OK, Pixar. Maybe You're Onto Something.
As part of Jessie’s various birthday-related shenanigans last week, we decided to see Brave over the weekend. Oh, who am I kidding? We would have seen it anyway because it just looked awesome but Jessie’s birthday week gave us an “excuse” to go because we didn’t have a specific birthday activity yet for that day. Yes, we celebrate birthdays for a week. We got the idea from our friend Gina and haven’t looked back. Yeah, it’s gluttonous. Whatever.
Anyway, yes, we went to see Brave and I absolutely loved it. Apparently there are reasons that you can hate and be offended by the film (even without seeing it!) as outlined here. I like this blogger generally and get what she is trying to say but I think it’s a stretch to say the least…especially when you haven’t gone to see it to see if there’s anything really offensive going on. I just find it hard to characterize Brave as thinly veiled racism. And I don’t see the movie as a vehicle to make fun of Gingers. Basically, the movie is a joy to watch and these criticisms just don’t ring true with me. I mean, if you’re going to say that about Brave, then you might as well say it about Braveheart. As I recall, there’s a big mooning scene in that too and everyone loved that. But perhaps that’s because Mel Gibson can do no wrong…or because it predates the Mel Gibson Can Do Nothing BUT Wrong Era. But yes, Braveheart is a beloved movie to many and definitely had a “We wear kilts without underwear” joke in it.
I have a general love/hate relationship with Pixar. OK, I’m really only talking about Wall-E. I hated it and it’s a good thing I don’t believe in hell because I’m sure I’d be going there for hating it. My reasons for hating it say much more about my twisted brain than the film itself (I am very attached to post-apocalyptic visions and I just couldn’t stand this particular one), but needless to say, I walked out wondering if it was just that I’ve outgrown cartoons.
But really, perish the thought. I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow cartoons. I remember being in 6th grade and having my teacher ask, “Aren’t you too old for cartoons?” and I reminded her that I was 11 and that I like would never be too old…for ANYTHING (Hear that Hotpants Emporium? Watch out!). So, yeah, I’m allowed to hate Wall-E for strange adult reasons just like I can think Felix The Cat is really stupid for smart people reasons.
But Brave was good on all sorts of levels. Pixar is always impressive visually of course and the Scottish landscape and characters that were created were no disappointment. But it was really the story and the strong female protagonists that made this movie so wonderful. And it came just in time since I’m still recovering from the Epic Beauty Showdown that was Snow White and The Unimportant Character Who We’re Supposed to Care About but Don’t.
Growing up I didn’t have a lot of strong female role models in media. The Disney princesses who had been around were not particularly inspiring to me. And even when they did seem to have independence and intelligence as part of their characters, the happy ending for each of them was determined by the man they ended up with. Prince Charming did nothing for me as he was simply a standard “Good Looking Member of Royalty Who Seems Nice Enough”. The closest thing to impressive I remember was Beauty and The Beast simply because Belle was apparently “book smart” and fearless in certain ways and she fell in love with the Beast even though the townspeople wanted to light him afire with Angry Mob Torches due to his beastliness. But still, he ultimately was a rich nobleman and so by being less judgmental she was afforded the ultimate prize: To never have to work again. And she’s so beautiful, so she totes deserves it.
No, I ignored most of them not really seeing how they applied to who I was and how I wanted to live. Instead, I was drawn to female characters such as Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor. These were women who continued to fight long after all the (non-robotic) men in the story were dead and did so not because they’re pretty impressive for girls, but because they were able bodied people with a will to survive. While their movie situations were horrifying and in many ways ridiculous, I viewed these women as strong women who could exist in my universe. As a kid, I didn’t remember being particularly affected by the scary things happening, but the respect and awe I had for those particular characters in the face of that kind of adversity has always stuck with me. I made the decision long ago that I would never be a Cinderella or a Sleeping Beauty. I would do my best to be a Ripley. (I mean…I don’t really want to BE Ripley. That fourth movie is pretty weird, and the ones that proceed it aren’t a walk in the park.)
But my parents were weird and let me watch that kind of stuff when I was 7 (thank you so much mom and dad!). Brave is a movie that parents will let their kids see and finally there is a Disney princess to look up to.
I don’t really feel like going into a plot summary here. You can find that if you like and I encourage you to see it. But there are many things about the interaction of characters that made this movie stand out to me.
Merida (the princess and main character) belongs to a family that is filled with love. Yes, they are royalty, but this doesn’t seem to be a particularly important point. The relationship between Merida and her parents is a loving one. Her father is unconcerned with the fact that his eldest heir is female and teaches her about the interests she and he have in common. Her mother is charged with her education and teaching her to “be a lady”, which causes strife between them. The plot thickens when Merida is supposed to marry the most “worthy” boy in the kingdom. A lot of other stuff happens. But ultimately, mother and daughter learn the usefulness of both their strengths. Survival skills, compassion, and eloquence are ultimately proven to all be incredibly valuable. Merida learns these lessons without having to be rewarded with “the right man”. There is no lesson for viewers that if you are good enough, you will be rescued by the best possible boy and that if you fail you will be punished by having to live out your days with a useless, ugly man, or worse…no man! The movie doesn’t even try to validate her choices and strengths by showing her become queen. Her efforts are instead rewarded with happiness in the form of life as she knew it and wanted it, and with the love of her family. She made naïve mistakes, like anyone would at her age, and then she faced these mistakes. Her courageousness, intelligence, and resilience won the day and this meant that she could go back to being a kid and enjoying life as such.
Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but I think overall the movie teaches an important point of view for young kids to see. The lessons of our parents often come in very handy as we grow in the world, but it is also very important to be true to ourselves and shape our own world as we see fit. This is each of our responsibilities as we navigate life. We must challenge and reject as needed without losing sight of the wisdom present in the things people we respect tell us. And on a superficial level, getting the best looking, nicest guy doesn’t mean that you have succeeded in life. This shouldn’t be a person’s only goal. The best relationships are between those who continue to grow and change as their knowledge of the world increases.
I hope that movies like Brave will be the trend of many films and other media for young people. It’s time to stop validating old bullshit (I’m looking at you Snow White Huntsman Crapfest, also Twilight). If we really start to see women being portrayed as people with motivations and desires and dreams of their own, maybe everyone will start to believe it.