There are many things I manifestly Do Not Get about the reactions people seem to be having to Brave. I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about it not being up to the standards of other Pixar movies. Or it’s just too much of a girl movie. Or something. What? Did we even see the same movie?
The only thing that keeps Brave from being my favorite Pixar movie ever is the existence of The Incredibles. (It’s a solid tie, in that case, with Wall-E and Up.) I liked it as much if not more than I liked any Toy Story, and I feel far more attached to Brave as a story than I do to Finding Nemo or Monsters, Inc. (Confession: Still haven’t seen Cars. Just can’t seem to care.)
I suppose you could call Brave a girl movie in as much as the main character is a girl, but that’s about it. You know what, boys? Girls constantly are forced to identify with male main characters in stories. You can give going on the journey with someone that isn’t your gender a whirl. It doesn’t hurt, I swear. And while the main conflict of Brave is something that happens between mother and daughter – and in a situation that could be considered more female eg: being forced into a betrothal – focusing on the gender of the people at conflict is frankly unnecessary. It’s about a teenager who wants to be control of hir own life struggling with the authoritarian parent, the two of them butting heads, and ultimately redefining their relationship in a way where they both better understand each other.
There is nothing uniquely female about that, other than the bit about enforcing gender roles, which I almost think is beside the point. Boys know just as much as girls what it’s like to struggle against what feels like the unfairness of parental edicts. And it’s revealed within the movie that while Merida is the most vocal about not liking the tradition – and the most combative against it – the young men that are supposed to be trying to win her like a prize aren’t necessarily in full agreement with the arrangement either.
Okay at this point, if you want to avoid spoilers you should probably just stop reading and go see the movie first. It’s a good movie. You should see it anyway.
Really, one of the things I liked most about this movie is that it avoided the typical Disney Princess Shit. Merida struggles to define her own destiny by not having to follow tradition and get married. In what I would think of as a typical Disney storyline, she would have ended up deciding one of the boys wasn’t so bad after all, or falling for a complete out of left field candidate, and still ended up in a saccharine happily ever after relationship. Brave doesn’t do this. At the end of the movie, the suitors sail away, and Merida hasn’t made any kind of choice. In fact, her sexuality hasn’t been defined at all – something my friend David pointed out that he really liked, and I do as well. Maybe Merida is lesbian and that’s why she didn’t want to get married. Maybe she’s heterosexual and just not ready. Maybe she’s asexual. We don’t ever find out and it doesn’t matter because it’s beside the point of the movie.
The movie isn’t about who Merida will choose. It’s about Merida fighting for the ability to decide for herself with none of the above as an available option. And I think that’s a very powerful thing, and something that should be a message people of any gender or sexuality could identify with. In this movie Merida wins the right to not be defined by a relationship and to be herself.
So no. I don’t think this is a “girl” movie. And I would also like to note that I find that implication insulting, as if somehow something being a “girl” thing makes it inherently inferior. As if “boy” movies have broad appeal and “girl” movies are only for a lesser audience. Fuck you, marketing people.
But I digress.
This movie is also manifestly not some sort of ‘parents know best’ trope. Ultimately, Elinor comes to see things from Merida’s viewpoint and even urges Merida to make a speech about bucking tradition in front of the men. What I see Merida learning is that her mother still loves her even when they disagree viciously – she learns that her mother is fallible, and human, and not simply an obstacle she needs to tear her way through.
One of the major plot points for the movie is when Merida and her mother have a really nasty argument about Merida bucking tradition. I think that’s another point that anyone should be able to identify with. Anyone who has ever been a teenager has probably had that fight with one of their parents, and remembers it with an internal cringe. You know, the fight where you both get so angry you say incredibly stupid, mean things to each other, where things both physical and emotional get broken and you aren’t certain if they’ll ever be fixed.
And it’s that argument that’s the catalyst for the rest of the movie, because it leads Merida to the witch, where she asks for a spell that will change her mother. Not, as the trailer would have you believe, a spell that will specifically change her fate – because she believes changing her mother will change her fate somehow, since her mother’s become the stand-in for all of the tradition she wants to buck.
I think the trailer for Brave did the movie a real disservice. Maybe they were afraid of revealing too much about the movie. But basically what you get from the trailer is that Merida is rebellious! Merida argues with mom! Merida wants to change her fate! Whatever that means.
What Merida actually does is change her mom into a bear. And she then has only two days to try to fix the situation, which involves mending their relationship and admitting that she’s the one responsible for this particular screw-up. (Along with a whole other plot line about the scary demon bear that ate her dad’s leg, but I feel like that’s more a vehicle for Merida’s mom to get to be incredibly awesome.) Honestly, I think people would have been a hell of a lot more eager to see Brave if Pixar had even just let it out in the American trailer that Elinor gets turned into a bear. I’m mystified why they didn’t; it’s in a lot of the international trailers, so I actually knew it was going to happen before I saw it.
Honestly, I also think putting that aspect of the movie into the trailer – Elinor is turned into a bear and Merida has to reverse the spell! Danger! – would make it a lot harder for people to dismiss Brave offhand as just some girl movie about mothers and daughters and the tricky relationships between the two.
But I’m not a marketing person, I guess, what do I know.
Actually, I think I’m done with spoilers now if you want to read this next bit.
So yes, the plot interesting, and a lot of ink (or pixels) can be spilled examining different aspects of it, I think.
But more to the point, it’s just a good movie. It’s fun, the plot has suspense, the characters are lovable. The same set of people who have been complaining about Brave being a girl movie have complained that the male characters are just caricatures, and I’m again forced to wonder if we saw the same movie. While a lot of the supporting characters are pretty two dimensional, both male and female, the main male character is Merida’s dad, Fergus, and I think he’s lovely. He’s a guy who loves his family, respects his wife, and just wants to have a good time and keep everyone safe from the evil bear.
The characters definitely get a thumbs-up from me. I’m particularly amused that one of the clan heads is named MacGuffin.
Pixar outdid itself on the visuals for the movie. The scenery is fantastic. Merida’s hair is indescribably amazing. The music was done by Patrick Doyle, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a soundtrack from him I didn’t like.
Honestly, thinking about it, there’s not really one bad thing I can think to say about the movie. I wish I could take my niece to see it, but it’d still be a little too scary for her. It’s good. It made me laugh out loud and sniffle and gave me surprisingly complicated things I could think about after. Just what I expect from Pixar.