24 June, 2012

Maiden Mother or Crone, Brave Is A Small World After All

Yesterday I was unable to move beyond Brave's normalization of domestic violence to really discuss where it fails as a Pixar film. Much ink has been spilled on the replacement of original director Brenda Chapman with Mark Andrews over creative differences. I really didn't care. Directors get replaced all the time. Mark Andrews co wrote two of my favorite Pixar shorts, One Man Band and Jack Jack Attack. I had high hopes for him. In the aftermath of seeing Brave I think he might be a huge part of where the film went wrong. I've read a few dozen interviews with him this morning and two points come up again and again. He added animals and streamlined the characters, cutting away those that were not the main family.

There you have it. Girls like horses, right? Merida gets a horse. The most important part of this story is Merida learning to respect her place and Elinor loosening up a bit, so focus on them. Unlike every other Pixar film (except, perhaps Up) and every Disney Princess ever, Merida has no confidantes. She has no comrades. Elinor has no support system. These two women are alone except for the men they must please. When the clans come to visit there is great talk of the close bonds between the families. Elinor is given the hushed impersonal respect common to Traditional Values while the men are excused from being reasonable. Her taming hand causes them to bow and scrape. When she's a powerful bear they tie her naked body down and prepare to kill her. I don't buy the "But she's a BEAR!" aspect of this. She is a bear when Merida's brothers recognize and obey her authority. In a film supposedly about women there are only three - maid, mother and crone. (Ok, there is a sexualized and fairly dim servant, but otherwise.)

Name another Pixar film where the main character has no friends. I'll wait.

Still working on that? In order for Merida or Elinor to have the same friendship offered other Pixar characters, they would have to be seen as something outside of their gender. As long as Merida is trapped in her Token Female Lead role, she is stuck in the trinity. I assume at one point Merida did have a friend. Andrews says he cut the extraneous characters, which means other plot lines were abandoned. Since Merida's father still has a large and varied social group it seems likely that women were once in the cast. Think about the scene just before the ending. Merida reminds the men what makes them great. It is their friendship, it is the service they have done one another. In a film about a mother and daughter, the most significant speech the enlightened heroine gives is... about the glory of men.


  1. Sigh. Yeah. It was effective at yanking my heartstrings around but it felt like parts of it had just been gutted - For all of Merida's and Elinor's "If she would just LISTEN," they weren't actually saying anything specific about their motivations, the whats and the whys of what they wanted. It felt more grown-up but less complex than any of the other Pixars, even the Toy Stories. I was really uncomfortable when they tied the mother-bear down too...and I also hated how as soon as there was Business To Tend To, Merida's father stopped listening to her entirely.

    It had the visual components of a great, classic film, and the voice actors. What was missing was the layered story telling that made the other Pixars so awesome (Up actually did too, but I liked it anyway).

  2. I'm disappointed to hear that what looked to be a good movie has failed in the insidious hidden assumption category. I once watched an animated version of the Hobbit (nominally), and everything was fine until the end when there was suddenly a war and the main character hid out while everyone else was fighting and then was hailed as a hero which he happily agreed with. (Cowardice can bring big rewards as can deception) Or the Princess Bride where Montoyo spends his life seeking revenge and finally gets it. Nope just shrugs his shoulders and decides to go be a pirate. (Revenge is good and has no effect on your life or character). And don't get me started on Home Alone orToy Story III.

    I'm all for fantasy, magic, science fiction. I have always had a hard time with perpetuating lies, especially to children, especially if it will harm them.