Disclosure: My husband works for Pixar, so of course I’m going to tell you to see Brave. Also, here’s the warning for spoilers: Spoilers Ahead!
Because of my husband’s position at Pixar, he and I were able to see the special preview given to Pixar employees. Before the showing of the film, the producers, directors, and other big-name-people who worked on the film got a chance to make their, “I loved working on this project and am excited about it being done, but sad that we have to move on…” speeches. I’m an impatient and fidgety person, so I didn’t pay the closest attention to the speeches, but these speeches did bring out one thing that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.
If you’ve seen Miss Representation, you’ll know at the end it asks the viewers to be more conscientious about the movies they see and to support movies made by women to encourage studios to support more women in the movie business. While the people high up in the ranks of Pixar are mostly male, the producer, Katharine Sarafian, and the original director and story-writer, Brenda Chapman, are women. Chapman was there with her daughter, the inspiration for the story of Brave, and received the longest applause of the night.
I had previously been able to hear Brenda Chapman speak when I saw Miss Representation at a showing in Oakland. She was a panelist who took questions about women in the the animation industry. She has worked on many projects, from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, to The Prince of Egypt (for which she was the first woman director for an animated film), to Brave, and even getting a special thanks in the credits of Shrek. Her experience with multiple studios gave her a special perspective into the animation industry. She gave one anecdote of suggesting a character be female and being met with, “Why?” and being asked to justify making a character female, when there needed no justification for assuming a character to be male. She was careful in this story to not name the project she was working on (could be Pixar, could be Dreamworks, etc), but I think it’s telling of the sort of sexism in the animation and movie industries in general.
Because of that story, I have been extra aware of characters in film and questioning, “Did that character need to be male, or could a female have worked just as well?” and vice versa. When the short film, La Luna, started, I immediately wondered how the story might have changed if one or two or all three of the characters were female. Was the maleness of the characters (a grandfather, father, and son) important for character development or plot or story telling? How would I have felt or reacted if the grandfather was really a grandmother? Or the child a daughter? La Luna is a beautiful short film. I personally don’t feel like the characters needed to be male for the story and feel a little saddened that Pixar missed a chance to give more screen time for the stories of women and girls.
But onto Brave! There is a lot of hype of Brave being Pixar’s first movie with a female protagonist and also Pixar’s first fairy tale. There has been some criticism about making Merida a princess and framing the beginning of the film in a getting-married-off conflict. Yes, it’s frustrating to see that once again, that biggest event in a woman’s life is marriage, but historically, that’s pretty accurate. Marriage has been and still is one of the most economically and socially defining decisions of a woman’s life. It actually is kind of a big deal.
My first feminist frustration happened in the first 20 minutes. In the story, it was announced that the clans will be coming together and presenting suitors for Merida. My brain immediately thought, “Oh clans! Lots of people! This will be fun!” and then I was disappointed that the boats full of people were full of solely male people. Do these prospective suitors not have mothers or sisters with an invested interested in their sons’ or brothers’ marriage possibilities? Why were the women all left at home?
And while the story is predominantly a mother/daughter love story, you can see that in the background, fairytale Scotland is lacking in women. I can count 4 women with names/titles: Merida, Elinor, Maudie (the hysterical- in all meanings of that word- comedic relief), and the Witch. The only other women seen in the background are the women who swooned over Young Macintosh in the games and a couple of nameless maids who worked with Maudie. As far as men with names/titles, you have King Fergus, the leaders of the clans, their sons, and the triplets Harris, Hubert, and Hamish. And plenty of background men. I’m pretty sure clans need to be about 1:1 in the male:female ratio in order to survive, but the movie wasn’t quite there.
There has been some criticism that Brave depicts all men as bumbling idiots and comic relief. Yes, there was some of that. But I do think that the men stepped up when needed. King Fergus, while not completely on top of the politics of his kingdom, did sincerely care about Elinor and Merida’s relationship and wanted to help them out. When he found Elinor missing, the funny antics stopped and he went into serious urgency mode. The young suitors for Merida were very much like Merida in that they were playing out the stories they had been given, but when time came to speak against those stories, they did speak out in favor of change and were not bumbling at all about that. And their fathers didn’t just write them off as foolish youths, but listened to the concerns of their children. You can’t fully develop every secondary and tertiary character, but I would argue that the men in Brave are not fully bumbling idiots.
As a story, I loved that there wasn’t a “bad guy.” The witch wasn’t out to get Merida or destroy the kingdom with the spell. In fact, she gave lots of warnings and was even thoughtful enough to leave measures telling Merida how to reverse the spell. The demon bear, Mordu, was ultimately a character in need of redemption. He’s relatable; we all make mistakes that sometimes permanently harm ourselves and our relationships. In Mordu’s story, Merida and Elinor take on the Christ-role of granting atonement.
The meat of Brave is the relationship between Merida and Elinor. It’s a straight forward reconciliation: at first they are both presented to be at odds with each other, but the things that originally cause conflict, bring them together. Merida’s transformation to an adult accepting responsibilities is lovely, but I particularly loved Elinor’s journey. We are never too old to learn understanding.
Both Elinor and Merida get the chance to practice loving unconditionally, without expectations. Many reviews are giving this movie kudos for not having Merida end up with a suitor. While it’s wonderful that Merida doesn’t need a man at the end to be whole, it even goes further: Merida might not get married at all. This is a huge change from most other princess stories out there.
Other highlights of Brave included the flirting between Elinor and Fergus. I loved the goosing and the sly looks at each other. It was fun and we don’t often get to see a happily married couple flirting in an animated movie.
One warning for parents: this movie is rated PG for a reason. A lot of the story happens at night, the scenery is dark, there is a bear that attacks people, and the music is often ominous. In a theater, that can be very overwhelming for a small child. There is comic relief, but not enough to make it feel like Monster’s Inc or Finding Nemo. While I’d love for you to see it in the theaters, waiting for a DVD and playing it on a smaller screen without loud surround sound, might be better for the little ones.
Have you seen Brave? What were your thoughts?