When I talked about Brave months ago, I spoke about it with unbridled enthusiasm as I eagerly awaited the tale of Pixar’s first female heroine.
Well, it certainly didn’t disappoint! Brave was a wonderful story about family and growing up. Merida was a headstrong heroine that forged her own path not just by force, but by understanding what it meant to be a ruler. Plus, it was so refreshing to see a realistic mother/daughter relationship in animation. It didn’t hurt that Pixar’s scenery of Scotland was gorgeous, and there were plenty of funny moments to be had in the drama.
Of course, whenever there’s something that’s very female-positive or shows women in non-stereotypical roles, there’s just a ton of people who just don’t get it. And Brave has been no exception to this. In fact, I’ve had the worst feeling that if Brave were about a prince and a king going on a journey to reverse a curse, it would be getting much higher reviews all across the board.
Which leaves me here to compile the six most ridiculous things I’ve heard about Brave, and defending it’s honor. Because Merida isn’t real enough to do so herself. Spoilers below for those who haven’t seen it.
1.) “Merida is a lesbian!” – This is the one that’s been coming up the most and it’s the one that’s angered me the most. Basically, a journalist from Entertainment Weekly wrote an article swearing up and down that Merida is a lesbian. Because she’s a rough and tumble girl who likes archery, and isn’t interested in boys. Of course, the media picked this up and this is all that seems to be coming up about Merida. Not that she has an excellent character growth or the fact that a new generation of girls is claiming that they finally have a Disney princess of their own. It’s that she might be a lesbian.
First of all, it’s not that I wouldn’t mind if Merida identified in the queer spectrum. In fact, I eagerly await the day that there’s a canonically queer character in a children’s animated film. Disney, Pixar, or otherwise. What I DO mind about these assumptions of her sexuality is that they’re stuck in stereotypes. Merida likes riding horses and shooting a bow and arrow and isn’t interested in being a girly girl! That means she must be gay! By that logic, Katniss Everdeen has two out of three of those qualifications, and Fa Mulan was probably the first lesbian princess. However, they have heterosexual love interests, and Merida stays single at the end of her movie. Because, again, your sexuality is decided by an interest in physical sports and your lack of interest in boys when you’re 14.
Well, to be fair, I wouldn’t be interested in boys either if I was told I had to pick a husband out of three jerks I had never met before yesterday!
Seriously. I do NOT get why people keep bringing up her lack of interest in the Lords’ sons when it was very clear that she wasn’t interested in them because she didn’t want to be forced to marry. You tell most girls at 14 that they have to pick a husband for the rest of their life from three guys they barely know, they’re going to be defiant as well! That doesn’t mean they’re all queer, it just means they don’t want to do something you’re forcing upon them!
Of course, people just don’t care about that. They want to know if the princess with the arrows is gay.
2.) “Warrior princesses are only fighting older female antagonists these days, and Merida is one of them!” – Now this is a valid piece of criticism of other films coming from Variety, but I feel like it doesn’t apply to Brave the way the journalist is intending it to. There are two older female characters in this movie, yes, but they are not antagonistic.
The first is Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson). She is Merida’s mother as well as her teacher in all things royal. She is teaching Merida how to be a ruler, but Merida isn’t interested. They argue constantly through the first act, but it’s very clear that Elinor does what she does out of motherly love and regrets the mistakes she makes. Merida realizes her mistakes as well and uses her mother’s teachings in her own way to placate the Lords. So much of their journey in the film is about the two of them learning how to give and take. Merida learns from her mother, but Elinor learns just as much from her as well. Plus, who here hasn’t argued with their mother? I certainly have.
The other is the Witch (played by Julie Walters). While she provides the curse that sets the plot of the film in motion after the games, the Witch isn’t in the film for very long and she’s very much a businesswoman in the whole ordeal. She’s not good or bad. She’s just a woman leading a quiet life making woodcarvings and spells in the middle of the woods. She doesn’t go into battle or try to antagonize Merida and Elinor. She gives Merida the curse and the way to reverse it. She is the neutral party that sets Merida where she needs to go, for better or worse.
3.) “Why does it have to be about women?” – I’ve heard various versions of this across the internet, and it makes me understand why we can’t have nice things.
Female relationships are so rare in children’s entertainment, be they friendships or parental. Parents are often pushed to the side by the narrative, and if there’s a female character in there, it’s usually just as a side character that one character might have a crush on. And if there’s more than one female character, they’re often antagonistic towards each other or don’t even interact in the slightest. When there are positive female relationships, though, the movies are dismissed or the relationships are overlooked. The Princess and The Frog was a big example of this with the friendship between Lottie and Tiana, but no one mentions this at all.
But now that there’s a movie with two female characters in the forefront and people can’t handle that. Why does it have to be about women? Why is it about mothers and daughters?
Because positive mother and daughter relationships are so rare in media, let alone children’s entertainment. We need Elinor and Merida to show that mothers and daughters are allowed to get along and be friends. We need Elinor and Merida to show that women can take the same journeys that men do in media and have positive experiences from it. Brave has to be about women in order to show that we are not just obsessed with romance.
And Brave has to be about women because girls need heroes like everyone else, and not just a plucky side character.
4.) “The movie was formulaic!” – Yeah, and so is every other major motion picture release!
Brave follows a trope known as “The Hero’s Journey.” The general breakdown of the Hero’s Journey is that the piece of media starts off with our hero as arrogant/vain/inexperienced/cowardly/what have you, and they go on both a physical and spiritual journey and by the end of it, they are a better person and a worthy hero. Last year alone, this trope was used by Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Green Lantern, and Cars 2 just to name a few. The only thing that makes Brave any different is that it’s Scottish and features a young woman going on the hero’s journey.
So why is this movie suddenly the “formulaic” one?
5.) “The men were just plot devices!”/”There are no male role models!” – I had to combine these two just to say this:
Yeah, welcome to the life of women in media. Do you want the long or short introduction?
I will admit that the men in this film were mostly comic relief, but I didn’t mind that. Because that’s probably what would have happened if the film had been about Merida and Fergus or about the triplets. They picked some fine Scottish actors and comedians to play the over-the-top Lords, and it was well executed.
But women in media are constantly reduced to plot devices, but most reviewers aren’t going to call that out. Parents haven’t cried out about the lack of female role models. Well, not often. Merida is a fine role model for growing up, and she shouldn’t have to be “only for girls” because of her gender.
Plus, Fergus is a good father who only wants the best for his daughter and supports her choices in life. He got hotheaded at one point and didn’t listen to the warnings his daughter gave him, but even his anger was driven by a love for his family. How is THAT not role model worthy?
Well, the family supportiveness is role model worthy. Not the not listening to your daughter in a moment of passionate revenge and almost killing your wife in the process because you didn’t know she was a bear.
6.) “The visuals weren’t impressive!” – I have nothing more to say to say about this besides “I’m sorry that rewriting the software for the first time in 25 years to replicate SCOTLAND wasn’t good enough for you!”
Seriously, I feel sad for anyone who looked at that scenery on a big screen and just said, “…Meh.”
Not to mention her HAIR. Oh my god, I have never seen naturally curly hair look so accurate on screen, either in live action or animation.
Well, there are my many thoughts about Brave. At the end of the day, all I can really say about it is to go see it with your own thoughts and experiences in mind. Pixar holds themselves up to a high standard, and Brave is a wonderful addition to their legacy. I can only hope that we don’t have to wait another 17 years to get a female protagonist from them, because while Merida is a lovely character, she wants me wanting more awesome leading ladies from Pixar. I know Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are a huge influence on their work, and that work includes gorgeous journeys lead by amazing young women.
Next post will be a journey into Moonrise Kingdom.