Brave Review: Merida is Not The Feminist Heroine Many Were Expecting
Via: Nerdy Feminist
“You’d better say it was excellent.”
Such was the direction I received from the fiancée for this review. However it is something I simply cannot do for the entire film. For parts? Sure, we’ll get to those in a minute, but as a whole film, Brave is very good, but it isn’t excellent; there are simply too many areas where it comes up short.
First, the good stuff. Yes, the scenery really is as good as it looks. Pixar has done a superb job in replicating rural Scotland, complete with the wild open spaces and the intimacy of the woods, that provides ample eye candy throughout the entire film. Perhaps it is because of my bias (I’m from the part of Ireland that is just as, if not more, wild and rugged) I was entranced by the scenery for the entire film. Well done to Pixar for doing their homework!
Now onto the not so good stuff.
The plot, while fine as a concept, stutters in execution. Pitting daughter against mother isn’t entirely original, but at least the ancient Scottish setting was a new twist. Sadly that doesn’t come to pass. Brave can’t decide if it’s a serious drama or a comedy. In the end it tries to be both and thus becomes a film of two halves. I’ll let you guess which half sustained my real interest and which was accepting of my superficial attention.
Unlike How To Train Your Dragon, Brave makes the mistake of proclaiming to be a dramatic film but whereas the latter makes no bones about its comedic side, Brave feels like its being funny in order to hide something and one can’t help but suspect that its to do with the removal of Brenda Chapman halfway through production that caused the, quite frankly, lazy use of comedy to patch up the hole left behind.
While the background and scenery animation is superb, the same can’t be said for the character animation. Yes, Merida’s hair is stunning, but that is merely a distraction. Every other character seems to pop around as if on a very heavy dose of caffeine and once the action kicks in, I simply could not have been reminded of Shrek at a worse time.
Characters were simply far too jumpy, case in point is the royal family’s housekeeper (the one that, uh, hides the key in that place). As she runs through the castle and finally gets to the kitchen, there is no grace in her stumbles. They speak nothing of her character, she could have been anyone and the effect would have been the same. What differentiates Pixar from DreamWorks at this point? Nothing to be honest, DW at its best could easily pull off character animation as, if not more, graceful than Pixar has in Brave.
This is the acid test for Brave. It was intended to be a ‘different’ Pixar film, one with a female lead, a princess, and a setting in Scotland; all traits that Disney itself would have used in the past. The film was marketed as such with a heavy emphasis on how Merida was something different from what we had seen before; a teenager, a rebel and so on.
Sadly, all the characters are stock for a Hollywood film.
There’s the idiotic father, the prim and proper mother, the rebel teenager and the three triplet boys who are simply incapable of doing anything good. While the father and the boys are merely filling comedic space, the mother and daughter who are the focus of the film, should have been much more complex.
For all the hubbub about Merida being Pixar’s first feminist, there is little evidence that she is anything more than a spoiled child who is in need of a life lesson or two. If anything, it’s Merida’s mother who is the strong female in the film, being more than capable of stopping the men right in their tracks, especially her husband!
Merida attempts to make a case for finding her own way, but with such an emphasis on ‘fate’ and placing your future in someone else’s hands, namely a [redacted spoiler],she spends more time being led down the garden path and having her decisions made for her than discovering them herself. She’s not the strong female protagonist that many (including myself) were expecting.
Even the other princesses in the Disney films seem to come off as stronger characters. Jasmine was coy enough to play along with Jafar to help Aladdin. Ariel knew what she wanted but really had to work in order to win over the prince. Belle had to work at the Beast fairly hard and overcome many obstacles to save the day. Merida on the other hand, simply has to reverse what harm she did and follow the steps laid out for her, and that isn’t a particularly difficult task.
Once the big change comes about, the Queen instantly becames a different character, an unlikeable character, a comedic character. She isn’t the same and the change dramatically shifts the tone of the film, for the worse. Yeah, there are a few genuinely loving moments, but I just couldn’t shake the fact that the queenias an innately funny character. A shame really because her serious side could have easily been kept while keeping the humurous side to her transformation to a minimum.
Pixar has been one of the most successful animation studios over the last 25 years. They’ve been knocking out hit after hit after hit on a more consistent basis than anyone else before them. Many have proclaimed that each new film has the potential to be the first Pixar ‘flop’. Cars and Cars 2 were certainly not the critic’s favourites; in a sense they are ‘critical’ flops.
The reality though, is that we are seeing Pixar slowly slide into mediocrity. They set the gold standard for films and unfortunately for them, everyone else is catching up. Toy Story 3, Cars 2 and now Monster’s University represent Pixar slowly cashing in its goodwill chips at least DreamWorks make no bones about using sequels to make money. Expect to see Pixar films doing well, but to become increasingly ordinary; the spread of the Disney corporate machinery is inevitable after all.
Brave is Pixar trying too hard. It’s fine to portray the film as an epic with a strong female lead but when you’ve built your brand on delivering on your promises, it’s devastating when you come up short. Brave was the first Pixar film where I lost interest during the screening. I was expecting so much more from a studio that has proven the ability to deliver, and it almost hurts when to see a film with such a great premise come out half-baked.