When I started seeing previews for Pixar’s newest film, Brave, I was super excited. A strong female lead! Breaking down gender stereotypes! Ladies are heroic, too!
I didn’t see much beyond the previews before I took my son to see the film, so I admit that I didn’t actually know the plot basics. However, I expected something that touched on larger themes of mortality, loss, purpose or responsibility, and I got none of that.
Maybe it’s a lot to expect from a children’s movie, but I have come to expect big themes that reach across generations from Pixar Studios.
As warning, this review has spoilers, so now’s your chance to get out.
The IMDB blurb for Brave reads:
Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.
That is certainly one possible interpretation of the plot.
Quick plot summary: Merida, a princess, is expected to marry one of three princes, based on their performance in a ‘feats of strength’ type competition. Merida, being a teenage girl who struggles with her role as princess, and prefers riding horseback and shooting arrows to castle life, is unhappy with this twist her life his taking. As any teenager is wont to do, she blames her mom for all life’s troubles, and seeks a way to make her mother different, and thereby escape her fated marriage.
She finds a witch, and she makes a wish to ‘change her mother to change her fate.’ (Merida has obviously not read enough fairytales because anyone could tell you that this is a disastrously non-specific wish). So what does this wish accomplish? It turns her mother into a bear! Changing both her mother, and by extension, her fate. As it turns out, Merida doesn’t actually want her mother to be a bear, so she has to fight against time to reverse the spell before it becomes permanent. While this is a classic mother/daughter tale of conflict and resolution, I did not find it to be a tale of strong women standing up for themselves. At the end of the day, I felt like it was just a story of a girl who rebels against the expectations of her mother, realizes her mother is trying to do what is best, is remorseful, and apologizes, accepting full blame for all circumstances, as though she had no reason to be upset at the expectation that she should marry a stranger at what, 15 or 16, in the first place.
Oh and p.s. her mom’s a bear; hilarious.
The animation in Brave is simply incredible. The backgrounds, the landscape, the animals: it is all breathtaking in its beauty and technical complexity. Her hair moves in a way that wouldn’t have been possible just a short while ago, they’ve finally managed the feat of realistically animating water, and even the horse looks real. The movie itself is fun. It’s a simple story of a feisty girl butting heads with her mother, who it turns out is just an older version of herself. The acting is above reproach, and there is plenty of humor. That said, it lacks the wittiness of Finding Nemo, the depth of Toy Story 3, Up!, or Wall-E, and at the end of it all, I walked out feeling like Merida’s mother was a more sympathetic character than Merida herself.
In the end, Merida decides that she will marry a prince, for the good of the kingdom, her mother allows her to choose which one based on personality preference rather than athletic games, and the main character seems essentially unchanged for her experiences.
As a kid’s movie, this is absolutely watchable (though scary at times for younger kids, particularly the bears).
As a film about powerful women, I found it lacking.
Just another movie about headstrong teenagers coming to realize that their parents really do have their best interests at heart. A theme that’s been done a thousand different ways since the beginning of film. Maybe my expectations were set to high. Or maybe I’ve come to expect too much out of Pixar Studios?
What do you think?
Jenny Grace has been back in school for a year, raising her son for five, and growing up for twenty nine. She’s not quite done yet. Raised amongst goats and chickens on a ranch in the California countryside, she was sent off to high school at a Hindu yoga center, and spent her youth working at her family’s nightclub and bar. No really, Jenny grew up completely normal. Well, normal for a kid raised by hippies that is. Shrugging off her patchouli steeped roots, Jenny went on to get a Bachelor’s of Arts in Linguistics and a Master’s in Library and Information Science. Now she’s working on her Master’s in Accountancy. Don’t let degrees fool you though; she wastes most of her time with wine and crosswords. Jenny is a cunning linguist, honest beyond reason, and incapable of keeping her mouth shut. You can read more from Jenny Grace on her blog, Miss Disgrace.