A Comparison of Merida and Rapunzel

Guess which one scares me more?

It struck me there just last week that we’ve seen two major princess movies from the Disney umbrella in the last few years, although despite claims that we’ll see no more, one is already well under way. So I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the two already released to see just how different, or similar they are. The two in question are of course Merida from Pixar’s Brave and Rapunzel from Walt Disney’s Tangled.

For starters, they’re both teenagers. Yes, every adults favourite people to hate and for good reason. Teenagers tend to be obnoxious, whiny, annoying, conniving, rude, clumsy and above all, rebellious. Both Rapunzel and Merida imbue all these qualities ans more in their respective films. Merida directly disobeys her mother as does Rapunzel.

Both seem to have issues with issues with the life that is set out for them. Merida as a wife to an eejit and Rapunzel as an everlasting source of life for Mother Goethal. Neither is satisfied and both disobey the requisite adult. However, that is where the similarity ends, as Merida dashes off into the woods, her mother is fully aware that she has left. Rapunzel, in contrast, sneakily knows that her mother is gone and is more than willing to head off without her knowledge. Rapunzel is clearly the fuller character in this case.

Both characters coincidentally have wild hair, but whereas Rapunzel’s is a plot device, Merida’s is more of a set piece that is played up multiple times throughout the film. It’s fair to say that while Rapunzel’s hair adds to her character, Merida’s can’t help but distract the viewer, as was the case when it was highlighted in just about every single review of the film.

Both princesses are strong female characters 9the kind we all know and love) but Merida is undoubtedly the lesser of the two. The reasons here are complicated, but the long and winding gestation and execution of Brave are probably the root cause. In Tangled, Rapunzel’s character evolves throughout the film. She has to learn to trust Flynn Rider Eugene Fitzherbet (a good ol’ Irish surname there) and only by going through her experiences does she learn the truth about her past.

Merida on the other hand is very much presented as is. Yes, she does learn a lesson in the course of the film, but that doesn’t change her character. She’s still fundamentally the same person at the beginning as she is at the end. We learn (comparatively) little about her. A rather disappointing state of affairs given the wonderful setup we’re given (ancient Scotland and all that).

The princesses approach to love is also drastically different. Rapunzel is more than happy to comply with the established Disney norms; Merida, not so much. It should be noted that neither approach is right or wrong but in Tangled, love is clearly meant to imply marriage whereas in Brave, marriage does not necessarily imply love; an important distinction but one that tends to go against the formula for princess movies.

Overall, both are likeable character that despite their teenage label have mass appeal beyond the kids. It’s curious how different the two characters are despite Pixar’s attempt to make Brave a different kind of film. In the end though, we should be grateful that both films give the characters enough room for them to come into their own.


5 thoughts on “A Comparison of Merida and Rapunzel”

  1. I have to disagree about Merida’s hair. It is a physical part of her that mirrors her wild personality. On the tapestry her mother is making, you’ll notice that the sewn Merida has her hair tamed within a braid. This reflects her mother’s wish for her daughter to be tamed. On the final tapestry at the end, it shows a bear and Merida, complete with her wild hair to symbolize that both Merida and her mother have come to accept what the other is truly like. That is a realization most mothers and daughters fail to meet, and why teenagers tend to be so rebellious. The main theme in Brave is also a minor theme in Tangled: neither the mothers nor the daughters listen to each other. This doesn’t make teenagers an unlikable character, just one that most teenagers (and parents, if they choose to remember) can relate to.

  2. I don’t think rapunzel is annoying,rude, whiny, or conniving. She has been locked in a tower for all her life. It is her mother that is unreasonable and conniving. Rapunzel is escaping. Her requests to just go see the lanterns is very reasonable. She wasn’t even asking to explore the world. She just wanted one look at something that happens once a year. She has been a dutiful daughter for 19 years (heck she is an adult at 19, even by today’s standards, she is old enough to vote and smoke and even drink is some states). And now as a young adult she finds a way to live her life by her terms. She has every right to break free. She is otherwise the most obidiant of the princesses next to Cinderella.

    Merida on the other hand has a lovely life where she has duties and responsibilities but where she also has free time. True it is awful to be forced into a marriage but aside from that her life is full of freedom. She does exhibit those “teenage” characteristics you mentioned.

  3. I think Brave is indeed a new approach on a Disney Princess. But she does learn that growing up is a matter of giving and taking, see, you have to accept some rules and boundaries, but if you do, your freedoms will increase as well.

    Also I like their approach on love. It’s not just “you’ll fall in love and everything’s lovey dovey”, but “you’ll fall in love, when you’re ready, it’ll come, but you’re not forced to”, which is probably better for some teenager’s egos when growing up, if ya know what I mean, aight? 😉
    And I bet they’ll do a second movie where she finds a rebellious scottish lad!

  4. I don’t think Rapunzel fits the description of a typical rebellious teenager. At all. Of course she has this dream of seeing the lights and will disobey her mum to fulfil it, but apart from that, I think she’s a pretty complying, contented, meek and boring character so I’m surprised that she has so many fans. She’s nothing comparable to other disney heroines like Ariel, Jasmine, Belle or Mulan. What strikes me most is that she never suspected Mother Gothel’s underlying intentions when keeping her in a tower while she could freely go wherever she wanted to! – I think that should have been reason enough for Rapunzel to question Gothel, to rebel and to want to explore the ‘outside world’. I think that is how a rebellious teenager would have acted. I also hate how so very slow she is to realise that she is the forgotten princess! I think she should have been smarter, after all she was turning 18 (even though she looks 12).
    My high disappointment with this Disney princess honestly left me unconvinced to watch the following princess movie, Brave. I even read Brave’s plot and it still didn’t convince me…

  5. “Guess which one scares me more?”
    That’s a tricky question, right?
    Let’s see: ‘Happy Feet face’ Merida vs ‘Japanese doll face’ Rapunzel.
    Merida has a awfully rounder and larger head but then again Rapunzel’s crooked smile (which is far from cute) is much worst than Merida’s. I don’t like her button nose and the little hump at the back either (like Tarzan’s), but yet I don’t like Merida’s eyes which are so similar to the Happy Feet penguin. I’d say it’s a tie.

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