Saturday, June 23, 2012

Brave - 2012

I took Relia to see Pixar's new movie 'Brave' today.  Short review, with no spoilers, I really enjoyed it.  It's visually wonderful, like you would expect from a Pixar movie.  That's probably especially true since they had the gorgeous Scottish highlands to work with.  I also thought that the story went in interesting and unexpected places.  In short, I recommend it. 

Ok, now SPOILERS ahead so don't read the rest until you've seen the movie.  Then you can come back and argue with me if need be.  Got it?  Before seeing the movie I read the first part of Ebert's review and my enthusiasm was dampened a bit.  He suggests that this is something of a Disney knock-off, "...this one finds Pixar poaching on traditional territory of Disney, its corporate partner. We get a spunky princess; her mum, the queen; her dad, the gruff king, an old witch who lives in the woods, and so on."  I really couldn't agree less. 
The story deals with some common fairy tale tropes but it does it in a different way than I've seen before.  In fact, Merida is dealt the same dilemma that Jasmine does in 'Aladin'; she is a princess that will soon be forced to marry someone for political reasons.  Jasmine side stepped the issue by simply finding someone that would work for her.  'Brave' doesn't give the heroine that option.  I'll come back to this bit.
The main conflict is one that I've never seen before in a cartoon.  It's about a mother and daughter having a knock-down, drag out fight.  It's about the pride that often makes teenage girls so difficult to live with, especially when it comes to butting heads with a mother who is trying to shape them. 
There is a set of guidelines called 'the Bechdel test' which has tests how a story deals with women.  There are three items on it:
  1. It has to have at least two women in it,
  2. Who talk to each other,
  3. About something other than a man. (Not limited to romantic relationships, for example two sisters talking about their father doesn't pass)
Very few cartoons qualify.  Princesses are usually in love or in conflict with their father.  Or they are all alone, save for some spunky animal(s).  The exception in fairy tales is the wicked stepmother.  A conflict with an actual loving mother is vanishingly rare.  And you know what else 'Brave' has that few other movies do?  The princess is the one who makes the big mistake!  In other princess movies, she may make a small mistake, or an understandable one, but in 'Brave', she makes a big one and it's not a noble one.
What else did I like?  The younger brothers are inspired. I especially like that the creators decided they should be so interchangeable that they didn't bother to make them distinct.  I also loved Billy Connolly as the king.  And the witch in the wood wasn't really wicked, just mischievous or possibly so interested in selling a wood carving that she couldn't resist.  Also, after the mother transforms, they do a wonderful job of helping her maternity peak through.
And now back to the whole marriage thing.  This was the only bit that disappointed me.  A situation where a princess is forced to marry someone she doesn't know is obviously abhorrent in this day and age.  And yet, that marriage seems to be one of the keys of keeping an alliance of clans together.  Merida suggest that they just discard this and all too quickly it is done.  As soon as the princess says that she was being selfish, she is let off the hook entirely.  I honestly don't know how they should have resolved it but this didn't taste right. 
One more thing, Ebert ends his review by saying that Merida is made into an 'honorary boy'.  I don't see that at all and in fact, I think this criticism says something bad about Ebert.  We see her practice archery, which is hardly a boys only activity.  She dresses like a woman, eats with better manners than her father and knows how to sew.  She is only a non-girl in that she isn't keen on getting married. 

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