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Friday, June 29, 2012

Brave (spoilers)

So, apparently a lot of people didn't like Brave. I will be honest: I don't understand where most of them are coming from, but then I have never been one to fellate Pixar the way a lot of people do (what's the point, when Studio Ghibli exists for all your absolutely fantastic animated film needs?), and it seems that a lot of the criticism is based in "this is a good Pixar film instead of a great one and we are used to Pixar making great movies."

...ok. Well then, from the perspective of someone with no bar for what Pixar films should be: I really liked Brave. As far as this summer's fairy tale movies go, Brave is one thousand times greater than Snow White and the Huntsman. The animation is beautiful--everything you have heard about Merida's hair is true--and I thought the story was very solid. But I like fairy tales! And princess movies, despite all of Disney's flaws! If you aren't into either/both of those things, YMMV with Brave. Here are a few things I specifically enjoyed:

1. Merida and Elinor. It is...hmm, pretty rare in TV and movies to see a thoughtful presentation of mother-daughter relationships with neither side unfairly demonized, and even more rare to find this in what is in many ways a quintessential fairy tale kid's movie (Disney loves its evil/absent mother figures). Elinor and Merida have a pretty realistic relationship which I imagine lots of viewers of the film can relate to--they squabble about how Merida should act, how she would wear her hair and her clothes, and what she should be when she grows up. Shockingly true to life! I was surprised and pleased to find the movie revolving largely around the mother-daughter relationship as it changed through Merida and Elinor's actions--because that is what this movie is about: the part of growing up that means you have to deal with your mom as a person, and she has to deal with you as a person. It's about realizing that your mother isn't infallible, and that your daughter isn't an extension of yourself. I found it very satisfying to see Merida and Elinor come to an understanding and compromise. And yes, I was very scared that Elinor would stay a bear! Oh man I was so nervous. TEARS EVERYWHERE.

2. Fergus and his family. Fergus, Merida's father, managed to straddle the line between goofy Scotsman archetype that we're familiar with and all-around good dad and husband. It is clear that he and Elinor are in love, and that he's a great father to both Merida and his three small sons. He's an effective ruler, he has a good sense of humor, he's brave, and he's loving. I want Fergus to be my dad!

3. The animation. Now, one of the reasons that I'm not a ginormo Pixar fan is that I vastly prefer traditional cel animation. That said, the animation in Brave is fantastic, really beautiful. Merida's hair, as mentioned, is very notable, as are the gorgeous forest and water backdrops. I found Angus, Merida's horse, particularly impressive, and the will o'the wisps that lead Merida on her quest were charmingly eerie. 

4. Holy shit, no prince?? No prince! Well, actually there's three sons of Scottish clan lords, but none of them marry Merida and none of them are important characters. This film is not about princes: it's about Merida and her personal journey. Refreshing.

Merida defending her mother, via  Pixarblog
And the princes bring me to my final point, which is both a good and a not-so-good thing: gender! Yay gender, everyone loves talking about gender, especially in Disney films. See, Merida is really good at some traditionally "manly" pursuits, including archery and serious rock-climbing, she doesn't like sitting still or wearing pretty clothes, and she eschews getting married, so some short-sighted people think she must be gay. That isn't what I'm concerned with, although if there happened to be a Brave sequel where Merida was indeed involved with a lady, well, that would be nothing short of a miracle. Still, beside the point. The major conflict in the film stems from Merida's ideas about what she wants to do with her life versus her mother's. This is not unfamiliar territory, but the way in which it is resolved I found interesting. Ultimately Merida and Elinor reach a compromise and work together to solve their problem of how to settle the clans without Merida having to marry any of the clan lords' sons. This scene is really sweet, I thought, involving Elinor (in her bear form) coaching Merida through what is really her first diplomatic speech to four reasonably het-up leader men. This is good practice for Merida's eventual queenship, and also signifies that she and her mother are reaching a place in the middle where they can work together with their separate strengths and ideas to present a unified solution. 

But there's one more problem: Elinor is still a bear, oh noes! The climactic scene combines the things that are great about both women to protect their families from the monstrous bear Mor'du and to turn Elinor back into a human. Part of this involves Merida repairing a tapestry of she and her parents which her mother had sewn and Merida had torn in anger, part of it involves bear!Elinor fighting Mor'du, and part of it involves Merida using her bow against Mor'du and defending her bear-mum from angry and terrified Fergus. A lot of people, it seems, did not like the tapestry-repair angle, as they saw it in terms of Merida capitulating to traditional femininity, but I saw it as more of that compromise between the past and the future, a blending of where Merida comes from (her mother) and where she's going (who knows? That's part of of the fun of growing up!). Elinor is never painted as a bad mother, only as one who has strong ideas about what she wants for her child, and Merida is never painted as a bad daughter, only one with her own, pretty teenage-typical, ideas about what she wants for herself. 

These are good things, by my lights. It's a good message in a good movie. Brava, Brave. Honestly, this movie hit me where I live, I think because anything that goes beyond the surface of moms and daughters gives me All The Feels. No, issues with forced marriage are not out of date in 2012--not even in the US and certainly not in many, many other countries. No, not everyone has a rosy relationship with their mother. Not everyone reconciles and not everyone even wants to reconcile, but seeing Merida and Elinor make it up and move forward together is really touching. Am I wrong in thinking that some of the dismissal of this movie stems from dismissal of women's stories and relationships?


postmormon girl said...

I saw Brave yesterday and loved it, for many of the reasons you mentioned. Very refreshing to see a story about a spunky girl who exasperates and confuses her loving parents. We definitely need more of these types of stories. And I like fairy tales, there is a lot of fun associated with these larger-than-life tales.

Diana said...

I like fairy tales too! I really enjoy fairy tale reworkings, both on film and in books, so I guess I was predisposed to like Brave. But given how little the trailers tell you about the actual plot, I was very pleasantly surprised all around.

postmormon girl said...

The bear twist was pure genius; I did not see that coming and it really made the movie funny.

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