Brave: Pixar’s First Princess Deserves Better

June 22, 2012

At the end of an exhausting week, my friend and I decided to see a movie. We both have red hair, so it won’t surprise you that we chose to see “Brave,” Pixar’s latest offering which not only features a female protagonist, but—gasp!—a redheadedone! We were feeling beaten down by life, and couldn’t wait to enter the magical, Scottish world full of bouncing red curls that we’d seen in the previews. We were looking to relax and escape.

Unfortunately, “Brave” did not offer us the opportunity to do so.

The premise of “Brave” is a tale as old as time: girl is a princess, girl doesn’t want to get married, girl’s mother forces her to marry someone suitable for the kingdom. In this tale, the girl, Princess Merida, is fiercely independent and balks at the news that suitors from neighboring kingdoms will compete for her hand. Rather than sit back and take it, Merida visits a witch and requests a spell that will change her fate. The witch produces a spell to put on Merida’s mother, Queen Elinor, and the result—without giving too much away—puts the Queen at great risk, and forces her to leave behind the suitor-contest and run from the castle.

I have to say that one of my biggest problems with the movie is a major spoiler that I can’t share, god darnit. I would love to tell you all much more about what happens here, and then to rave about it for a long while, but in the interest of diplomacy I’ll just say that something happens and I think it’s really dumb. I think you’ll see what I mean.

Anyway, because of some dumb stuff, Merida must help her mother escape, and the result is a series of intense, scary chase scenes. The spell also pits Merida’s father, the King, unknowingly against his wife, which is a very jarring aspect of the story. My friend and I—who had been looking to relax and escape into a magical world, you remember—found ourselves on the edges of our seats, severely stressed out by Elinor’s plight. Listen, I’m not here to say that I’m the world’s least scare-able person, but I’m certain that if I’d seen the movie as a child it would have given me nightmares for weeks.

As a result of the spell, the rest of the movie is about communication between a mother and a daughter, and the original Merida-marriage plot is mostly left behind. In these new spell-induced circumstances, Merida and Elinor must learn to accept each other, and ultimately, they are able to do so. While this is sweet and all, it feels very arbitrary in the context of the original set-up, and left me confused about what point the movie was trying to make. It seems that the filmmakers originally decided on a slightly feminist storyline for Merida, and then abandoned it in favor of chase scenes and family values.

Problematic as it is, the movie is beautiful: the hills of Pixar’s Scotland are breathtaking, and Merida’s bouncing head of red curls looks practically alive. Visually, at least, it lives up completely to Pixar’s long-held tradition of excellence. In still other ways, though, it disappoints. For example, the movie would have been helped a great deal by the addition of a genuinely funny character; I really missed the classic adorable animal sidekick the previous Pixar movies have gotten so right.

When “Brave” reached its conclusion, I left the theater unsatisfied and agitated. Not only is the movie nerve-wracking, it also seems to abandon its original point in favor of something much less urgent and less original. Princess Merida is Pixar’s first female protagonist, and she deserved a better shot at glory. At the very least, she deserved a more vitally entertaining movie in which to make her debut.

Be pissed at Pixar with me on Nuclear Salad.

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