Sunday, June 24, 2012

Brave: Not Just Another Princess Movie

Thinking about princess movies, you quickly realize that most of these heroines grow up cursed, motherless, orphaned, or generally miserable. It's no wonder they have so little spirit by the time they reach adulthood that they need a charming prince or some cheery dwarves to rescue them. But Princess Merida, the heroine of Brave, is in no need of rescue. She's just trying to do what women have been trying to do for millenia - change her fate.

Merida's parents are perfectly charming Scottish royalty and she has a lovely childhood. However, the trouble begins when her mother, Queen Elinor, decides it's time to follow tradition and call over eligible suitors from the three main clans to get Merida married. However, Merida has a mind of her own, and she is far more interested in riding her horse and shooting arrows than settling down with a prince. After a riotous argument with her mother, Merida runs off and comes up with a plan to alter her destiny. And the story proceeds along those lines, with several surprising elements and twists, all heading to the ultimate goal of mending the relationship between Merida and her mother and acknowledging that a woman's role in the world does not need to be dictated by tradition.

There seem to be two schools of thought with regard to Brave - some think Merida is a fantastic role model for young girls as well as offering a great insight into how mothers and daughters ought to communicate. Others are just infuriated that Pixar's first movie featuring a female protagonist is yet another princess movie. But these naysayers need to realize that this is a Pixar heroine - just because she is a princess, it doesn't mean she's a throwback to Disney princesses of yore. This is an independent, spirited girl who has flaws and virtues and is just fighting for her right to live on her own terms. The movie makes it clear that Merida is incredibly stifled by being a princess, so really the moral of the story is that all girls, no matter what kind of family they're born into, have to struggle with the universal problem of dealing with familial and societal expectations and trying to live a life of their own choosing.

What about the movie itself? It isn't the best Pixar movie ever made (for me that honor belongs to Up), but it is a perfectly delightful and entertaining bit of film-making. The landscapes and animation are drop-dead gorgeous and the voice acting is spectacular, with Kelly Macdonald and Emma Thompson bringing Merida and Elinor completely alive and making you root for them at every turn. The story is inventive and Pixar have marketed this movie cleverly, giving away nothing of the main story so that I had no idea what was going to happen next. And of course, "La Luna," the short film that precedes the movie, is brimming with Pixar heart and charm.

Brave is an important step in bringing outspoken, self-sufficient, and just plain likable female characters into mainstream Hollywood. Hopefully the success of Brave will result in more multi-dimensional, entertaining heroines who embark on their own adventures and reach their goals. Then girls can have a variety of role models to choose from and learn that they can aspire to a lot of things, not just finding a prince.

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