Everything Rotten Tomatoes Tells You About Brave is Wrong: The six most ridiculous things I’ve heard about Brave.

07 Jul

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.


Posted by on July 7, 2012 in Film


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8 responses to “Everything Rotten Tomatoes Tells You About Brave is Wrong: The six most ridiculous things I’ve heard about Brave.

  1. KeithG

    July 7, 2012 at 7:50 am

    Personally, I wish Merida’s talents (horseback riding and archery) and actions had more to do with the successful resolution of the story rather than having her mom (mostly) save the day.

    And I wish that the Scots hadn’t been quite such (especially physically) caricatures, as the other characters were physically normal looking and (in the case of the princes) perfectly functional comedic relief. Drunk, brawling, and bawdy, sure. But if we’d portrayed African tribes and African men the same way, there’d be perfectly legitimate outrage. What would have been wrong with the scrawny bookish boy who can’t even pull a bow and who’s voice keeps breaking?

    • dubael

      July 7, 2012 at 10:12 pm

      Well Keith, those are good points, but as someone who is (mostly) Scottish in my ancestry, I enjoy the spoof of us. Then again, it would be nice to see such a character, and in “How to train your dragon.” we did. Now granted he was supposed to be a viking (with an American Accent while all the adults have a Scots Accent?) *shrugs* I don’t worry about such things.
      Mind you, Our exposure to African culture has been woefully limited since the days of Roots kicked us into realising that hey, yeah, Africa, a continent basically buggered by everyone, including the Africans. We’ve had very few stories about the ‘dark’ continent that deal with humans and the hero journey, just as we’ve had little in the way of the oldest civilisation on the planet (China) or one of the most diverse and oldest (the Indian Subcontinent). However I blame that on the fact that Hollywood controls much of what is seen in North America. Here our cinema is limited to what is in English. Interesting fact, the country with the largest selection of English Writing authors is not the US, nor Canada or England, but India, but few in North America know that.
      Foreign film has many stories to offer us, that shows much more of the human condition in all the myriad cultures of the world, but few in North America see it because of the dreaded ‘subtitles’. Instead, we have to either wait for a remake to be done in Hollywood or have the film dubbed into American. They even dubbed “Mad Max’ from Austrailian to American because apparently American’s can’t understand the Austrailian Accent (even though both are English).
      This is in no way your responsibility Keith, however, you did raise some good points and I wanted to address them. Thank you.

  2. ecn

    July 7, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Agreed. On every count. In fact, I’m super-annoyed that anyone dared to say half that crap. I loved the mother/daughter relationship arc. That’s what sold me on the movie.

  3. Raymond Frazee

    July 7, 2012 at 11:56 am

    I saw the movie second day it was out and loved it. Merida is such a cool character, I’d love to see a sequel to her story. I’ve heard a few of these arguments as well–the first one getting tons of mileage–and simply shake my head. Enjoy the movie for what it was, and stop trying to read something more into it because the main character was a GURL!!

  4. dubael

    July 7, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    Ah man… you mean to tell me if they’d made Merida a guy, no one would complain about it?
    Seriously, this is the problem I have with modern media. If a protagonist is male and isn’t interested in females no one calls into question his sexual orientation. Mind you I concur, it would be nice to see someone who is something other than heterosexual and not a stereotype, but I’m not holding my breath (I’m too busy trying to write that myself, thankfully I have friends who are all of the orientations so I can have some imput, being a benighted straight male *yes I am being silly here… on purpose too*).
    However, why does a 14 year old protagonist have to be interested in the other gender “In That Way” or behave in a stereotypical manner? I thought the idea of the Heroes Journey was to show all of us, that any of us, regardless of how different we are from everyone else, can aspire to be a better person. Stereotypes are for background characters… oooo the ignorant goob, the cowardly bully, the Industrial Revolutionary with a (missing) heart of gold… and that little dog too… no wait, that’s the Wizard of Oz, but again, there we were dealing with a hero journey where the protagonist had to confront expectations and challenges with only her pluck and resolve and her faulty metaphorical ‘allies’.
    How is Merida a bad role model and Dorothy a good one? She isn’t, they both are!
    For the record I’ve yet to see the film, but seriously, if men (sorry I should say over grown boys) can’t watch a film with a female lead that isn’t sporting a 3 sizes too small tank top and thigh high splits in her skirts or form fitting leotards they are not men, but overgrown teenage testosterone drives.
    I watched Dorothy come to terms with her life and succeed in the hero journey and I wasn’t feeling that I was being ‘indoctrinated’ with FemLog or whatever the pejorative is these days for women showing that 1) they have minds that work and 2) can use them while 3) putting up with the shite they’re elders and the rest of the community has deemed ‘appropriate’.
    From what I’ve read here, it sounds like we have a wonderful story of a child coming to terms with a significant parental figure in (this case) her life and if people (okay let’s be honest here gynophobic male childs) can’t handle that then they had better clear off and let the adults take care of things. Oh wait, no, they don’t want that because then they might have to actually GROW UP (Caps for Emphasis, not volume). Maturity, a subject of this film, of all the films mentioned in this blog, and just about every Heroes Journey handled in the growing omnibus of media that includes film, television, art, literature, cave paintings ad infinitum.

    Scary stuff folks, keep the post teen male children safe, send them to their corner with a copy of their favourite lad magazine and we can get back to resuming control of our culture and civilisation again.

    That or we can insist that some of us just get over not being the centre of the media world and share the spot light with rest of the population.

  5. befferkins

    July 9, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    1) My goodness, I knew some idiot would play the lesbian card. How about the fact that she might be a little too young to get married? By the time period’s standards, she probably isn’t, but it was a little creepy thinking of this girl having to choose a husband.

    2) There’s also the maid or kitchen wench or whoever she was. She stole the bedroom key, what villainy! *sarcastic*

    3) I love Lottie and Tiana! Mostly because Lottie cracks me up, but you know.
    “Brave has to be about women in order to show that we are not just obsessed with romance.” Thank you!

    4) Yes, it was a little formulaic. It would have been painfully so if one of the men had won Merida’s heart and they’d lived happily ever after.

    5) I’d always thought Fergus was a good father. He seemed to be the only one who supported Merida’s interests.

    6) My gosh, yes, I loved her hair! The way it moved was absolutely a step up from humans in general from Pixar’s earlier films.

  6. Kent A. Barnard

    July 15, 2012 at 1:20 am

    I totally agree with Liesel. My girlfriend and I went to see this (we are both very mature geeky adults). Her undergraduate degree is in animation, our masters are both in library science. We both ooohed and ahhed over the settings, loved the movie and agreed that Merida’s hair is incredible!

    As for her being a lesbian, who cares about someone else’s sexual orientation or preference? Why does it matter at all? I felt that Merida was simply a strong female protagonist – and she did end up with a man at the end – her father! What’s wrong with the family bond being strengthened by overcoming some strife?

    Yes the hero’s tale has been told and retold – but this is my favorite version! It is on my buy list for DVD and today I actually bought the Brave Merida Hallmark ornament.

    I recommend this to children from 6 up – some of the younger ones found the bears to be pretty frightening!


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