Also yes, “The Bear and the Bow” would have been a better title

since the theme of Brave, which I saw last night, isn’t actually bravery at all.

The Good: It’s so pretty! It’s a gloriously pretty movie, and the grisaille scene where the girl and her horse wander through a fog-hung, thorn-infested woods was chillingly beautiful. The visual humor is also adorable, and visual language is used to convey character really well during the shapeshifting parts.

I also loved the actual theme, which was the mother-daughter bond and its stresses. I haven’t been able to think of another children’s cartoon movie which dealt with this theme. Actually, all three of the key family relationships are warm and relatable: the girl and her mother, the girl and her father, and the mother and father. My vision was mistier than the Highlands during many of the mother-daughter scenes.

There are a couple of very scary moments, though I’m enough of a trauma-tot that I would have drawn them out longer. They both use the shapeshifting to play on one of the most intense childhood fears.

The Bad: Brave is nowhere near as tight and propulsive as Ratatouille or Up, the other two Pixar flicks I’ve seen, and not as deeply moving as Up although I realize that’s a high bar.

There are also a lot of moments where I felt like I could see the scriptwriters yanking on the wheel, pulling the characters just a little too far in one direction and then overcorrecting just a little in the other. (For example, after the princess makes her huge, rash bad decision, she continues to be self-assured and even a bit superior, which set badly with me–and then when she does apologize, twice, I thought it was even a bit groveling!) These were always minor glitches, but just enough to take me out of the story a little.

And finally, I totally agree with the criticism in Stephen Eldridge’s comment here–that the purported “compromise” really isn’t one, at least not that we see, and the reason this problem arises is that the “forced marriage of a little girl” setup was always a bad premise for a plot. (Merida, the hero, is portrayed as very young, preadolescent or barely adolescent.) His summary, “Although Merida clearly regrets everything she did, it ends up with a lesson more along the lines of ‘don’t have witches [redacted second-act plot twist!]‘ than ‘sometimes we need to sacrifice our desires for our responsibilities,’” I think gets at the root of the problems with the movie’s resolution.

These are really criticisms of the culture, not the movie: We do not live in a culture in which parental pressure to marry too young is a pressing threat. There’s a lot of self-comforting “follow your heart” speechifying which did make me roll my eyes a bit. The Greydanus link below offers some complications there, but overall, that’s of course a very conformist line to take today.

And look, I realize this movie will be over-read in every possible direction because it’s The First Pixar Girl Hero Movie (TM). One reason you need multiple voices and examples is that the stereotypes of girl/black/gay/etc characters are often varied enough that it’s impossible for any one example to avoid all of them. Pixar avoided many of the biggest pitfalls (Steven Greydanus writes about some of those pitfalls, like the demonization of traditional femininity) and most of the others won’t seem like a big deal once we have more Pixar girl heroes.

But… Merida is both praised by the movie for going against traditional femininity, and given a chance to learn and show competence at various traditionally-masculine pursuits. The only boy in the movie who isn’t good at traditionally-masculine stuff is a mere figure of ridicule.

This is how it almost always goes. Progressive parenting means taking your daughter to softball games… not taking your son to ballet. (The Last Unicorn shows Prince Lir composing a [terrible, but that's not the point!] poem to win the unicorn’s heart. When was the last time you saw a cartoon hero guy creating art?) Hero girls are brash, but hero boys can’t be gentle. Hero girls are explicitly praised for liking boy stuff more than girl stuff; I dare you to come up with an example in the opposite direction.

The spiritual parallel here is obvious: Christian faith, with its radical surrender, gets outsourced to the womenfolk, and women are praised for being gentle and loving rather than men being challenged to be the same way.

About Eve Tushnet

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