As part of our anniversary gift to ourselves (on top of a dinner out on our actual anniversary) Perfect Husband and I took ourselves to see Pixar’s Brave tonight.
I really wanted it to be good. No, more than good. Great.
Mostly because I disagree so strongly with this article.
It’s not that I think Pixar is infallible. I don’t. Cars deeply disappointed me, being a re-make of Doc Hollywood.
Nor has it escaped me that Pixar’s ratio of male to female characters is, like, 3:1 and that in 12 films they have NEVER had a female protagonist before (You could go out on a limb and point to Mrs Incredible as a co-star, but that’s the best you could do.)
Even in A Bug’s Life, featuring ants, they made the protagonist male even though MOST ANTS ARE FEMALE.
But the problem is not with Pixar.
The accusations levelled at Pixar can be made at ALL animated studios and, in fact, almost all children’s movies. Ants also featured male ants. Bee Movie featured male bees, even though bees are also mostly female.
No, Pixar’s sins are the same sins you find everywhere. What makes Pixar better is that they sin LESS.
That article I linked to complains about the fat people in Wall-E and chubby Russell in Up. It bemoans the fact that these fat characters are always huffing and puffing, and moving slowly. Well, of course they are: THEY’RE FAT. Trust me, when you’re carrying an extra 100 pounds, you don’t move as swiftly as you once did.
Instead, PH and I lauded the fact that the characters’ fatness is not their primary personality trait. In most movies, the fat kid is always the lazy whiner who can only talk about food. But the characters in Wall-E are fat because they were born into lives of complete indolence. I think that portraying them as anything else would have been stupid.
Once given the opportunity, the fat Wall-E characters rise to the occasion, fighting for their right to be industrious and useful.
As for Russell, he is not only the protagonist rather than the fatty sidekick, but his weight is never once mentioned nor repaired during the movie. Nor is he portrayed as being obsessed with food or lazy (if out of shape). He gives his chocolate to local wildlife rather than eat it himself. He is industrious and eager to be useful. In other words, he’s a character who happens to be chubby. He isn’t just a generic “fat kid”.
As for idealized settings, well, yeah. What’s wrong with that? It makes sense to set a superhero movie in an idealized 1950s type world, because after all, isn’t that the classic comic book era?
Well, now Pixar is making their first fairy tale princess movie. And instead of saying “Hey, it’s about time Pixar made a female character,” or “hey, isn’t it great to see a messy looking Princess who has no interest in princes?” instead, the author is complaining that Fairy Tale Scotland is too idealized? IT’S A FAIRY TALE.
Brave may capitalize on Scottish cliches, but it’s mostly just making use of Scottish culture. Perfect Husband and I are from Nova Scotia (read: NEW SCOTLAND) and we recognized everything from the bag pipes to the hurling ball.
Their portrayal of fairy tale Scotland is basically a culture smoosh of Celtic and Viking imagery, and frankly I think they got it about right. If it had been set in mordern day, real-life Scotland then yeah, sure, I’d be offended by them portraying Scots as drunken, belligerent rowdies who chew on drumsticks while wearing kilts.
But it’s a fairy tale. I’m sure Scots in the middle ages DID chew on drumsticks and swill ale. So why not portray them as such? I’m a descendant of Rob Roy, and I am not offended.
Especially considering no one complained about the Vikings in How To Train Your Dragon.
The fact is, frankly, that we all expect more of Pixar. We know Pixar can deliver more than the average animation studio, and whenever it falls short of our personal mark, we have to beef about it.
I’m no different, I’m afraid.
I wanted to come out of the movie blazing, ready to decry Mr Pickypants’ complaints about Pixar’s newest movie. And I still disagree with his claims, as argued above.
But Brave does still fall short of Pixar’s own standards, even if it blasts by your average Dreamworks flick.
Maybe Pixar should have stayed out of the fairy tale genre, since the one truly excellent Dreamworks product featured not only a Scottish protagonist, but took place in a fairy tale universe. Shrek shatters enough stereotypes to satisfy anyone. It’s such a shame they had to ruin it with so many appallingly bad sequels.
Brave is not Shrek.
While Shrek seemed dedicated to undoing every fairy tale we hold dear, Brave isn’t quite so good as that.
Even though Merida is the first princess since Mulan to prefer a weapon to a broom.
Even though this may be the first princess movie without any handsome princes.
Even though this is the first princess movie that doesn’t feature romance.
Even though (and this really matters to me) the main character never once has to dress like a boy and never once claims to wish that she WERE a boy.
Even though I found the plot unpredictable enough that I was never quite sure where it was going.
Even though it made me cry, making it join the ranks of Up and Toy Story 3.
So where does it fall short?
First of all, I wish that their first female protagonist wasn’t a princess. I mean, must ALL female protagonists be princesses? The only non-princess female leads I can think of in animated moviedom are Lady, Mrs Frisby, Lilo, and that chick from Monsters vs Aliens.
The fact that their attempt to make a movie starring a girl forced Pixar into their first fairy tale movie seems a little depressing.
And then they tried to make it NOT a fairy tale, but fell short of the mark a wee bit. I may have had difficulty trying to guess the ending, but I don’t think Brave quite knew where it was going, either. Nor am I really sure where it ended up.
In the end, Brave is not a feminist manifesto or an examination of the true nature of bravery (as you might think, from the title).
It’s basically just a story about a rebellious teenager and her complicated relationship with her mother.
The ending doesn’t seem to make any real sweeping changes or truly change any status quos. The problems facing Merida are basically put off for another day and she gets back on her horse (which, by the way, is my dream horse – a Clydesdale).
The characters also didn’t quite have the three dimensional quality that I expect from Pixar. The father, brothers, and other characters are your standard cardboard cut-outs. Even Merida herself is a bit two dimensional: feisty redhead, bit of a tom boy, loves and hates her mother all at once. (as an aside, why did they name their Scottish princess “Merida”? The name sounds more Spanish than anything. Why not Imogen or Kendra or Merewin or Tamsin?)
The truly three dimensional character is the mother, who isn’t even all that likeable at times.
Pixar did a great job on the mother daughter relationship. Queen Elinor is a demanding mother who loves her daughter fiercely. This loving relationship is called back to again and again, to remind us that even when she is trying to force her daughter into arranged marriage, that she truly wants the best for her beloved daughter. It’s all very Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
Brave’s message, if any, seems more borrowed out of an Amy Tan novel than anything: daughter learns to appreciate the depth of her mother’s love, and mother learns to accept her daughter for who she is.
It’s all very touching, but slightly perplexing in a Disney Princess movie. Usually the mothers in these movies are benign non-entities. So I’ll give them that. If I had a daughter, I’d want her to have this movie. It’s a good message, if a little out of place. But it isn’t ground breaking.
My biggest disappointment, really, though, is my own fault. About halfway through I had this lightning vision of how the movie must end. It all made sense, everything added up and if it was true it would be ground breaking. Like, small minded mothers would be protesting in the streets kind of ground breaking. I was so sure that this was how it would end that I was surprised I hadn’t heard about some backlash from it all.
So imagine my deflation when the ending was nothing like what I had thought, being much more mundane and in keeping with the fairy tale genre. The ending had nothing on Shrek, let alone the ending I had envisioned.
Bummer. Way to not see into my thoughts, Pixar.
You should work on that.
I expect more of you.
tl;dr - Pixar gets points for featuring no handsome princes and no love interest, for my favourite kind of horse, for a good mother daughter relationship story, and for not creating a female protagonist who wants to be a boy. However, it loses points for becoming a tad more traditional than I would expect of a Pixar film, and for the most uncomitted plot/message to date.
But at least is isn’t Cars 2.