Disney Pixar’s Brave

Pixar was really showing off with this movie’s visuals. I heard that someone spend like 6 years on Merida’s hair. I believe it. And the work paid off. Her hair steals the scene almost every minute. It’s not just curly–there are several different sizes and consistencies and shades in her curls. That took skill. Very few artists could recreate that complexity with a brush and pen. And the backgrounds are gorgeous. I used to love Sleeping Beauty for the rich medieval-art-inspired images; it was like watching a moving tapestry. I’ve heard some people long for Disney to return to 2D animation like that, but Brave is an argument for why they never should. This movie proves that computer animation can be artistic and beautiful as well as sharp and slick.

When the movie first came out I read some reviews that complained that it didn’t go far enough, and others that pointed out the movie has been in progress for 6 years and it’s very good as Pixar’s first girl movie. I do think Brave is a feminist fairy tale, for the same reasons that I thought Snow White and the Huntsman was feminist. It’s a female-centered story in which the main concerns of the protagonist do not involve getting married. She has goals and interests in life that have nothing to do with marriage. In fact, most of the movie is about her attempts to avoid marriage, and her conflict with her mother over the issue. It’s a mother/daughter story, and though they both change, the mother changes more. Since we’re talking about arranged marriage here, the mother is pretty obviously wrong, so she needs to change. But it’s also about communication between the two. In the beginning, the two separately rehearse the fight they’re gearing up to have on this issue, speaking at .Through magic, the mother is rendered unable to talk, so she has to listen to Merida, perhaps for the first time, and she sees firsthand the value of Merida’s outdoor pursuits. The scene where they come to an agreement involves such subtle communication, with Merida speaking her mothers words through reading her eyes and gestures, that it is clear that their problems have been resolved.

Another subtle thing I appreciated was that Merida and her mother do not have Barbie-doll bodies, unlike Disney’s other princesses. They are normal-sized, especially compared with the gigantic father, with pear shaped bodies and plenty of hips. Unlike midriff-baring hourglasses Ariel and Jasmine, Merida won’t give an 8-year-old an eating disorder. The queen even has a gray streak and some wrinkles and is beautiful anyway, to reassure older viewers. This might be the first time I have seen an animated character with a streak of gray hair who wasn’t evil. Middle-aged women in Disney movies are typically villains.

Brave‘s queen might be the first example of a loving human mother in the whole Disney princess/fairy tale canon; she’s certainly the one with the most screen time. (Mrs. Incredible/Elastigirl is her best rival for this position, but that’s a superhero story, not a fairy tale.) An absent or dead mother is  a typical fairy-tale trope, and in sticking to fairy tales Disney limited its ability to portray mothers. Until this movie, the most famous Disney mothers with the most affecting, sob-worthy scenes were Bambi’s mom and Dumbo’s mom. The (real) mothers in Peter Pan, TangledThe Princess and the Frog,  and Mulan were positive figures who made short appearances, but were not central to the plot. All other characters are either motherless or have vicious mother figures.

I wonder if Disney will make a sequel in which Merida does actually fall in love and get married. Disney does love its instant moneymaker sequels, and its love stories. It wouldn’t be any of her 3 doltish suitors from this movie, of course. I imagine it would be a terribly inconvenient romance with the son of king who’s at war with her father. I imagine them hating each other, but being thrown together by an accident of some kind and having to work together to save themselves, falling in love in the process, and realizing they could end their parents’ war. I’m somewhat on the fence right now about whether or not this theoretical movie would be a good thing. As Brave stands now, it ends with Merida free and unattached, riding wildly with her mom, and this is a very good ending. It’s a feminist ending. Would marrying her off in the sequel negate that? Only if you think marriage is always anti-feminist. Still, it would have to be handled very delicately. The point of the movie would have to be the war–hopefully one Merida is openly helping her father with, not one she’s running away and disguising herself to join. The romance story would have to be kind of incidental, with fewer of the romantic falling-in-love flourishes Disney loves so much, like paper lanters floating in the sky and ball gowns.


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