Feminism has succeeded, fully. It’s triumphed. Men, wave the white flag and pay tribute. How do I know this? Look to television and the movies. Watch ‘The Disney Channel’ for a few hours. The girls are smart, savvy, proactive, and even a bit manipulative. The boys and the men are clowns and doofuses.
These tropes extend into the movies as well, specifically animation. From Wall-E to Tangled to the latest from Pixar, Brave, the female characters are strong and determine their own destinies, while their male counterparts are generally awkward, silly, and bumbling.
Directed by: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Written by: Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson
Feminism has been so victorious it is now rewriting history. Brave (in 3D) is set hundreds of years ago in the Highlands of Scotland. Think of the costumes and makeup from Braveheart (tartans and face paint) but with a plot that is more akin to Coming to America or Spaceballs. Merida, the daughter of a powerful king, has been pledged to marry a suitor from one of three rival clans. Naturally, she wishes to marry for love and succeeds in changing the rules of society so that sassy teens with a bunch of amusing sidekicks can choose their own mates. I can only imagine Anne Boleyn telling Henry VIII that beheading her is not the way to go (I know, English history).
Pixar has a strong track record of films that both children and adults can enjoy, a so called four quadrant movie (boy and girl; young and old). Movies such as Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Wall-E were smart, fresh, and fun. Kids might like the action and the silly characters, while adults could appreciate the humor and themes. Children will still be engaged by Brave, but I’m not sure adults will be won over by it (there goes one-fourth of the quadrant). The story feels forced and familiar, and there were so many pratfalls and whacks on the head that turned out to be harmless I felt I was watching Wrestlemania at times as opposed to a motion picture.
The animation is stunning. There is simply no other way to describe it, but form and content fail to fuse as successfully as they have in past Pixar films. There’s an important subtext in the story for young girls; they need not be informed how they will live their lives. Through smarts and force of will –and with a little help from friends—they will plot their own course.
On the other hand, your reading of Brave might be dictated by where you fall in the broader culture wars. One might look at this movie and see a headstrong girl who yearns to be independent, but one might also see her individuality as symbolic of the ‘me’ generation’s sense of entitlement. After all, Merida is to marry one of the rival clans’ sons to keep the peace, but she does not want to sacrifice herself for the greater good. Instead, it’s all about her own selfish desires and wishes.
I’m not sure Brave is trying to make any of these points. If it is, then it’s done with all the subtlety of a Lifetime movie. If not, the story and characters are simply not original and engaging enough to put this in the top flight of Pixar movies.
This is not to say you won’t have fun with Brave. It’s a summer blockbuster worth seeing, and kids over five (there are some scary, loud scenes) will like it, but if you are looking for a complete cinema experience Brave’s story comes up a bit short—while at the same time standing tall and shattering the glass ceiling. You go, girl!
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