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a Disney princess besides Mulan whose mother is alive, let alone named
July 13, 2012 8:18 PM   Subscribe

Just Another Princess Movie. Lili Loofbourow on Brave.

I suppose most girls remember when they became aware of themselves as specifically female viewers. Growing up in the eighties, I watched movies about boys and girls with equal relish, empathizing with the protagonists and getting totally absorbed in story without my parts getting consciously in the way. When I realized the boys in my classes didn’t do the same thing — they refused to see themselves in female protagonists and found the prospect humiliating to contemplate — I felt I had overstepped my bounds. Feeling simultaneously embarrassed at being so profligate with my sympathy and spiteful towards those who weren’t, I started watching movies the way I was supposed to: as a girl, specifically.

Boy, was it bleak.
posted by gerryblog (106 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Working Girl, He’s Just Not That Into You, Grease.

I read that as a single movie title.
posted by The World Famous at 8:21 PM on July 13, 2012 [20 favorites]


I enjoyed the article, but couldn't help that maybe the author was giving the movie a bit too much credit. I really enjoyed Brave, but I still felt like it was Disney-fied. Not because Merida was a princess; more because the story felt like it was falling back on too many character tropes. I agree that what Brave is attempting to do with its female lead is far beyond what we see in a lot of movies these days, but I guess I've come to have really high expectations for Pixar-fare. I guess change can't happen overnight.

This blog post sums up my faint disappointment with Brave:
To boil it down even more: not a single other Pixar movie is about how its hero is male (or male-identified). None of them even spend any time thinking about it. This one is very much about how Merida is a girl. And while that is not at all surprising, it kind of sucks.
YA Author and blogger (and internet acquaintance of mine) Steph Sinkhorn also has a really great post about the gender tropes in Brave here.
posted by Phire at 8:39 PM on July 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


A very good, if overly long review of Brave. I suspect the film will be viewed as revolutionary over the next few years, in terms of female character depictions.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:44 PM on July 13, 2012


I was fooled - I thought the film would be about her being all tomboyish and then maybe finding a compatible guy.

But the movie was much smarter than I am, and something really big and unexpected happened: she had to do some serious growing up. That was a much more interesting story.

Also, the bear animation/characterisation rocked.
posted by jb at 8:51 PM on July 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


Phire, I don't understand that review you linked to. It laments that nothing has changed, but ignores the fact that arranged marriages are no longer. All of the kids, male or female can choose their mate, when they want. That's a huge change.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:54 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


The article reads like the writer actually saw the same movie as me, which a lot of the critical ones don't: they're either lamenting it not being some other, wonderful, utterly theoretical movie that I hope someone makes someday but which doesn't have to the only movie, or they're bitterly cursing some cartoonish assumption of what the movie was.
posted by Artw at 8:59 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


To boil it down even more: not a single other Pixar movie is about how its hero is male (or male-identified). None of them even spend any time thinking about it.

I think that Finding Nemo spends quite a bit of time dwelling on the whole Single Dad thing... although it's been a while since I watched that, and I haven't seen Brave yet, so I have no real accurate point of reference to back that up.
posted by hippybear at 9:09 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I loved the character of Merida, dug many of the scenes, loved the animation and thought some of the conceits were inspired (SPOILER: evil witch with a plan? Nope, just a who has never met a problem she couldn't solve with "make a bear").

On the other hand, I felt the story was really flimsy. Oh, the plot ("girl and mother learn to respect each other" or "girl realizes she needs to mature and takes steps to do it") was great, but the way it was executed as a story was weak.

So, I enjoyed it, I would cautiously recommended it, but I don't think its ever going to inspired girlfriend-of-Astro Zombie level of enthusiasm on a wide scale.

To put it another way, if most Pixar films could be compared to "Hamlet," this one would be more like "As You Like It." You've heard of it, you probably kind of know its a comedy, its pretty good, but its not ever going to be the first of Shakespeare's plays to come to mind.
posted by Joey Michaels at 9:14 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


It was a dumb, pleasant movie that didn't manage to be a dumb, pleasant, misogynistic movie.
posted by Peach at 9:22 PM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Brandon, I think the blogger meant that "in the end, being a girl is still about love and marriage". I do like that Merida running away from her princess duties had actual diplomatic consequences, rather than just being hand-waved away, and it was interesting that none of the princes seemed to mind arranged marriage the way Merida did, but...did Pixar's breakout into movies with girls as protagonists really need to be about duties of marriage?

It reminds me of a discussion I had with a friend about minority characters on TV. I don't want yet another Asian character talking about the struggles of reconciling an Asian home life with a Western social life (not that there are too many of those), I just want an Asian character who's a normal person. I just want a female protagonist who's a person, insofar as Buzz, Woody, Marlin, Sully, etc. are persons.

I also read that ending slightly less optimistically than you did, and thought it was merely a delay of the matchmaking. That is, the children of the rulers would still have to get with each other, just on their own schedules. I may be guilty of what Artw is describing, though, and wanting a movie other than the one that was made, which I will readily concede as being a flaw of mine.

I agree with Joey Michales that the witch was fantastic.
posted by Phire at 9:23 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really enjoyed Brave, but I still felt like it was Disney-fied. Not because Merida was a princess; more because the story felt like it was falling back on too many character tropes.

I hear similar things about Game of Thrones.

To subvert some tropes, you have to embrace others, so as to provide context.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:25 PM on July 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


I had a reaction similar to Phire's. Princess movie? No problem. But it felt very Disney. The witch should have been more threatening. Too many scenes that felt like filler: lets have the Scotsmen run around some more. The three little brothers didn't have any character, they were just a device. Even the mom as bear scene went on too long, and quite a few things were predictable, which hasn't been the case in most Pixar films.

I think the mother/daughter angle was great, it's just that only that story line was filled out, and nothing else that happened really mattered, it was just noise.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:30 PM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think the blogger meant that "in the end, being a girl is still about love and marriage".

Interesting, I saw it as Merida getting to decide what she would do, but now with her mother's backing. Maybe she'll marry, maybe she won't. She also taught her mother to be so restricted by the role society expected of her.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:37 PM on July 13, 2012


I really appreciated that neither the witch nor the mother were the villain, actually.

But, yeah, there was a lot of filler. I kind of wish they would have spent that time fleshing out the arraigned marriage situation. They talked about the history a little, sure, but it still felt vague and undefined. Apparently there were two directors, which makes sense as it felt like two very different movies were happening simultaneously.
posted by troika at 9:40 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Phire: I could not disagree with the statement you quoted more.

While there was some gendering of the nature of Merida's conflict, her issue was more one of resistance to the specific expectations placed upon her as the heir not as "a princess," despite the language of the script. Her mother's frustrations with Merida's dismissal of how a princess should act were founded not on Merida's lack of femininity, but rather her failure to take seriously her role as scion. This is a point on which reasonable people can disagree, but I think I'm in the ballpark here.

The story's conflict centers around Merida being able to show her mother that she does take those duties seriously, and learning to compromise instead of flouncing off. The film even does the audience the favor of ultimate framing the issue as one of generational (rather than gender) emancipation, as the princes of the other tribes would also like the ability to choose their own partners, it turns out.

I think people are being way too hard on Brave, which represents Pixar's talent at its best. I further suspect that the film will age very well, and in 10 years or so, will creep into the Top 5 Pixar Films lists of most critics worth listening to.
posted by Sokka shot first at 9:51 PM on July 13, 2012 [16 favorites]


Sometimes we edit the films post post-production and pretend the end never happened at all.

I have to agree that Brave does not require fix-it fic. It pleased my inner seven-year-old a lot.

There were definitely some issues with Disneyification, with pacing, and with two directors making the tone uneven, but I think one of my big disappointments was that the will o'the wisps left me expecting more Miyazaki-style supernatural shenanigans. I liked the witch (and she definitely had the Miyazaki face) but that was only a small part of the story and I wanted more of it.
posted by immlass at 9:58 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I personally felt the movie showed its provenance -- a script from a movie that wasn't working doctored and edited until it could work, with a contrived ending that felt it came off a shelf. Ratatouille suffered from some similar script problems, one reason (I think) it's quickly turning into a forgotten Pixar movie, even though it was highly regarded at the time of release.

The men in the story weren't well defined, but I haven't decided if that was such a bad thing. The core of the story is the relationship between Merida and Elinor.

I think, too, that adults forget that these movies aren't for them, really. They're for people like my 8 year old daughter, who interrogated me over why I'd think it wasn't a five-star movie for the script problems I mentioned. It was all funny/scary/enthralling for her, and she seemed to get the message that was being conveyed. (I saw a reviewer going off about how Brave seemed elementary in a time of Game Of Thrones. And I thought, Really? How the hell does all that bleak warring/whoring/beheading fit into a kids movie? Do you watch Toy Story and think, it's nice, but why can't it be more Reservoir Dogs?)

I think we all had too much riding on Brave. Reminded me a bit of when Hurt Locker won Best Picture -- why did it have to be a war movie/Kathryn Bigelow/a movie with no major female protagonists/so full of Hollywood cliches/only once in the history of the Oscars?

Brave couldn't be everything to everyone. And even if it had been, even if it had put even Miyazaki to shame in story-telling and vision, even if it had crushed Avatar's box office record, it still would have been about how this was exactly ONE Pixar movie with a female lead.

20 years ago, Disney finally put a princess in a movie who a) wasn't a princess and b) wasn't a helpless wench in need of a man to save her. And yet, it's been 20 years of criticism of Beauty And The Beast for, in the end, having Belle to marry the Beast.

Now, we have a Disney princess who ends the movie unmarried. And people are even less happy.
posted by dw at 10:43 PM on July 13, 2012 [26 favorites]


Minor spoilers:

Those baby brother bear stuffed animals are going to sell like hot cakes.

Plus, I teared up during I, that makes it good in my book.
posted by formless at 10:45 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you watch Toy Story and think, it's nice, but why can't it be more Reservoir Dogs?

Not until now. Now - I really, really need to see Reservoir Toy Story.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:46 PM on July 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


First off, I'm a guy and I haven't gotten to see Brave (yet). From this review, it sounds very promising - which is saying a lot, given the direction I'm taking my comment.

I watched movies about boys and girls with equal relish, empathizing with the protagonists and getting totally absorbed in story without my parts getting consciously in the way. When I realized the boys in my classes didn’t do the same thing — they refused to see themselves in female protagonists and found the prospect humiliating to contemplate

I read the whole article, but this first section stuck in my mind. Until now, I have never been able to put to words why I never like chick flicks. Please do not make me watch Nicholas Sparks films, or Letters to Juliet, there is nothing redeeming about the guy characters in it. All guy dialect in those movies could be replaced with changing inflections of the words "I'm a tool. I'm a tool. I'm a tool." until you get to the last few minutes of the film when Everyone Says I Love You. Seriously, ladies, He's Just Not That Into You is not a good movie, and Crazy Stupid Love barely survives my rancor (not that I have any right to tell you what to like, nor think that my opinion is worth fighting for). Bridesmaids at least shows women at their worst, which sadly is generally how guys wind up seeing women while they are tragically trying to conceal or create the perfect hostess or attendee persona ladies tend to snap into whenever. The problem is, there's this angst fantasy / trapped in your own problems that permeates all of these. Juno is pretty good, we see a girl with a bit of a plan, and we see the guy, her love interest painted in an unflattering light - albeit he's still got that 'but I'm not so bad' guy quality - mostly because we can sit there and vilify Jason Bateman by the end of the film (it gives guys a flawed but likeable enough guy). Plus the guy from the farmer's advertisement is in the movie, and if a guy ever has a daughter and we aren't rolling in the dough, we want to be that guy when we hit our 50s.

But back to the angst fantasy / trapped in your own problems trope that dominates women's movies. Guys in guy movies don't do this, and generally speaking even in our dumb guy dramas we still generally insert enough fart and dick jokes into the movie to make Kevin Smith quite successful. Even Zach Braff's character in Garden State, who is trapped in his own problems and is in some sort of odd angst fantasy starts the movie with pretty well establishes that the cycle is breaking within the first 15 minutes of the movie. In 500 days of Summer, we finish by making Zooey Deschanel the villain and Joseph Gordon-Levitt the victim. Holy shit - guys made Zoeey Deschanel the villain - she's the New Girl, plays the banjo, and talks on her iPhone! Guys can co-opt anything female, strip out any personal responsibility of the movie, hold a radio over our heads in say anything ant turn the movie into little more than a sentimental Alien or Predator (not AvP - guys will occasionally try to pretend that movie never existed). Even Woody Allen's movies, which are designed to make people feel uncomfortable and paint guys into the lovable shmuck role - still paint us into the lovable role. And nobody watches Deliverance twice.

Hmm... I need to get this to some salient point...getting some sleep is becoming important. Guy movies, even ones that are barely guy movies are fantasies about shirking responsibility, or maybe manning up, but eh - manning up after shirking responsibility (See Knocked-Up and The Hangover). Chick flicks are all seemingly about finding a way to conform without conforming, being confident enough to do whatever society deems appropriate, fitting in, and otherwise getting the man. I don't know what to say - there's no escapism or shared experience I want out of Mean Girls, or Bridget Jones' Diary. I'm not eagerly awaiting 50 Shades of Grey's film adaptation.

With that said, for the first time I am intrigued by the princess trope - because of this article. I do think I can relate to the character - even as a guy - and there definitely doesn't sound like an analogue that I would gravitate towards (like Flynn Rider in Tangled) instead of the heroine. I welcome more movies like this.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:54 PM on July 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


On the subject of arranged marriages, I saw Lion King tonight, and Simba and Nala?

Betrothed since birth.

…I think we've made progress.
posted by fragmede at 10:54 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really, really need to see Reservoir Toy Story.

"Why am I Mr. Pink?"

"Because you're a pig, alright?"


I've only seen Brave once, so I'm sure I've missed a whole bunch of subtle details, but I was delighted at some of the Disneyfication being turned on its head. Merida has a classic Disney-style companion animal, possibly the girlyest ever choice ever, a pony.

Only it's a Clydesdale, and it doesn't talk at all. It doesn't even mug for the camera. Pixar is going to be a good influence on Disney, and hopefully the rest of the movie industry.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 11:17 PM on July 13, 2012 [13 favorites]


Not until now. Now - I really, really need to see Reservoir Toy Story.

Close enough
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:23 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Best part of that was that it ends with Dirtbag, from MeFi's own Brad Sucks!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:36 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


But it felt very Disney. The witch should have been more threatening.

I actually thought the woodcarver / witch was a brilliant example of Pixar flying in the face of Disney. Who is the witch in Snow White? The Little Mermaid? Sleeping Beauty? An evil, evil person. There's no doubt in any one's mind that The Queen, Ursula, or Maleficent are pure evil with clear motives to harm the protagonist.

In Brave, that's not true at all. The witch goes to great lengths to say she's a woodcarver because of "too many disappointed customers." She gives every signal in the world that she's all about bears. Her spell does exactly what it promised it would, it changed Merida's mother. There was nothing malevolent about her or how she fulfilled Merida's wish, which is EXTREMELY un-Disney I believe. In fact, there's no bad guy at all in Brave (well, maybe the first bear), which is also refreshingly un-Disney.
posted by shen1138 at 12:26 AM on July 14, 2012 [16 favorites]


In 500 days of Summer, we finish by making Zooey Deschanel the villain and Joseph Gordon-Levitt the victim.

Not even close. It's quite clear by the end that Zooey Deschanel isn't "the villain." She did the mature thing - she wasn't into JGL's character like he was into her, so she broke up with him and moved on rather than string him along, and their final scene together makes that point pretty clear.

(500) Days of Summer is basically a film about that guy, you know that guy in all the romcom movies, who's the perfectly decent standup guy who gets abandoned by the romcom heroine to be with the male lead? JGL is that guy, and the movie is about being that guy.
posted by mightygodking at 12:54 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


That was quite an interesting article but it's OK to use more than 20% of the screen instead of making me scroll continuously, now don't get me wrong that's great when you're doing your Lorum Ipsum thing but not when I actually want to read the damn thing, which I wanted to do because it was quite interesting and agreeable.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:12 AM on July 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


shen1138: In Brave, that's not true at all. The witch goes to great lengths to say she's a woodcarver because of "too many disappointed customers." She gives every signal in the world that she's all about bears. Her spell does exactly what it promised it would, it changed Merida's mother. There was nothing malevolent about her or how she fulfilled Merida's wish, which is EXTREMELY un-Disney I believe. In fact, there's no bad guy at all in Brave (well, maybe the first bear), which is also refreshingly un-Disney
I was coming to make that same point: someone earlier mentioned how Miyazaki-like the witch looked, and someone else mentioned the will o' the wisps, both of which seemed clearly homages.

And perhaps the greatest homage: similar to My Neighbor Totoro, in Brave there literally was no real villain, no evil character, in a film which I nevertheless found highly entertaining. The closest we can come to a villain is the bear Mor-du... yet Mor-du wasn't ever an imminent threat or real villain so much as a (admittedly heavy-handed) symbol of the path Merida might have chosen.
posted by hincandenza at 1:39 AM on July 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


in the end, being a girl is still about love and marriage

But in the end, being the main protagonist of many stories, be that protagonist male or female, is about love and marriage or some sort of restoration, joining, happiness which means it's usually a story that is comic in structure. Its a basic and common structure of countless stories, at least in the western tradition. Even the Bible as a whole follows this structure, many a Buster Keaton movie, etc.
posted by juiceCake at 2:57 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


But back to the angst fantasy / trapped in your own problems trope that dominates women's movies. Guys in guy movies don't do this, and generally speaking even in our dumb guy dramas we still generally insert enough fart and dick jokes into the movie

And, in your opinion, this is what makes a movie worth watching? I don't think dick and fart jokes have significantly more merit than angst. But I have to say that if men in "women's" movies aren't to your liking, it's equally true that women in "men's" movies are often not to our liking. In each case, they're typically placeholders, there to advance the story for the protagonist. The reason that it becomes an issue for women is that the "male" view is socially dominant. I do think, though, that women's movies are less about being trapped in your problems and more about overcoming them, especially the best ones. And drama tends to appeal to women because many women are interested in human interaction and emotion and character as a means to advance a story, rather than, say, plot. It's not necessarily dumb, just different.


I don't know if men have a problem where it's hard for them to find movies that contain interesting and complex male characters with a variety of values, skills, and traits. It's not something that I've looked into. But it's definitely difficult for women to find reinforcement of positive roles within the media.

As for 500 days of Summer, well, my thoughts about the main character aren't very nice, but I'll save the vitriol and just say that I didn't find him particularly endearing.

Guy movies, even ones that are barely guy movies are fantasies about shirking responsibility, or maybe manning up, but eh - manning up after shirking responsibility (See Knocked-Up and The Hangover). Chick flicks are all seemingly about finding a way to conform without conforming, being confident enough to do whatever society deems appropriate, fitting in, and otherwise getting the man

this is an interesting point of view. I'd say that most movies are guy movies, other than the ones that are specifically women's movies. Women's movies, at their best, are only superficially about getting the man. They're often about more complex things; "feminine" values, which are dismissed in both society and the media. I'd be of the opinion that movies like Bridesmaids are actually guy movies in that the behaviours represented throughout the movie appeal to a stereotypically "male" set of values or perceptions about the world.

(Note that when I say "masculine" and "feminine", I'm not assuming that those are actually the styles of thought that men or women should or do have, just that have traditionally been attributed to those genders. I'm using those terms for ease of communicating a concept, nothing more.)
posted by windykites at 3:16 AM on July 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Brave was kind of maddening for me. I liked that it was a bit different and things went off in unexpected directions.

But I was very annoyed by Merida's initial lack of concern for her mother, even as she's getting extremely ill. I expected the regret and horror to kick in much earlier than it did. That made me a lot less sympathetic to her and made me start wondering if her mother was the main character after all.

And then there's the part that struck me as sadly not different from other stories: the women (other than Maudie) were competent and intelligent, the men (other than that one "perfect" guy who wasn't part of the actual story) were violent, incompetent buffoons. It honestly reminded me of TV commercials where the 30-year-old boys are too stupid and primitive to clean the house or cook. "Women have to do the work because men can't" is not a positive message for anyone.
posted by Foosnark at 4:56 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I further suspect that the film will age very well, and in 10 years or so, will creep into the Top 5 Pixar Films lists of most critics worth listening to.

Well, they only have 13 features, and one of those is Cars 2, so.

Also, Merida is just a huge clunker of a name.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:53 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Brandon Blatcher: "Phire, I don't understand that review you linked to. It laments that nothing has changed, but ignores the fact that arranged marriages are no longer. All of the kids, male or female can choose their mate, when they want. That's a huge change."

Really? I know at least twenty people in arranged marriages, probably 90% of the Indians that I know. In fact, I'm guessing that there are a fair number of people who worked on Brave in arranged marriages.
posted by octothorpe at 5:59 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I saw Brave on opening weekend. Dragged the wife to it; was a little embarrassed at what a poor showing it was (beginning with the recycled short to start things off).

Oh, of course it was gorgeous at a technical level, and many aspects of the research were stunningly well-done. Though I did find myself wishing they had a more nuanced or even vaguely realistic presentation of marriage customs.

So: Underwhelmed. Which is pretty damning for a Pixar pic. (I realize this argument's already been had over Cars 2, but I didn't see that, and now I'm glad.) This is the first time they didn't wow me.

Naturally I wonder what would have happened if Brenda Chapman had been left at the helm, but then I think about the time frame and realize that by the point she was pulled off the film, in Pixar terms they were probably in the home stretch. I'm thinking there weren't any story changes after that. Very unlikely there were new character reads, new dialogue.

So my fear is that this just represents Pixar's new normal.
posted by lodurr at 6:18 AM on July 14, 2012


brandon_blatcher: I suspect the film will be viewed as revolutionary over the next few years, in terms of female character depictions.

I suspect this is true. And that's a deeply annoying thing.
posted by lodurr at 6:19 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


dw: 20 years ago, Disney finally put a princess in a movie who a) wasn't a princess and b) wasn't a helpless wench in need of a man to save her. And yet, it's been 20 years of criticism of Beauty And The Beast for, in the end, having Belle to marry the Beast.

Hm...I suppose you could have that view of Belle. I just generally find the whole story pretty deeply disturbing: girl is enslaved, brainwashed into sympathy with the monster, marries him -- it's just another fantasy dominance narrative, but sugared and prepped for consumption by children.

Yes, it's probably unrealistic to suppose that Disney would (or would be able to) transform such a story into a form that's not harmful, but there always remains the option of not trying to tell the story in the first place. (And of course I realize that's pretty unrealistic, too.)
posted by lodurr at 6:19 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


So: Underwhelmed.

Curious, what didn't you like about the film?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:30 AM on July 14, 2012


Re. Merida as a revolutionary character: Just not buying that. She's not even close.

Ebert had a great phrase to describe what they did with her: they made her an 'honorary boy.' She gets to have this solution because she can kick the boys' asses. Well, what kind of a solution is that? Totally unworkable long term, and as a strategy for success in life, probably not very useful either. Probably didn't do Brenda Chapman any good.

What I mean is that there's no solution out of this movie that's really applicable to ordinary girls. Merida has a pricess's solution - she's a privileged girl, with a privileged girl's solution set.

Consider also how few female characters there are in the film. With speaking lines, there's: Merida, her mother, the witch, the nanny (4 lines?), and a scullery maid (1 line?). Women barely exist in this world. The main example we have is marked as abnormal from square 1 (and in another lapse from the usual realism is running around fighting battles in a dress the whole time).

This is really not a revolutionary film or depiction in any sense. It's wrong to try to judge it that way, of course -- some of this is baggage that's been put on it from external sources -- but it is fair to ask as Phire's linked post does why Merida is limited to a girl's solutions while the boy-heroes aren't limited to boys' solutions.
posted by lodurr at 6:30 AM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Curious, what didn't you like about the film?

See my previous note (we overlapped) and think about it as a partial answer to that question. It just plain disappointed me. All the pieces were pretty, and even the whole of it was pretty, but it just didn't have the substance of Up or Wall-E or Toy Story 3.

This was Disney executed to Pixar production standards. It wasn't really Pixar.
posted by lodurr at 6:33 AM on July 14, 2012


She gets to have this solution because she can kick the boys' asses. Well, what kind of a solution is that? Totally unworkable long term, and as a strategy for success in life, probably not very useful either.

What sort of solution would you have preferred she got that didn't kick the boys asses? Why do you think kicking ass is totally unworkable over the long term for the character?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:38 AM on July 14, 2012


On the subject of arranged marriages, I saw Lion King tonight, and Simba and Nala?

Betrothed since birth.

…I think we've made progress.


The more I think about the film, the more I'm disturbed by its treatment of arranged marriages. It seems to view their vileness as a forgone conclusion, which is . . . really culturally insensitive, and not really at all backed up by the film-as-text. The one arranged marriage was see is great, loving, and supportive. The only reason that the abolition of arranged marriage is at all a victory for Merida in the end is because we already believe arranged marriages must be bad for spirited, strong, feminist women--because we're westerners.

Ironically, I have little-to-no problem with marriage tropes and I don't think their presence or emphasis here makes the movie less feminist. But I think the central argument was poorly argued by the film and rested on biased cultural assumptions. There were many things that could have been done here: show us unhappy portrayals of arranged marriages to make Merida's fears feel better grounded; allow Merida's mother to actually talk about her difficulties in her marriage early in the movie (the film hints at this, but doesn't develop it). In fact, for a moment I wondered if we would learn that, in fact, Merida's father had been the previous wisher--summoning the evil bear in the hopes of securing Merida's mother's love or something like that (those three little boys were born just after the bear's appearance, hmm?) but the movie didn't go there and seemed content with simply using American cultural prejudices to prop up its argument rather than anything with a deeper textual basis.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:47 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, Merida is just a huge clunker of a name.

What? This means war.
posted by Artw at 6:56 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eve was the protagonist of Wall-E. The movie wasn't named after her, for the same reason that The Legend of Zelda is not named after Link.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:02 AM on July 14, 2012


Also, Merida is just a huge clunker of a name.

This was set in Scotland. She could have been Beathag or Dymphna or Finnchneas or Gormlaith or Muadhnait or Tuilelaith.

Merida is nice.
posted by Foosnark at 7:04 AM on July 14, 2012 [14 favorites]


It seems to view their vileness as a forgone conclusion, which is . . . really culturally insensitive, and not really at all backed up by the film-as-text

Merida's victory is not only that she gets to choose who she marries, but also when, i.e. at a point when she is not a child. That's the big problem with the arranged marriages as presented in the movie, that kids were essentially sold off, for societies needs or desires.

As to the insensitive display of arranged marriages, that's alright, it's an insensitive institution. That they don't always end badly doesn't mean they aren't an unsavory relic of a time when women were property to be traded for their father's or brother's gain.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:08 AM on July 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


This was set in Scotland. She could have been Beathag or Dymphna or Finnchneas or Gormlaith or Muadhnait or Tuilelaith.

I would have preferred all of those. Merida doesn't roll off my tongue, and I don't even think it's a Scottish name (though I am of course no expert on medieval Scottish nobility naming practices).
posted by adamdschneider at 7:18 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


As to the insensitive display of arranged marriages, that's alright, it's an insensitive institution. That they don't always end badly doesn't mean they aren't an unsavory relic of a time when women were property to be traded for their father's or brother's gain.

Modern women in arranged marriages might disagree with you. It's the assumptions that you're resting on here that are precisely the ones that are culturally-insensitive/problematic. In fact, the society portrayed in the film seems to trade off boys for more power for their fathers (Merida's father is king, and marrying their sons to his daughter is a way for the clan leaders to progress financially and in terms of power).

I'm not saying that arranged marriages as formulated both historically or in some modern cultures aren't often used as tools of oppressing women, but the worldbuilding was thin here and really only works if we reflexively agree that, yes, all arranged marriages are tools of the oppression of young men and women. If you don't accept that as true (and you shouldn't, because the reality is more complicated than that), then the movie's fidelity really falls apart.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:22 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


lodurr: Consider also how few female characters there are in the film. With speaking lines, there's: Merida, her mother, the witch, the nanny (4 lines?), and a scullery maid (1 line?).

And how many men are there with speaking lines? The four clan leaders and some grunting from their sons. How many men have much to say? I just think this isn't much of an argument.
posted by sneebler at 7:28 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Right after I saw Brave, I couldn't help thinking that it was still inferior to Mulan. I liked the *idea* of Brave (no romance, focus on female relationships) but it was more Disney than Pixar. There's more story in the first twenty minutes of Up or Wall-E or The Incredibles than in all 90 minutes of Brave.

BUT! About 2/3 of the way through this essay, I started to think that I had been wrong. Loofbourow does a lot of detailed work setting up genre expectations and showing how they're upset in Brave. And that's pretty damn smart, and even though I caught a lot of it, I didn't put the same importance on it as she did, and so I didn't see the film as the powerful gestalt that she did. (In this, I think the length of the essay was maybe necessary.)

I'm not totally convinced that genre-deconstruction is enough, and there's still a part of me that thinks that this essay is better than the source material. Still, I'm grateful for the essay.

(And yes, Pixar could still have done better. Compare Brave to Up on the genre-defying score: it goes well beyond merely tweaking conventions.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:30 AM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Whatever the merits or not of the essay, I found the writing/argument style very strange and clunky... I managed to get through 2/3rds but it badly needs editing

Anyway, I prefer Mefitizen aeschenkarnos's earlier brilliant analysis
posted by Bwithh at 7:32 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


20 years ago, Disney finally put a princess in a movie who a) wasn't a princess and b) wasn't a helpless wench in need of a man to save her. And yet, it's been 20 years of criticism of Beauty And The Beast for, in the end, having Belle to marry the Beast.

Actually my biggest criticism of that movie is how its characterization of Belle As Bookworm directly ripped off Robin McKinley's Beauty without any acknowledgement that that was what they were doing.

Brave is a transitional movie in terms of animated female heroines. It isn't fish or fowl; it's not a YAY PRINCESS LOVE movie, but it's not really a fully realized female protagonist movie either. It's too self-conscious, like a guy who just discovered he agrees with feminism. I don't find that offensive, and the movie has lots of other good points, but it would be nice if we could get past this point and just make movies with female protagonists that are good stories, in the same way that so many Pixar movies have been. If we could just take it as a given that Girls and Women are People and tell stories about them exactly like we do with boys and men.
posted by emjaybee at 7:32 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Merida doesn't roll off my tongue, and I don't even think it's a Scottish name

The first time I heard the name, before I saw it written, I assumed she was named Meredydd (Welsh equivalent of Meredith).
posted by immlass at 7:34 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why do you think kicking ass is totally unworkable over the long term for the character?

Because it often pitches females in that position of being required to compete at something that the game is in many ways, extremely rigged against us, biologically and culturally. There is nothing wrong with female warriors, but by dint of obedience/docility training from birth and comparative lack of upper body strength and the time sink involved with the skill set that makes up femininity.

It invalidates things men and women compete at on naturally equal footing, and over emphasizes the value of it, without changing the value of things women typically excel at.

Thus the message becomes that you get to have equality if, and only if, you can exceed the men in an achievement that may be specifically designed to favour men, and the women who do it end up honorary men. It doesn't make global progress, it's a plucky underdog story where femaleness is something to be overcome, just like being small, poor or lame legged. Which is, by the way, a horrible way to have to approach your own biological sex. Kicking ass is a fun fantasy, and I'm not the plot police, but that-one-woman-who-could is not as boldly challenging the establishment as it thinks it is.
posted by Phalene at 7:42 AM on July 14, 2012 [19 favorites]


I'm not saying that arranged marriages as formulated both historically or in some modern cultures aren't often used as tools of oppressing women, but the worldbuilding was thin here and really only works if we reflexively agree that, yes, all arranged marriages are tools of the oppression of young men and women.

Having thought about it a bit more, I think we're both wrong, in the sense of focusing too much side aspects of the movie, rather than it's main focus.

The chief point of the film is that Merida is gets to make her choices about her future. That's it and that's the huge difference from previous female-as-lead in animation/fantasy (At least I think so, haven't seen all of the Disney stuff). Merida fights for and after a bit of bungling, wins the right to make her own choices, whatever those choices are. Along the way, she wins the right for other kids, male or female, to do the same, but the main point is that Merida gets to chose her future, with the full backing and support of her parents and society.

It's not that she or the film is against arranged marriages, it's that she and it against being forced to do something she doesn't want to do. As you pointed out, the film actually portrays arranged marriages in a decent fashion and Merida has little reason to not want or desire the same time of arrangement. But again, the main point is that she doesn't and can you blame her with those suitors? Whatever positive aspects arranged marriages may have and that Merida may see, she can clearly understand that it's not going to work out for her, at least as far as any child can understand how they'll change and grow over time.

So it's not so much about Merida and the film disparaging arranged marriages, but the desire for the character to make her own choices, even if they ones presented by society appear good.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:52 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The chief point of the film is that Merida is gets to make her choices about her future.

It's sort of like Nemo's story instead of Marlin's.

I further suspect that the film will age very well, and in 10 years or so, will creep into the Top 5 Pixar Films lists of most critics worth listening to.

I suppose this will depend, slightly, on whether they wait another 10 years for another female protagonist.
posted by jeather at 8:16 AM on July 14, 2012


I suppose this will depend, slightly, on whether they wait another 10 years for another female protagonist.

A sequel to Brave sounds intriguing, yes.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:39 AM on July 14, 2012


I really hate it when Dreamworks and Laika and European animators blatantly rip off Pixar instead of coming up with their own ideas, and then do a mediocre job to boot! Sheesh. Oh, wait a second...

Let's see, to start off with there was a short film about a little boy out at night in a fishing boat who goes to the moon and finds out how it's lit up (Moongirl, 2005). Then there was a big budget 3D children's adventure film about a kid living in medieval Europe who doesn't fit with the leadership expectations that come with family and tradition, whose adventures among great wild beasts teach them a bit about responsibility and everyone else a bit about being open to change and respecting nature...oh and there's an amputation and a peg leg involved (How to Train Your Dragon, 2010). Of course, if you gender flip the kid, move the amputation earlier in the plot, and mix together the accents and character designs so they're half Viking and half Gaelic (Secret of The Kells, 2009) then that's COMPLETELY different I suppose?

It's certainly a better film than the average Everybody Loves Mammoth photocopy, but from Pixar I was expecting something more than How To Train Your Princess...perhaps I've set the bar too high for a once unmatchable studio that's lost their visionary obsession with quality.
posted by trackofalljades at 8:55 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I came to enjoy this movie for what it was, but I'm glad I didn't happen to see it with my mother when she was visiting. We still have this relationship! She fusses with my hair as soon as she sees me!

What mainly troubled me was the depiction of the Scottish kingdom. For one thing, they were a load of stage Scotsmen -- practically Nac Mac Feegle -- but then there was Billy Connolly which made that nearly okay. Still, I got hung up on the fact that a real queen, with a real princess, with real responsibilities, would simply not love her daughter very much. She wouldn't necessarily be cruel, but she wouldn't be close to the child. The girl would have been raised by foster parents and would barely know her own except as authorities. If she was all that defiant, she would simply have been locked away for the rest of her natural life. The superficial realism of the setting just heightened the disconnect of my (admittedly pedantic and not at all fun) knowledge.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:55 AM on July 14, 2012


I don't think its ever going to inspired girlfriend-of-Astro Zombie level of enthusiasm on a wide scale.

I find it ironic to be talking about how this movie is supposed to be breaking the rules of the Princess movie, and then to refer to someone as "girlfriend of..." rather than her actual name (which is mentioned in the linked comment).
posted by cabingirl at 9:19 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]




What mainly troubled me was the depiction of the Scottish kingdom.

I thought her name was Welsh, so I went in expecting it to be the Scottish equivalent of Xena's New Greeceland. I was not disappointed. (It pushed some of my cultural appropriation buttons with the accents and stock characters, but not terribly so, and anyway we white folks need to suck it up about that stuff.) But I'm of the opinion that once you get people turning into bears or magical wolves or talking telepathic ponies or whatever, it's okay to have sketchy historical accuracy or even historical truthiness.
posted by immlass at 9:35 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Phire, I don't understand that review you linked to. It laments that nothing has changed, but ignores the fact that arranged marriages are no longer. All of the kids, male or female can choose their mate, when they want. That's a huge change."

Really? I know at least twenty people in arranged marriages, probably 90% of the Indians that I know. In fact, I'm guessing that there are a fair number of people who worked on Brave in arranged marriages.


I believe the earlier comment (in quotes) was saying that "arranged marriages are no longer [in the fictional universe of Brave]" not that they are no longer a thing in the real world. What changed was that the fictional Scottish society went from having arranged marriages as the norm (at least among nobility) to having marriages of choice be the norm (or at least no longer exceptional).
posted by jedicus at 10:23 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eve was the protagonist of Wall-E.

I've heard this said in one form or another before. This is essentially what's being said in the criticism (which was common when the film came out) that Wall-E is a passive character, he just goes along and things happen to him.

The same could be said of virtually all Chaplin protagonists, of course.

The assessment that 'Wall-E is passive [and so can't be protagonist]' or 'EVE is the primary protagonist because she's active' seems to me to be rooted in fairly theoretical ideas about storytelling that don't have much to do with the way people experience narratives: Stories have to have beginnings, middles, ends; characters have to have an arc; "good" characters should act, not "be passive"; stories built around a "passive" main character are "bad". These strike me, and have always struck me, as a dry, heuristic way to approach stories.

It seems to me kind of meaningless to say 'well, Wall-E is only "the protagonist" because the film is named after him and his is the PoV for most of the film. the REAL protagonist is EVE, because she performs critical actions that move the plot (even though she has almost no PoV time).'
posted by lodurr at 10:45 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


To boil it down even more: not a single other Pixar movie is about how its hero is male (or male-identified). None of them even spend any time thinking about it. This one is very much about how Merida is a girl. And while that is not at all surprising, it kind of sucks.

I agree this sucks, but it's something that sucks about the real world, and Brave would be a lesser movie if it ignored that.
posted by straight at 10:56 AM on July 14, 2012


I agree that if a princess movie were not at some point about how it's different to be a girl than a boy, it would be unrealistic.

The simple solution is to not make a princess movie.
posted by lodurr at 11:02 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is how I saw it:
Girl wants agency in her own life - girl has to take care of her mother for the rest of the film - girl is rewarded with a modification to her marriage obligations. This is supposed to be feminist? Compare this with Spirited Away: Girl is thrown into strange world - girl masters that world, saving everything. Spirited Away shows a much bigger vision for what a girl is worth.
posted by thetruthisjustalie at 11:04 AM on July 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


I agree this sucks, but it's something that sucks about the real world, and Brave would be a lesser movie if it ignored that.

Sure, some of my life has been about how I am a girl, but most of it has been about how I am a person. I agree that Brave had a lot of expectations on it -- but this is because it was their thirteenth movie in about as many years, and their first to have a female protagonist. Had this been their sixth movie about a female, where one was about being a Girl and one about being a Chef and one about being a Monster etc . . .

Incidentally, the dinosaur movie is about a boy and his pet dinosaur; the other movie is about the feelings who live in a brain, and though I would like to assume that since the brain is that of a young girl the feelings will be primarily female characters voiced by women, I am not ready to do that yet.
posted by jeather at 11:04 AM on July 14, 2012


I went back to my 8 year old to ask why she liked Brave.

"Because it was a girl who was the fighter. In all the other movies it's always a boy."

So, mission accomplished, Pixar.
posted by dw at 11:07 AM on July 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


You know what would have been refreshing? If it was Merida's leg that had been eaten by the bear. No, really. One of the subtle messages is that women can choose to do anything, as long as their beauty remains intact. What if Merida wanted to chop off her hair, go into battle, and be potentially maimed or killed? What if she were a fearsome warrior with a wooden leg? Nope, not cute anymore.

Her "adventurousness" is still limited to the scope of a Loreena McKennitt music video. Merida's rebellion is hollow and cheap because we know that nothing bad will ever be allowed to happen to her. She's not actually allowed to suffer the consequences of her choices, and as a result is still being kept in the protective shroud of her femininity.

The whole movie bothered me a lot, particularly because of this obsession with royalty/nobility that simply will not die. Why couldn't Merida have been a peasant girl? Someone whose independence could mean destitution or death if she didn't obey her parents' wishes?

The princess shit is really two problems in one - the worship of young women as delicate, fragile objects; and the idea that royalty are the only people worth being. Brave suffered from both.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 11:08 AM on July 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Well, the radical anti-feminist movement certainly thinks this is a feminist movie...

(and no, I have no idea why the "stay at home daughters movement" should suddenly develop an obsession with cartoon films, either)
posted by Wylla at 11:23 AM on July 14, 2012


And I am coming around to the idea that this will be considered a flawed classic in another generation. The more you pull at it, the more you see that Chapman was trying to upend multiple tropes. But she was too subtle, and as I think of her last big movie (Prince of Egypt) I think of how many tropes that movie was out to upheld, only to, as well, whisper the message when people were expecting it to be shouted. You can see in the choppiness of the result that fixing that subtlety was harder than anyone thought, tho in retrospect given the source material it was going to be a challenge.

Trying to take on a fairy tale -- the sort of things readily ground to bits in Intro To Women's Studies classes because it's almost too easy for a first year student to churn a critique out about -- is asking for trouble. You want to be original, but the last thing you want is a 90 minute Second Wave Feminist lecture, not because it won't sell you action figures, but because it's boring as hell, especially for kids.

So I think it'll eventually get a "flawed classic" or "misunderstood" label. It won't be forgotten like Bug's Life, I don't think, and it won't seem as worn out as Monsters, Inc now seems. And I think, in 10 years as the kids who watched Brave start washing up in Women's Studies classes saying they realized they could forge their own path like Merida, there will be a reassessment.

For now, though, it's what it is. A disappointment to anyone over the age of 11.
posted by dw at 11:38 AM on July 14, 2012


Hardly a disappointment to this 13 year old. Though box office wise it doesn't seem to be a blockbuster.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:45 AM on July 14, 2012


the women ... were competent and intelligent, the men ... were violent, incompetent buffoons

Yeah, that was maybe my biggest problem with the movie. The sense that her mom was showing her that the woman's vocation is to be the adult since the men are all children. Women have to act mature and men get to behave like buffoons. Men will just inevitably get into a war if one of their sons doesn't get to marry the princess (whose job is to drag them by the ears if they misbehave).

I suppose if any of the suitors had been attractive and admirable, everyone would assume the only possible reason Merida didn't want to get married was that she's a lesbian.

And hand-in-hand with all that was the question, "Where are all the other women and girls?"

The more I think about the film, the more I'm disturbed by its treatment of arranged marriages. It seems to view their vileness as a forgone conclusion, which is . . . really culturally insensitive, and not really at all backed up by the film-as-text. The one arranged marriage was see is great, loving, and supportive.

I think the point is that even if people like her parents can have great arranged marriages, even if there's nothing necessarily wrong with the practice of arranged marriages, Merida should still have the right to opt out.
posted by straight at 11:47 AM on July 14, 2012


... this 13 year old.

In yer dreams! wait, that's what you meant, isn't it?
posted by lodurr at 12:03 PM on July 14, 2012


Well, I personally really loved it. Go ahead, take away my feminist card (I also love Beauty and the Beast, normalization of abusive relationships be damned). In the moment, I wasn't sure how I felt about it - it seemed less madcap and broad ranging and more self-contained and sedate than other movies (not a pun every minute, no lobsters with New England accents, etc). But oh my goodness. Those first minutes where Merida is riding her horse through the forest and galloping and climbing cliffs made me cry. Her relationship with her mother made me cry. I love bears, so that was pretty awesome. I didn't need it to be revolutionary in every way - it was enough, for me, that she was a girl who was interesting, smart, flawed, learned things, and grew up.
posted by ChuraChura at 12:18 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


seriously, I think my 13 year old self would think it's a fantastic movie. my 47 year old self was disappointed because it expected more from a Pixar movie.

BTW, I don't have it in for Pixar, I love them. They're wonderful at what they do well. But this 'being a girl' stuff just didn't seem to resonate with them. I agree that Miyazaki almost always does it really well, and they'd have done well to take a more comprehensively-annotated page or two from his book. (Arietty was disappointing, though, and mostly because I don't remember Homily being such a ninny.)
posted by lodurr at 12:20 PM on July 14, 2012


My favorite aspect of the film was Merida making a mistake and then working hard to correct that mistake. There was an earnest honesty I found refreshing in any movie, let alone an animated one. The witch was great because she wasn't threatening and not goddamn talking animals.

It wasn't a flawless movie. For instance, the male caricatures was bothersome, but in this specific context it made sense. The movie was about Merida and to an extent her relationship with her mom. Viewed in that light, almost anything outside that circle becomes a caricature and not as important.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:31 PM on July 14, 2012


I did like the witch. ("Bad for business!") The all-bear carving shop was amusingly monomaniacal (and the heavy-handedness of the foreshadowing there was fun, as I think it was intended to be). And I did enjoy her moral neutrality. (I originally wrote ambivalence, but that's not really right, she's actually kind of amoral -- but 'amoral' has other connotations that aren't quite right, either, so I'll settle for neutral.) If I were to over-analyze her role, I could say she represents the amoral hand of the market. Or something.
posted by lodurr at 12:35 PM on July 14, 2012


I agree that if a princess movie were not at some point about how it's different to be a girl than a boy, it would be unrealistic.

The simple solution is to not make a princess movie.


Or to not care about "realism" with a work of fiction and art that takes place in the imaginative universe which has decidedly different structures than those of the real world.
posted by juiceCake at 1:11 PM on July 14, 2012


You're losing me, there.

'works of fiction and art that take place in the imaginative universe' rarely work at all well when their creators don't care about realism in some form. ursula le guin has often remarked that all good SF is about the time in which it's written, and she'd surely agree that something similar holds for fantasy -- so the relationship between fantasy and "reality" can't be one of "don't care" without really losing a lot of relevance in the fantasy.
posted by lodurr at 1:15 PM on July 14, 2012


What mainly troubled me was the depiction of the Scottish kingdom. For one thing, they were a load of stage Scotsmen -- practically Nac Mac Feegle

You know, Pixar really should have just done an adaptation of Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men.
posted by smirkette at 2:09 PM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do know about Medieval Scottish names, noble and common, trust me 'Merida' is all wrong. Not a fan of the kind of 'Princess Movies' we get. I would love to do something completely different.
Not a comment one way or the other on 'Brave' itself, since I haven't seen it and might not. Running out of 'Princess Movie' aged girls in my life. Along with 'Super-hero Movie' aged boys.
I am tired of how most of these movies are done. I love the concept of a silent Clydesdale. Beats a wise-cracking dragon or a damned annoying jack-ass any time. I hate the side-kicks.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:06 PM on July 14, 2012


The witch goes to great lengths to say she's a woodcarver because of "too many disappointed customers." She gives every signal in the world that she's all about bears. Her spell does exactly what it promised it would, it changed Merida's mother. There was nothing malevolent about her or how she fulfilled Merida's wish

One of my favorite parts is how Merida spends most of the movie insisting it's the witch's fault for selling her a (barmy?) spell. It isn't until she confesses her own fault and takes responsibility for it that the spell is broken.
posted by straight at 5:11 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Running out of 'Princess Movie' aged girls in my life. Along with 'Super-hero Movie' aged boys.

Dude: I'm 47, I dragged my 42 year old wife.

Much as I might appear to have pissed on it, I will stress that I suspect this is one of the most physically gorgeous movies I'll see this year, and if nothing else it's a good adventure story. If it comes to a dollar theater or you see it in the discount DVD bin, do watch.

Also it may interest you to know that none of the enchanted animals actually talk. Except the crow, and it just sounds like crows do when they talk.
posted by lodurr at 5:12 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


[this was to kajusa roquette...]
posted by lodurr at 5:13 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


You would be shocked how few theaters we have in our area. It's probably here. I cannot feature dragging Mr. Roquette to such a film. But if it shows on cable, or something, I would go see it. It has got to be better than Mulan or Shrek.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:08 PM on July 14, 2012


I think some of the reviewers are missing the fact that Merida's mother practically created the kingdom. Merida gives us a bit of the backstory when she reminds the clan leaders of the way they joined together to fight off the Viking invaders, and that her father was made their king when he rallied their troops. The kingdom is less than a generation old!

Elinor consciously plays the part of The Queen in order to give the kingdom the impression of solidity. Part of her plan is to provide for the future by raising Merida with the skills that she will need to succeed her. At one point Elinor explicitly tells King Fergus that she wants Merida to have the schooling and upbringing that they never had - Elinor couldn't have had a princess's upbringing, because there were no princesses.

When Merida rebels at being forced into her role her irresponsibility is a bad thing, which may lead to the kingdom's fracture and a new invasion. The real turning point of the movie is when Merida starts participating in affairs of state by negotiating for a new set of "traditions". That scene - which begins with Elinor/Bear admitting that she was wrong - ends with Merida stepping into her mother's role without surrendering her own personhood.

The rest of the movie is really a coda. Whether Elinor/Bear lives or dies, whether her daughter marries or not (and we really don't know either way) Merida will be a player in the kingdom, as her mother was.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:11 PM on July 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


My wife and I have a saying that sometimes you "make an ogre" out of someone in your head but when you have a chance to sit down and talk and listen to each other, you can "slay the ogres."

So it was with great delight that we saw this movie that starts with Merida and Elinor each having a conversation in their heads with a caricature of the other, and then Merida literally makes her mother into a monster, before they have the opportunity to listen to and understand each other.
posted by straight at 1:16 AM on July 15, 2012


I was also slightly disappointed that we didn't get an epic sewing scene. I was hoping that when Merida was locked in the tower with the tapestry we'd get a segment where we cut back and forth between Elinor the bear trying to stay alive without hurting her husband and Merida frantically trying to fix the tear, having to use all the skill her mother taught her to get the stitching just right, finishing it just in time to prevent the death blow.

I guess if your apology is sincere, a few half-assed stitches on horseback are good enough.
posted by straight at 1:23 AM on July 15, 2012


Yeah, the perfect mending is of the relationship, while the tapestry mending is.. well, calling it sloppy would be a kindness.

As mentioned in the linked post, Pixar had to fight through a thicket of princesses to make this story. I love them for making the attempt, and I cried during the mother/daughter moments in a way that father/son and father/daughter family movies have never brought out in me before.

Many, many years ago, I gave an ear-bashing to a hapless Pixar animator on the subject of female protagonists. He said that he'd heard a female-led story was in the works. Brave wasn't perfect, but it was everything I'd hoped for based on that conversation. Pixar has done great female characters ever since Jessie, and now that they've broken the female protagonist barrier I hope we'll see many more.

Thanks for linking this article, gerryblog. I wouldn't have seen it otherwise, and it makes some really excellent points that had been forgotten by reviewers in the rush to paste the standard princess fate onto it.
posted by harriet vane at 4:25 AM on July 15, 2012


The rest of the movie is really a coda. Whether Elinor/Bear lives or dies, whether her daughter marries or not (and we really don't know either way) Merida will be a player in the kingdom, as her mother was.

It is to some extent not fair to demand the movie be a different movie, so please understand that in the following I'm not doing that -- I'm just telling you about the movie I'd like to have seen.

Even as I watched, knowing all the time from the tenor of the film to that point that Elinor would survive and be restored, I thought "the way this would work in a real folk tale or a good novel is that Elinor would stay a bear (at the very least, for a lot longer), and that would shape Merida's destiny in a different way."

Right after getting out, that was the movie I wanted to see: Elinor stays a bear (perhaps Mor'du also survives as her antagonist and the people of the land enter an ambivalent relationship with Elinor-bear), and that defines the real story of Merida's kingdom.

That would be a much more difficult story, much sadder, but much truer also.
posted by lodurr at 5:12 AM on July 15, 2012


'works of fiction and art that take place in the imaginative universe' rarely work at all well when their creators don't care about realism in some form. ursula le guin has often remarked that all good SF is about the time in which it's written, and she'd surely agree that something similar holds for fantasy -- so the relationship between fantasy and "reality" can't be one of "don't care" without really losing a lot of relevance in the fantasy.

Art can have elements that are critical of or say something about the real world of course, and it's actions and characters can resemble the real world, but art also has it's own rules and universe, not limited by realism and the real world as it is an imaginative venture. It uses metaphor, symbolism, and structure that has nothing to do with the real world.

That's great that Ursula says that. Wilde says otherwise.

The truth of things or realism is in the "lies". Understanding the metaphor and the artistic structure reveals something about ourselves not if their could really be a warp core for example in science fiction. Frye's word for realism is displacement, where something seems realistic but still very often has elements like a female character who is very stern having hair like asps (a reference to the Medusa archetype) or a male character who is very rigid resembling a Golem. The work fantasy itself speaks to non-realism.

It's not that things can't and shouldn't be realistic in art. That's fine, but if you focus on elements of a piece that aren't, I simply don't understand the justification since it's not a documentary, it's a work of art that if full of unrealistic things by it's very nature, such as metaphor and symbolism and a structure that is fantastic.

Even The Wire, for all of it's realism, has a balanced, artificial structure.
posted by juiceCake at 7:48 AM on July 15, 2012



This blog post sums up my faint disappointment with Brave:

To boil it down even more: not a single other Pixar movie is about how its hero is male (or male-identified). None of them even spend any time thinking about it. This one is very much about how Merida is a girl. And while that is not at all surprising, it kind of sucks.

Nonsense, Phire - or maybe you're not able to step back from the andronormative (heh) storylines to realize that they're doing the same thing.

Cars: A "man's man" learns what it is to really be a man. Discovers the strengths of friendship, learning from (and true respect for) one's elders, and the courage it takes to define oneself, instead of just "acting cool." Seeks out advice from a woman along the way, who gives him perspective the others can't.

Toy Story: A big fish in a little pond learns that he really isn't the humble, unassuming natural-born leader he always thought he was. In order to get on with his life, he has to face his shortcomings, accept a rival as a friend, and even let someone else have the spotlight.

Chicken Little: A scrawny, neurotic son of a macho dad lives in the shadow of society's "manly" expectations. Attempting to prove himself, he only succeeds time and time again in shaming himself. Finally, a Real challenge confronts him, and all of society stands in his way, refusing to respect him.

Many Pixar movies are about rejecting, revisiting, and redefining society's expectations on us, gender-based and otherwise. Just because there isn't a Pixar male lead that frets openly about wishing he were born a girl, or had the same privileges as girls, doesn't mean the issues of gender-based limitations isn't touched on.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:17 AM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


juiceCake, i'm not sure I understand your point: Is it that good art can, actually, have nothing to do with reality?

If so, then I'm afraid I can't agree. In fact, I'd find that position nonsensical.

All this "metaphor, symbolism, and structure that has nothing to do with the real world" -- it does, actually, have something to do with the real world. It does, or the thing doesn't resonate at a very deep level.

In any case, I'm not sure why you take the reading you do from what I said. All I'm asking is that there be a connection between the emotional and cultural realities of the film and the ones that we (and the young girls in our world) live with.

As for Wilde, it would be more effective if you would quote him rather than linking to a play. It's a little vague. As is, for that matter, pointing to a fictional text to define an author's position on a matter of fact. It assumes that you can point to this Wilde character or that Wilde character in moment x or y and say 'this is what the playwright wanted to say, this is what he thought.' Which is a risky maneuver, to say the least -- a bit like assuming that Thomas Harris likes to serve human liver and fava beans to his dinner guests.
posted by lodurr at 3:40 PM on July 15, 2012


dw: 20 years ago, Disney finally put a princess in a movie who a) wasn't a princess and b) wasn't a helpless wench in need of a man to save her. And yet, it's been 20 years of criticism of Beauty And The Beast for, in the end, having Belle to marry the Beast.

Hm...I suppose you could have that view of Belle. I just generally find the whole story pretty deeply disturbing: girl is enslaved, brainwashed into sympathy with the monster, marries him -- it's just another fantasy dominance narrative, but sugared and prepped for consumption by children.


"Brainwashed", lodurr? I must have missed the scene where Mrs. Potts slipped mind-control drugs into Belle's tea... Either that, or you won't admit Belle was capable of self-direction. That would be the Occam's Razor-preferred explanation: she's an adult capable of making her own choices, and fell in love with him only /after/ he made some serious, necessary changes in his character, just as it seemed.

Honestly, if you insist on embedding nefarious patriarchal plots behind every storyline, you're unlikely to ever see change.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:21 PM on July 15, 2012


She only loves him for his library.
posted by Artw at 5:35 PM on July 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


(also in Cupid and Psyche, the basis for Beauty and the Beast, Cupid doses himself.
posted by Artw at 5:38 PM on July 15, 2012


I loved this movie not for the portrayal of the princess, but that of the queen. You rarely see adventure films in which an older woman (and mother) gets to participate on the side of good - fighting and negotiating to win. And it is rarest in movies aimed at children where older women are witches and fairies instead of fighters and very central characters.
posted by bluefly at 8:06 AM on July 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Toy Story: A big fish in a little pond learns that he really isn't the humble, unassuming natural-born leader he always thought he was. In order to get on with his life, he has to face his shortcomings, accept a rival as a friend, and even let someone else have the spotlight.

If you think this is a "gendered expectation" type of storyline, then haven't you proved my entire point about gender tropes in storytelling? "Big fish in a little pond realizes just how small the pond is" is a pretty universal experience, that I personally don't see as being defined by Woody's male-ness - hell, it could describe the plot of Mean Girls. It's also telling that your description of "what it really takes to be a man" (Cars) is "discovering the strengths of friendship, learning from one's elders, and the courage it takes to define oneself, instead of just acting cool". Again, that's completely applicable to both genders, and much more a story of growing up than "becoming a man".

Little boys don't really get groomed to think of marriage nearly as much as little girls do, which is why I was a little let-down that so much of Pixar's first foray into movies with a female protagonist centered around marriage. There's nothing wrong with marriage, and I'm personally a huge sap for romanticism. But it seems like it would be more difficult for little boys to put themselves in Merida's shoes of "My mom wants me to get married and this one decision will shape my life". Similarly, Merida is framed as being awesome and kick-ass because she excels at things that boys are traditionally good at, and the things that her mother tried to teach her--table manners, poise, grace, etc.--are largely glossed over as being the irritating trappings of being a princess.

You and I know that they're not irritating trappings, and that in the end, diplomacy oftentimes wins out over brute force. I do give Pixar credit for trying to portray that, and I did really love the scene where Merida is trying to interpret her mom's sign language to the rest of the tribes. But it came a little too late, with too much else already on the table, and in the end, I felt like the message was weakened by a weak plot, uneven pacing, and too much reliance on tropes--yes, even ones that they attempted to eventually subvert.

As others above have said: there's nothing wrong with a Princess story, as long as those aren't the only stories being told about girls.
posted by Phire at 11:08 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Phire: As others above have said: there's nothing wrong with a Princess story, as long as those aren't the only stories being told about girls.
You've raised some excellent points I'll have to chew on, but in the meantime, I can heartily agree with this last statement.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:27 PM on July 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


IAmBroom: "Brainwashed", lodurr? I must have missed the scene where Mrs. Potts slipped mind-control drugs into Belle's tea... Either that, or you won't admit Belle was capable of self-direction.

That was a strong and rather knee-jerk reaction.

But: Should I assume that you're at all familiar with Stockholm Syndrome, or that you have any awareness of how abusive relationships work?
posted by lodurr at 10:14 AM on July 17, 2012


I watched Beauty and the Beast again after this thread happened, and Belle is one spunky dame. I, for one, don't think she was brainwashed/ suffering Stockholm/ in an abusive relationship.

She did not put up meekly with the Beast's shennanigans! She told him he had to learn to control his temper, and he did, and then she fell in love with him. In fact, I think the whole point of the story was that he couldn't stop looking like a beast on the outside until he stopped being a beast on the inside- until he learned to love. This is pretty basic kid-movie stuff. And it wasn't until that happened that Belle was able to love him. And her loving him made his new, better nature visible to the world.
posted by windykites at 5:25 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]




lodurr: That was a strong and rather knee-jerk reaction.

But: Should I assume that you're at all familiar with Stockholm Syndrome, or that you have any awareness of how abusive relationships work?
I agree: reading "brainwashing" and "Stockholm Syndrome" into Beauty and the Beast is a strong and rather knee-jerk reaction. Bizarre, even.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:33 AM on July 27, 2012


I'll concede tenatively about the film. I've only seen the musical, and I'd still argue that point based on what I saw there. And as for the root story they're both based on, that's essentially what it's about.
posted by lodurr at 12:06 PM on July 27, 2012


Differing media portrayals often bear little resemblance to each other. The original Peter Pan story involves children and Indians killing each other. Both Esmeralda and Quasimodo die in the Hugo novel. Etc. But this thread was about Disney heroines, explicitly.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:18 PM on July 27, 2012


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