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for people who care about the West

Disney's Unlikely Heroine: The Huntress


For decades, Disney cartoons have reliably produced two stereotypes: brutish, cruel hunters and dizzy, passive princesses.  But, holy daughters of Diana, times have changed.


Maybe Disney’s anti-hunter bias is just the natural result of having a cast full of talking animals. But think about it: there’s Clayton, the evil hunter who nets Tarzan’s family of apes; there’s Gaston, the arrogant brute after the Belle in Beauty & the Beast; there’s Bugs Bunny’s nemesis Elmer Fudd. (OK, that last one is Warner Bros., but you get the idea.) Most notorious is the invisible hunter who kills Bambi’s mother, burns down the forest and set back public tolerance for deer culls and prescribed burns for generations.

But that was then. Have you seen the Disney-Pixar movie, Brave? If not, do. If you don’t have kids, borrow some. It’s a gas.

And the heroine, Merida, is more than just a pretty head of hair. She’s a cross between Annie Oakley, Howard Hill and Rob Roy.

She rides horses! She has a falcon! She shoots arrows! (With excellent form.) She stands up to angry bears! She endures disapproving mothers and oppressive social norms! (“Princesses shouldn’t have weapons, in my opinion, ” says the Queen Mother.)

Truth is, we hunters probably deserve whatever reputation we have. It’s easy Hollywood shorthand to throw a deer head on a set wall when a director wants to say “this character is a redneck idiot.” But hunters’ real-world behavior is what makes their reputation, for better or worse.

Still, in this overly urbanized world, I had to smile at Brave’s expression of elan for the outdoor life. One scene, young Merida must survive in the woods with her loving, but overbearing, mother. Hungry, Merida shoots a salmon out of a spawning stream, presenting the fish still quivering on the shaft to her mother.

It was … touching. Like a Mother’s Day special of MeatEater.  Hurray for Merida. Hurray for Brave and for Pixar’s screenwriter Brenda Chapman. They’ve come up with something new and delightful.

Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for their content.

Ben Long is an author, outdoorsman and conservationist in Kalispell, Mont. He is senior program director for Resource Media and father to a boy who loves all things Disney.