I saw Brave on Saturday. It was mediocre and I wasn’t going to bother to write a review, but then I spotted somebody on twitter saying, “Haters are misogynists.” Well, okay, I’ve been called a misogynist before, but I have to wonder whether we saw the same movie. This movie was not a blow for women, feminists, or, really, gender anything. In fact, if we’re going to look at it with that lens, it sucked rather hard.
Pixar has never been bad at female characters.* Their female characters tend to be as fleshed out and well developed as male characters filling similar structural roles, and they get to keep their clothes on. So while yes, it was nice to Pixar finally have a female lead in one of their movies, I’m disinclined to be over the moon just because they got Merida right. Of course they were going to get Merida right. They know how to do that.
The problem I have with this movie was that they stopped doing any work or thinking after that. Did you notice that the plot was so formulaic that it doesn’t actually make any sense unless you know the formula? The main conflict is that Elinor wants Merida to accept bethrothal because if she doesn’t, the four clans will devolve back into fighting amongst themselves. Merida doesn’t want to accept betrothal because she’s too busy running around the highlands playing with her bow and pony. They resolve this by…telling the other clans that Merida doesn’t have to accept betrothal after all. So now there’s no war.
Uhm…if it was that easy, why the hell was there a problem in the first place? No, really, why? Because that’s all they did. As presented, either Elinor was stupid for thinking she had to pressure Merida into the bethrothal, or she was maliciously trying to force her daughter into following her own path. Since Elinor wasn’t the villain in this story (the villain was a tacked-on bear who could have used some actual integration with the rest of everything) I’m pretty sure neither of those was meant to be the case.
Merida’s character arc consisted of tacking on, out of nowhere, an “I’m not responsible for this!” moment, and then at the climax, without any kind of apparent growth or transformation on her part, or the movie even commenting on themes of personal responsibility, tearfully declaring, “This was my fault.” In other words, they gestured toward a character arc, then didn’t bother to, you know, actually have it in the story. Because they had a spunky girl character, so their work was done.
Which brings me to my utter frustration with spunky girl characters as protagonists which Pixar triggered in a major way. This is yet another movie where we have a strong girl whose entire story is defined by her relationship to marriage. This time around we got the “Gets to put it off until later” variant of the story. Woo. Yay. Have we ever seen a boy protagonist have this plot? I don’t think so. No, this is the plot reserved for our special girl characters. Because if we have a special girl character, this is clearly the only plot suited to her. And to rub salt in our wounds, this time around they didn’t even bother to make the plot make sense.
Don’t get me started on how irritating it is that we’ve got two attractive female leads and not a single attractive man in the entire movie so they we can go ahead and perpetuate the old standard, “Men are boys and women are the real grownups,” tropes about marriage. Yeah, Elinor stopping a brawl just by walking into it and grabbing the squabbling leaders by the ears was badass, but the fact that this was the only dynamic presented in the movie,** is seriously problematic.
I’m not saying Brave was a bad movie. It was very pretty, the animation was worth a matinee ticket, and there are certainly movies that are more problematic. I’m saying this was not the feminist triumph people seem to be touting it as. It certainly wasn’t a movie that you’d have to be a misogynist to hate. I just think that in order to love it, you’d have to be a feminist so desperate for something done right that you don’t look at what you actually have.
*I say this without having seen every Pixar movie, so I could be wrong. More Pixar-obsessed friends assured me they are consistent on this.
** Reinforced from the triplets and their shenanigans, to the relationship between the lesson-teaching witch and the bad, selfish bear-prince