I love watching animated movies in theaters full of children where I feel less insecure about laughing super-loud and gasping at scary scenes . And that’s exactly what we did last weekend for Pixar’s Brave. (The little boy next to me was significantly less afraid of the evil bear than I was, actually.) Overall, I thought the movie was fantastic—a treat for the eyes, fast-paced, funny, and touching. Here are three things I especially liked, and three things I didn’t:
3 Things I liked:
1. A strong female lead...with no Prince Charming! I never thought I’d see the day. In a sense, Merida is the antithesis to the typical Disney princess in that her story is about personal transformation and maturity, not about being beautiful or finding love. This strikes me as an important and refreshing message to send to girls, who are bombarded with stories and images that reinforce the notion that a woman’s identity is defined by her appearance and her ability to snag a man. Best of all, the writers resisted the temptation to turn Merida into a flat, kick-ass-and-take-names heroine who doesn’t need anything or anyone. Merida isn’t a helpless princess in need of rescue, nor is she a wholly “independent woman,” with no need for the support of her community. In fact, Merida’s transformation occurs when she realizes her dependency upon her family (mostly her mother), and the value of her community. I was thrilled to see this realistic and affirming depiction of true strength.
2. A strong female lead...who isn’t always right. Too often, fairy tales about rebellious sons and daughters conclude with parental figures shaking their heads with the realization that their children were right all along. Not so with this story. Merida makes mistakes and learns from them. Both she and her family navigate compromises. And in the end, Merida embraces both her inner voice and her obligation to take responsibility as a leader in her community. Parents, I am sure, will find this refreshing.
3. A complex mother/daughter dynamic. Here again, Brave acts as a sort of anti-typical-Disney-movie in that we have a female character with an actual mother! (Mothers are totally absent from the stories of Belle, Ariel, Jasmine, and Pocahontas, and famously evil in the stories of Snow White and Cinderella.) In Queen Elinor we find a sympathetic, admirable, and flawed character whose love for her daughter is unyielding, though the two often fail to communicate. The sweetest parts of the movie occur in scenes between these two characters where they begin to understand one another better. Brave is a fantastic mother-daughter movie, and I was thrilled to see lots of little girls holding their mothers’ hands on the way out.
3 Things I didn’t like:
1. Weak men. My biggest concern about the movie is that, while its female characters are strong and complex, the men are largely portrayed as helpless oafs, breaking out into silly fights at every opportunity and generally complicating matters with their stupidity. While fairy tales need silly characters to keep us laughing, it might have been nice to see a bit more leadership and wherewithal from King Fergus. When things get out of hand, it is always his wife, Queen Elinor, who takes control. It would have been better to see them function more as a team. I fear this plays into the common misconception that for women to be strong, men must be weak. (Expect complementarian reviews around this theme within days.)
2. Missing that Pixar spark. The animation in this movie is stunning—(Merida’s wild red hair delivers an Oscar-worthy performance!)—and the images of the Scottish highlands will take your breath away. But, as many other reviewers have noted, the movie lacks something of the heart and whimsy we have come to expect from Pixar films. It’s hard to put your finger on why...but I think it may have something to do with the epic nature of the story. Pixar thrives in drawing a grand story out of a simple, clever, and familiar premise—jealousy between a child’s toys, the complicated life of the monster-in-the-closet, a family of superheroes, a fish taken from the sea and imprisoned in a tank, a robot charged with cleaning up the waste-covered earth, a house (and an old man’s dreams) carried by balloons. But with an epic fairy tale, Pixar is working in a different medium that just isn’t close enough to the familiar and everyday to inspire the sort of deep laughs and tearful moments we’ve come to expect, thanks to Toy Story, WALL-E, and Up. Pixar’s gift is in helping us see ourselves and our world differently. This film just didn’t quite deliver on that.
3. Scary bears. (Okay, I’m over it...but they were scary.)
Have you seen Brave? What did you think?