (which she had asked for). She blamed her mother, because she wouldn’t have sought out the spell if her mother were not pressuring her. Finally, when she believes that all hope is lost of restoring her mother, she drops her pride and cries out, “This was all my fault, I’m so sorry.” It is only after that that her mother is restored.
Pride is such a powerful force for evil. The only cure is to stop and look at God and realize how far we fall short. Dealing with our pride is not about saying we are worthless, it’s about seeing ourselves in perspective. Though each of us is quite precious, clever, and many other fine things, God is superior. Satan believed himself wiser than his Creator; let’s not make that same mistake.
In the end, her mother and brothers restored, Merida steps into the position she was born into as princess. She tells us, “Our fate is inside us, you only have to be brave enough to see it.” Did Merida change her destiny? We’ll never know, because, like her, we never knew what her destiny was. It very well may have been to go through all of these troublesome events to refine her as the future queen. Indeed, even Mor’du, the monstrous bear, was freed because of her actions. But none of the happy ending would have happened if it were not for her confession of guilt and repentance.
In our lives, the bond of love with God has been severed by our pride. Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is what undid the curse of death, but it is our acceptance of that sacrifice, which can only be done in humility, that gives us a happy ending. Just as the clans of the Highlands all benefitted because of Merida’s humble confession; our families, communities and ultimately the world, benefit by our confession. We look forward to the Day when Christ returns to make all things new.
- Merida’s mom, Queen Elinor, has many big plans for Merida’s life; but Merida has her own, which don’t line up with her mom’s. Have you ever felt pressure to do something that you didn’t want to do?
- Merida often complains that things are “not fair”. Her brothers, the “wee devils” seem to get away with everything, but not her. Was she really looking for fairness (no one gets away with anything) or did she simply want to do her own thing without consequences? (Job 33:27-30, Ps 103:8-14, Romans 9:14-15)
- After the enchanted cake turns her mother into a bear, Merida continually blames the Witch for tricking her and causing Queen Elinor to become a bear. This is the same thing that Adam and Eve did in the Garden. They both blame someone else, Adam even blamed God in a round-about way, for their own sin. (Genesis 3:11-13)
- The Witch tells Merida the key to undoing the spell: “Mend the bond torn by pride”. Pride is what separates us from one another and from God more than any other sin. When Merida humbles herself enough to admit that the problem was her fault and not the Witch’s, nor her mother’s, the spell is broken and her Elinor is restored. In a very similar way, our bond of love with God has been broken by our sin. Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is what restored our bond with God. If we humble ourselves enough to accept His sacrifice then we will Live in a restored relationship with God. (Psalms 149: 4, Isaiah 14:13-15, 2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
- Even though Merida committed a terrible wrong against her family, clan and country, then end result turns out better for everyone. Imagine how terrible it would have been if Merida had not confessed her guilt. Almost certainly her mother and brothers would have been killed, and many other terrible results would spread throughout the land. Sometimes we make mistakes and sin, but when we admit our guilt and turn from our own path to God’s, He is able to redeem the situation and turn it for good. The story of humanity is like this; and One Day Christ will make all things new. (Romans 8:28, Revelation 21:5)