‘Brave’, on Mama Drama

It's UnBEARable!

Pixar’s latest feature finally, FINALLY features a female lead, and expectedly, there is a shitstorm.

There’s the usual lesbian agenda theory, and then the arguments that this movie is simply “not for boys”. The latter gripe is more complex and actually has supporting evidence – the males in this movie are, at best, one-dimensional. Merida’s suitors, for example, are all clearly meant to be unattractive morons. Her brothers are voiceless gremlins. Most are comically proportioned. And to think that in a movie with hundreds of characters, of which only three are female, that’s a lot of unappealing material for male role-model-itude.

merida from Brave

Merida, from Disney-Pixar's 'Brave' (2012)

However, my knee-jerk reaction is this: Every other male-centric Pixar film (that’s all of ’em folks) was deemed suitable for all children, and girls were supposed to just identify with the male lead. You can’t let us have just one? Really? Would it help if they had all been animals or something instead of people?

Oh, and to the lesbian agenda people, all I have is a super exaggerated eye-roll.

The rest of the whining has to do with the wishy-washy plot and unoriginality and to an extent stereotyping, but I feel like at least the first two are side-effects of Papa Disney bearing down on this piece from the start. The last few original films were started before those fat stacks of Disney cash came into play, and aside from Brave they’ve only really bankrolled sequels. So, of course it’s a struggling princess-centric tale – but Pixar got away with some really great stuff despite the identity crisis on both their and Merida’s parts. (The stereotyping is more of a general cultural issue in this case, I think.)

What I really want to draw attention to is the mother and queen, Elinor. So, maybe hashing out your teenage mom-driven angst isn’t really the adventure Merida had in mind when she was galloping through the forest, but that alone is a revelation for a princess in the Disney dynasty. Think about it – what other Disney princess had her real mom? Snow White? Dead. Cinderella? Dead. Ariel, Jasmine, Belle, dead, dead, dead. With a few technical exceptions (Mulan and Aurora are all that spring to mind, and their moms didn’t really feature), Disney is a mother-slaughtering machine.

But that’s not the end of it. Classic Disney fills the role with a step-mother. Sorry, EVIL step-mother. That’s the only way they come, you see. Or maybe there’s an faux-maternal evil witch to fill the mommy-void. Either way, Disney has systematically plotted out the female life-cycle as follows:

  • Birth to, oh, twentyish, you’re a fair maiden/princess, which every grown woman desperately wants to be. So desperately they’ll kill you out of jealousy. Invest in bodyguards.
  • From your twenties until you qualify for the senior discount, you are a heinous bitch. I mean, witch. Well, sometimes both. Unless you popped out a wee princess and died, your only life choice is to fill your soul with hate and brew up potions that all have the same obvious loophole.
  • Once you start gluing in your teeth, you qualify to be a benevolent godmother. You live to assist maidens and are just as kind-hearted as they are, but you’re too old to be seen as a competitor now for any man’s affection. Set your spells to auto-complete at midnight, because you’ll be asleep before Wheel of Fortune.

If you’re a Disney lady, those are your only options. So when Brave introduced a queen who was the princess’ actual biological mother AND was around for the whole film AND wasn’t a malevolent troll (just a momentarily angry bear), I was really pleased.That, and their spin on the crone/witch was so comedic and Ghibli-esque that I’ve got to give them props for that little twist too.

No, ‘Brave’ isn’t a grand sweeping adventure like the boys get to have, but it addressed a very real and very detrimental deficit in the existing Disney catalogue. It is, at its heart, a mother-daughter story – I’d even go so far as to say a parent-child story, so deal with it – wherein mistakes are made and compromise is reached. I think it’s true that at some point all children are blinded by misguided frustration at their parent(s), and this story illustrates the struggle and revelation on both sides. It might not be up to everyone’s expectations concerning Pixar’s originality, but it was fun and cute and heartfelt, with a message for anybody.

Also, shut up, it was beautiful.

2 Responses to “‘Brave’, on Mama Drama”

  1. me says:

    There was a princess and queen in A Bug’s Life, a cowgirl in Toy Story 2, a female fish companion with the most memorable lines in Finding Nemo, a young girl as the main focus in Monsters Inc., a superhero woman who was an established superhero before marrying who also had a superpowered daughter in The Incredibles, a female chef who could actually cook as opposed to her human counterpart in Ratatouille, a suggestedly female robot who fought to protect Wall-E’s bumbling self from getting caught, etc.

    • Meghan says:

      I never said other Pixar films didn’t have ANY female characters, but they haven’t been the main character. There’s a difference.

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