Brave got a lot of praise and a lot of criticism upon release, as any popular film by a huge production company does. I think it deserves a bit of both, although I lean on the side of praise, because there’s a lot about this movie that makes it stand out not just as a wide-release film but also as an animated feature directed at kids. I meant to write up a short piece on this movie upon release and didn’t, clearly. But now that it’s Monday and my Tuesday deadline is fast approaching, let’s do this.
Plot: Princess Merida is a badass who isn’t too keen on the idea of marrying one of the idiot sons of other royal families. Her mother tries to makes her fit to be a queen, but there is great tension between the two. Merida finds herself in a witch’s house and makes a very dangerous wish, at which point the movie becomes a tale of a daughter trying to maintain her sense of self, balance this with an acceptance of responsibility, and learn to understand her parents.
There was one general consensus between two friends and me (we’re all huge Pixar fans) when we walked out of the theater: Brave is a lot more like a Disney movie than a Pixar movie. And that’s pretty okay, actually, because it’s what Disney should strive for with princess movies if they insist on making them. Second Breakfast also had a few solid words to say about what makes Brave work, namely the visuals (“Because Scotland,” as he wisely points out).
But what I found most interesting about Brave was its balance of message and story. The plot was held under a fairly tight lid before release, namely what happens to Merida’s mother. They are at odds for the entirety of the first quarter of the film, but then they are forced to work together. This leads to a deeper understanding between the two, and I mention this because so few movies aimed at children portray mother-daughter relationships, with all the conflict and bonding that such a portrayal can entail. By “so few” I might mean none, because I cannot think of any others.
The plot, which largely centers around these two characters, is fairly exciting and engaging. I found myself caring about everyone in the movie because each of them have a personality. My biggest problem with children’s movies is when characters are non-distinct or overly simplistic, but I think that Brave manages to have comical characters without sacrificing some sense of realism.
Of course–and this will surprise none of you–something that interested me about Brave was the constant associations it had with the word “feminism.” I heard high and low how this was a feminist princess movie, or a feminist children’s movie, and I think that the expectations were raised so high that this movie would deconstruct every gender norm that many people were let down.
The issue is that Brave is made by Pixar, who I don’t think go out of their way to break down barriers and surpass their competition (also, I’m a fan of Pixar, clearly). They first find great stories with complex characters, and this happens to break norms because they often don’t subscribe to familiar tropes and standards. I don’t think they went into Wall-E with a desire to create a largely silent, emotionally compelling sci-fi film that goes against what a lot of people expect from that genre; they had a great story to tell and found the best way to do it.Similarly, I don’t think Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews wrote/directed Brave with the intent of creating a feminist princess movie. They wanted to tell a story that starred a princess, and by treating her like a human being they made a character that doesn’t subscribe entirely to norms because she’s well-rounded and realistic. This is why people shouldn’t be disappointed by Brave‘s potential lack of a feminist punch (although that’s a strange thing to hate on a movie for if that’s not what it’s trying to be): this is not a Feminist Film, but instead a movie that respects its characters. Brave is how a film will be if the creators respect their characters, which involves respecting their sexes, which in the case of Merida happens to be female.
So for all of you who were let down by Brave for not being (and I apologize for using this title reference, but it’s merely because every other article I read on the subject does) brave enough, I recommend considering it on its own terms. It’s not a film with an agenda, but rather the type of movie we might expect if we didn’t have all the problems in princess movies. In this light, Brave is very clearly a Pixar movie: it takes something we might be familiar with (adventure stories, love stories, princess stories) and gives us a fresh take. Brave might not be Up!, but it’s a damn good movie worthy of the Pixar title.