Brave New World? Not Quite. Brave Is Still All About BoysMike Adamick
Or maybe Bullseye.
The main character in the movie Brave, after all, was pretty good with a bow and arrow.
I’m not so sure.
My 6-year-old daughter and I went to see the movie on opening day, and as a champion horse rider and bow and arrow shooter, she was pretty jazzed to see a cartoon heroine galloping and shooting at the same time.
“I can do that,” she whispered, wide-eyed and drooling popcorn butter, “Well … maybe in a canter, not a gallop.”
As for me, as a dad and a champion lover of Pixar movies, cartoons and kick-ass girl characters in pop culture, the movie registered a resounding … meh.
There are two incredibly high bars Brave had to clear to get my approval.
For starters, Pixar has created its own impossible standard, thanks to amazing movies like Toy Story 3, Up, The Incredibles and Wall-E. No part of Brave’s hour plus showing time came anywhere close to the first five minutes of Up, in terms of story telling or emotional weight. There was a touching scene that came close, when the main character, Merida, and her mother, the queen, really started to bond for the first time. But this could have really shown up as any montage-moment of any run-of-the-mill modern-day cartoon movie. Pixar movies often create their own mood — the corporate drudgery of insurance under-writing in The Incredibles or the this-is-the-end scenes in Toy Story 3. Brave’s touching moments didn’t seem … Pixar enough.
But my main bone to pick is a lot more personal.
As a dad trying to raise a strong, confident young girl, I was excited to see a female protagonist. This is, what? Pixar’s 11th movie and the first time a girl took the lead? That’s sad. But what’s even sadder is that when a girl does take the lead, she spends the first two acts either talking about marriage or trying to cast off the conventions of it. When boys take the lead, they save the world, go on adventures, have car races, battle villains, you name it. When a girl finally takes the lead, does she have to spend the bulk of the movie either talking about marriage and boys or rebelling because of marriage and boys?
And then there’s this idea that the main girl is brave. At moments like these, I always go back to Lear’s Cordelia: the one daughter who thought she had proved her love through actions and didn’t need to profess it. In Brave, it’s almost the reverse. The movie calls Merida brave but is it shown?
Well … kind of?
Without spoiling things for those who haven’t seen it yet, let’s just agree that a main character in a kid’s movie probably isn’t going to die, right? It’s been a long time since Old Yeller. But when Merida gets into a pickle in the pivotal fight scene … does she save herself and, truly, take on the emblem of Brave? If this was a movie led by a boy main character, it wouldn’t even be a question. There is just no way a boy main character would be seen on the ground, while someone else saves him. He’d get up and land the final punch, right? I don’t want to get into the details for those who haven’t seen it. And I give a tiny pass because Merida, to be fair, is shown to do a lot of sword fighting and sweet arrow shooting. But when push comes to shove and everything is on the line …. well. Meh. I wouldn’t call it Brave. But hey, Cower was probably already taken….
Maybe you won’t think this is a big deal or even noticed. But why couldn’t the main character beat the main villain? I wager that doesn’t happen often. And when it does … it’s because a girl is the main character. (I give some points for who does defeat the villain, but notice the shape this character takes.)
If yuppified dads of girls get all pissy because the underlying theme and action-propellent is all boys and marriage and a girl’s place, I would wager that dads of boys might get a little huffy because just about every scene featuring a boy also features some level of fighting. Girls should go into adulthood thinking of marriage. Boys should go into adulthood as … boys. Awesome. This was doubly annoying for me, because whose job was it to quell the crazy of boyhood and manhood, playing near referee in the castle? That’s right. The queen’s. In the first two acts, it seemed that if the two main female characters weren’t arguing over marriage, they were at least rolling their eyes at boys and men or doing their “duty” and reining them in.
Seriously, is this the best Pixar could have done? There are a million fairy tale riffs this movie could have taken to show bravery without focusing on the giant penis in the elephant room, or however the saying goes.
In the end, after the movie, my daughter came home and dug her bow and arrow out from under her bed. She drew up a target and went straight to the backyard. She paused at one point.
“I wish we could fit a horse in here,” she sighed, looking around the small patch of grass. And then she drew the string taught and fired.
Maybe, I thought, Cordelia had it wrong. Maybe all you have to do is say something is something and then who cares what your actions prove. In this, Brave gets a win.
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