Monday, July 02, 2012

Braving it

So I saw “Brave” last week because Pixar movie + female heroine + red hair = automatic ticket purchase. And in a summer of somewhat disappointing movies with female leads (Oh, how I wanted more from you “Snow White & the Huntsman” and “Prometheus”) I had high hopes pinned to this one. It being Pixar and it being Pixar’s first movie with a female lead and all. So what did I think? I liked it. I liked Merida. I liked her journey. But, and so damn sadly there’s a but, I didn’t Pixar like it.

You see, it was a perfectly serviceable movie filled with adventure and bravery and heroism. But Pixar movies aren’t just any movies. They’re the movies I carry around with me everywhere on my phone. I have both “WALL-E’ and “Finding Nemo” at my fingertips at all times. If I’m feeling a little down, “Finding Nemo” is my cinematic chicken soup. And “Brave,” well, “Brave” isn’t going on the phone.

That’s not to say I hated it. I really enjoyed it as a fun little romp. But for Pixar, something was missing. The best Pixar movies at their heart show up a fantastical world filled with universal truths. We all struggle to gain our independence, even “lucky” finned little clown fish. We all fall in love, even robots designed to withstand ecological catastrophe. We all regret that one thing, even grumpy widowers who just want to be left in their houses alone. And while Brave had the hallmarks of that universal theme, it’s just harder to feel the same resonance. It’s certainly not because Merida is a girl, so don’t go getting any ideas movie executives.

Perhaps it’s that teenage rebellion, even when Pixarified, isn’t nearly as sympathetic as little kid or little robot or little senior citizen shenanigans. But I think the real problem was in the story itself. The more conventional story of “Brave” – a headstrong daughter disobeys her mother and then they both pay the price – didn’t lend itself to the delicate, thoughtful characterizations we’ve come to expect from Pixar. “Up” took less than five minutes to make me cry and care, ridiculously deeply, about Ellie and Carl.

In a way, “Brave” is like the best Disney Princess movie yet. It reminds me a bit of “Tangled” and “Mulan.” I greatly appreciated the movie’s message of independence, bucking of convention and embrace of non-traditional gender roles. This is not the Princess meets her Prince Disney fairytale, and for that I an endlessly grateful.

And while we’re talking princeless princesses, let’s address the whole “Is Merida a lesbian” thing. Because I feel two ways about this. 1) Awesome, rock on little red-headed baby dyke! And 2) Come on, every tomboy isn’t gay. Still, if she is or if she isn’t, she’s still a major milestone in the world of kiddie movies (that grown-ups like me secretly enjoy). That Merida exists at all to be a different kind of heroine, one she shapes her own fate, is what makes the movie special after all.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

The first thing I wanted to do after seeing this movie was call my mom and tell her that I love her and that I was sorry for being a little shit when I was a teenager. The first thing my mom did after watching this movie was call me and say she wished she were more supportive.
I think Brave was a little mispackaged. I mean, it's only a little about girl+adventure+finding own destiny, and it's way more about the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship. If this film had come out over mother's day, it would have blown up the box office.
Additionally, this is the first "kids movie" I can think of that features both a young female protagonist and a strong older female (usually in a position of trust), and the latter has no malicious intent towards the former (wicked stepmoms, witches, wicked stepmoms who happen to be witches, etc).

Anonymous said...

All that was to say that it was a really good film, and that people should definitely still go see it (preferably with their moms).

Anonymous said...

I think that in a Pixar film there is almost always a moment that deeply touches you and that moment didn't happen for me in this film. That said, I still liked it and I still expected the old bear to turn into a handsome prince and appreciated that I was wrong.

Anonymous said...

As always, Ms. Snarker, your commentary is succinct, eloquent, and right on the money. It was a good film, and I'm glad it exists and I'm glad I saw it and I really wish it had existed when I was growing up as a tomboy who didn't fit the predetermined mold. But it's missing that inexplicable Pixar magic that just slays me in the best possible way. Hopefully Pixar's next film with a female protagonist will recapture what this film lacked.

Michelle said...

I felt the same way--didn't blow me away, but listen closely and you can hear a whisper, "You should be able to marry whomever you want,"and in our day, that has a different meaning than in ancient Scotland. :) And the archery scene was badass.

Carmen SanDiego said...

Yay! I have been waiting for your review post since the movie came out!
Like another commenter before me , first thing I wanted to do when I came out of this movie was to call my mom.
I liked Brave a lot but I really wanted to love it. i dont and I dont know why...
I will still buy the Merida action figure, Though

sarcofugus said...

I totally agree. It was a sweet movie and all, amazing visuals - the Scottish landscape is jawdroppingly awesome. And the hair! God, the hair! But yeah, it was sort of missing something. It was good but not outstandingly epic. But there's always a next time, right?

A fun watch. I went and saw it with my almost-six-year-old sister and she really, really enjoyed it. Now all she can talk about is Merida and how she wants a bow and arrow for Christmas :P

starophie said...

I saw this with my mom, and because of that, I think I had my break-down-and-cry-because-of-Pixar-reasons moment during the movie. I will agree that there was just something missing. I don't know what it is, but I felt it too. And yet, my mom and I looked over at each other, tears flowing freely, and she nodded and kissed my head and said, "I think I get it now," and I hugged her and said, "I'm sorry too."

Anonymous said...

What was missing was the epic journey to places far far from home that yield the wild self-discoveries only such journies can. In Brave, they just made one quick trip to a derelict castle. It's not like we even explored the downfall of that kingdom in any meaningful way. However, this is the first movie of this nature that so fully explores the complexities of the mother/daughter relationship. It was unexpectedly touching in that regard, and I loved it for that reason.

Anonymous said...

The movie was misrepresented. What's brave about turning your mom into a bear. All the teasers made me think that Merida was going to be some brave heroine and kick some butt win some real independence. I was totally disappointed. If I would have know the premise before I saw the movie I wouldn't have wasted a full price ticket on it. I would have eventually saw it and said it was ok and would have not been disappointed, Brave is NO Mulan.

Anonymous said...

That Entertainment Weekly article was ridiculous. By the author's logic, not fitting precisely into traditional female gender roles = being gay. That's irritating, because the way he writes it it sounds like Merida's non-conformity to traditional images of femininity is a problem, something to be diagnosed, and her being gay is the author's proposed solution. As if a girl can't just be into archery because she's into archery.
It bothers me when people suggest that a girl having her own distinct identity must mean she's a lesbian.
Your article, however, was lovely as always. :]

Florence said...

Argh your review worries me becauise I've read other -not negative- but let's say disappointing ones and I don't want the executives at Pixar (or the viewers) to assume that it's because it's centered around a girl. Still I'm totally buying my ticket when it comes out in my country (on August 1st!! why?). Hope I'll love it.