Female empowerment has been a reclusive subject in filmmaking. Lately, there has been substantial gain for women in film, especially when it comes to female driven films made by females (e.g. Winter’s Bone). Part of the problem lies in the fact that female roles are often one-dimensional or treated as pieces of ass in need of a man’s brawny arms. In the case of Michael Bay’s films, women are pieces of grilled meat being dangled in front of testosterone fueled eyes. They serve no consequence outside of liquidating libidos. Disney has been guilty of similar marginalization in the past, as much of their princesses hinge their life on a mirage of a man. It seems to me that these princesses aren’t waiting to fulfill their dreams and aspirations. Rather, they’re waiting for a man to come along and be their life. Dreams are forgone in favor of trophy wife status. I’m probably being too harsh on Disney here, but the fact remains: there are very few women characters, let alone animated female characters, that want to do anything besides fall in love. Enter in Pixar’s Brave, a film that attempts to craft a vibrant tale with a rousing female lead.
The worthy female at the forefront is Merida (Kelly Macdonald). With her fiery red hair and luminous disposition, Merida belongs to the throne of Scotland. Despite her mother’s interest in constructing a storybook princess, Merida follows her father’s warrior mentality. Aggressively scaling the land she’s set to rule and asserting herself as a bow and arrow master, Merida is a renegade in a land of tradition. Vulnerability is an unknown term to her; she knows what she wants and she will get it. Merida’s distaste for the established order causes a great deal of conflict within her mother. The differentiating stance between mother and daughter reaches its apex when Merida refuses to give her hand in marriage to a predetermined troupe of suitors. The enlarging rift leads us down a surprising path that finds Merida restructuring an aging mindset. Based off this familial schism, Brave doesn’t intend to tell a tale about good versus evil. There is a witch present, which one would assume is going to lead to a final showdown, but it doesn’t. Brave trades in magical evildoers for a story that finds the past and present finding a way to coalesce.
It’s an honest attempt to craft driven, complicated, and worthwhile female characters. Merida is a bold woman who exemplifies Rosie the Riveter’s message. Her mother, Elinor (Emma Thompson), is a piece of the past. The relationship between Merida and Elinor bears a great deal of resonance. The only issue clouding their redemptive familial journey is predictability. Mind you, the frame-work of Brave is unconventional for an animated film. There isn’t a tangible antagonist desecrating our character’s life; its story revolves around a relationship built on dissonance. There’s only one problem: nearly every plot point unfurls with a little foresight. There are moments of genuine surprise behind the screenplay, especially the catalyst for Merida’s growth, but we know the destination as if we were looking at it on a map. Due to transparency, Brave has few moments that could be deemed enthralling. Yet, for all the obvious foreshadowing, Brave still features fleshed out characters that generate an emotional response, no matter how telegraphed the emotional cues are. It’s an example of being in a familiar place with unfamiliar faces. In the case of Brave, a fresh face is novel enough to justify running over explored terrain.
Surrounding our strong female characters are jubilant supporting players that are found in most Pixar films. The most impressive of the lot are Merida’s triplet brothers. Wherever they go, destruction and comical mischief ensue. Supplementing the trio of half pints is an assortment of rambunctious folks who parade around in a photo realistic world. The animation is lush, beautiful, and fluid. Visually speaking, it’s exactly what we expect from Pixar. Story wise, Pixar’s attempt to create a bonafide female lead is worthwhile. When it comes to stacking Brave up against Pixar’s filmography, especially the likes of Wall-E and Monsters Inc., it pales in comparison. Of course, this doesn’t mean we automatically dismiss Brave. On the contrary. Brave is an enjoyable film that aims for a new order. It was never going to erase the ill-treatment women characters faced in the past. In the very least, it stokes the ever-growing flames of powerful women in entertainment.