C and I saw Brave this weekend with my family.  I was worried about all the little kids in the theater, worried that I’d be distracted by the noise, but maybe it’s a good indication of how much I enjoyed the movie to say that I completely forgot anyone was there.  And although I did really love Brave, I also have a lot of mixed feelings about it…

Let’s start with the overall impression – I loved this movie, I was entertained, I laughed and cried and jumped during the scary parts.  I found the main characters to be believable and the relationship between Merida and her mother to be completely relatable and honest.  Maybe the sentiments of the teenage daughter that doesn’t think anyone understands her is cliché, but it’s also exactly how I felt as a teenage daughter and I felt like the script hit those feelings head on.  And that’s not so easy to do, since that stock character can so often end up whiny and unloveable.  I was actually surprised by the depth of feeling brought up during Brave. It made me think about my own relationship with my mother (and my father) and how little it really takes to heal rips in our bonds between each other, when there is compassion between two people.  It was a beautiful story.  In fact, I am surprised by the number of reviewers that felt Brave did not match the emotional pull of prior Pixar movies (more on that later).

But what about “The Pixar Standard”?  If my figurings are correct, this is the first post-Steve Jobs at the Helm Pixar/Disney movie.  And after the movie I told C that Brave felt a lot more Disney than it did Pixar (as a lover of Disney this was in no way a criticism).  But visually it was absolutely gorgeous.  Although perhaps not quite in line with so many of the Pixar “toy” visuals (Wall-E, Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, and even Up all seem to have this fanciful plastic quality to them to my eye), the animation, characters, and most of all the backdrops were no less stunning than previous Pixar films.  Of course, I know absolutely nothing about the world of animation, but I felt like in that area it did not fall below Pixar’s standards.

As for the story, though (and this is where I think I got the Disney vibe) it is at its essence a princess fairy tale.  C and I have been discussing what makes Pixar movies so clever, and I’m surprised how difficult it’s been for us to even define what we mean by the word clever here.  I think it’s a mixture of several things: the sheer creative genius (seeing age old themes of love, friendship, and family in completely new worlds), the smartness of the humor (and here again I find myself unable to articulate what I mean exactly.  I suppose something like a bar for dialogue and jokes set higher than merely public farts and slapstick – I’m looking at you Shrek), but even more than those two items I think it is the fact that we are essentially watching children’s animated movies that do not pander to or patronize children.  There are silly moments but the movies are not silly.  There is animation but it is technically pristine and visually stunning.   Did Brave meet that standard of “clever”?  Perhaps not to the quality of what C and I like to call our Top Tier Pixar movies, but it definitely made Tier 2.

And finally, because Brave was a princess fairy tale, I cannot help but view it through a feminist perspective.  Brave pushed a lot of feminist envelopes.  I can tick off several without thinking too hard about it:

– A princess with curly hair

– A princess with curly red hair

– A princess that doesn’t get married at the end of the movie

– A princess that doesn’t spend the movie trying to attract/win a love interest

– A princess who’s parents weren’t absent/evil

– A female character (princess or not) that exudes joy in doing the thing she loves (and the thing she loves isn’t cleaning and being sweet)

– It passes the Bechdel test!

– Pixar’s first female lead

Now I don’t want to go all feminist rant here and explain why all of these things are feminist wins, and how the depiction of women in media is such a hot button issue for me, or even why it angers me that hair color is still a feminist issue.  But I do want to just make a couple of points.  First, in regards to my above surprise at the lack of reviewers that found Brave to have the emotional depth of other Pixar films.  In those comparisons, they are often compared to Wall-E or one of the Toy Story movies.  All of which have primarily male main characters.  There’s a phenomenon that due to socialization (reductively, that boys stuff is cool and girl stuff is sissy) females are allowed to like and appreciate something we would traditionally call masculine, but it doesn’t work in reverse – males are not very often allowed to like and appreciate something we would traditionally call feminine.  I think that’s going to be a hurdle for Brave because it’s very much geared towards female characters dealing with female relationships.  And that makes me a little sad because a lot of people are missing out on a really good movie by being turned off by those things (even, probably mostly, if it’s done subconsciously).  Obviously this won’t be universal, there will be plenty of men and boys that like Brave, but there will be some that it just won’t appeal to quite as much as if it had been the same story about a boy and his father.  And yet, girls would be more likely to like both stories equally.

My second feminist rant has to do with a scene where all of the clansmen are left to their own devices and an all out brawl breaks out until the Queen calmly takes them by the ear and gets a hold on the situation.  It was a funny scene, and I love the look of the King’s sheepish resignation.  But at the same time it rankled.  It was a little too reminiscint of that old pearly pedestal women so often get placed on.  The one where they have to rise above their baser selves to be more mature, more serious, more demure, than the rough and tumble men.  In the attempt to elevate women on that pedestal we end up just preventing them from being whole selves (the kind that have fun, enjoy sex, and get ketchup on their faces).  And that is why I LOVE the scene where the Queen Elinor finally gets to act out her wild self (I won’t give away why she gets to do that, but I’m talking about the one where she is enjoying some fresh salmon).

Well, I appear to have reached the record for the longest moviesandmangoes post, so I’ll close with some final thoughts:

– I loved the elements of magic.  It gave the whole movie the feeling of being a legend, and I really liked that.

– I loved the resolution of the 4th brother being freed during one of the final scenes.  It was a nice touch and I didn’t expect it.

– I loved, loved, loved, that there wasn’t a final shot of Merida getting married to a handsome stud of her choosing 10 years later.

– I wish that there would be a princess movie that didn’t have the marriage of the princess as a central theme.

– I loved the Queen’s transformation, but I wish Merida had more of one.  Now that she’s able to make her own choices, what will she choose?  What will she do?  Her big pronouncement to the clans left me feeling, oh, is that all?

And finally, I’m usually not much of a fan of criticisms of a feminist something saying that it’s not quite feminist enough (baby steps are a good thing, friends!), but I thought this was a fantastic article on some of the shortcomings of Brave, and the movie industry (Pixar included) in general.

K and C’s rating of Brave: 8/10 mangoes

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