The following post is by volunteer blogger, Maddy Kluesner
Given that Oscar season is here, I thought it would be fitting to discuss why the movie Brave is an under-appreciated and an awesome film for young girls (and apparently 21 year old women, because I was tearing up and it got awkward). It defies the stereotypes of femininity, and its subtext concerning the places and space women are expected to occupy in society and politics breaks new ground, especially for Pixar.
I am a big fan of different types of femininity being portrayed in kids’ movies, such as the likes of Dora the Explorer, Mulan, and women who were messy and adventurous, without having to
rely upon a male to justify her occupation of masculine space. This is why Brave is so appealing to me, and in my opinion, a seriously underrated Disney/Pixar movie.
The protagonist, Merida, is ambitious and fun on multiple levels and her physical appearance falls outside the realm of stereotypical materialism and passivity. The film even jokes around with the idea of space that women are expected to occupy in public, contrasting between the mother who is tiny and dainty in her body and mannerisms, yet yields considerable influence over the men in her court; the same could be said of Merida who is larger and expressive in her presence. She rips her tight-fitting dress, and reveals her uncontrollable red hair. Overall, the film redefines femininity and what it means to have feminine power. A lot of Disney movies demonstrate that in order to wield influence and have power, a girl needs to use her looks, her sexuality, or her relationship to a man in order to do so. However, there is no real romantic plot line, but the film still explores male and female relationships.
Besides the fact that Merida is a bad-ass lady archer in her own right, there are representations of older femininity that refuse allocate women outside the public sphere once they age. In fact, the entire plot focuses on rebuilding the relationship between the mother and the daughter in order to both save the mother’s life, and to “mend the bond” that has been broken not just between them and the greater clans at large. It does so in a way that acknowledges women’s active roles in their political and social circles, and also from a perspective that emphasizes how women are not merely as currency or passive political objects.
She is visibly aging in relationship to her daughter, yet she is not cast aside in the typical fashion of other Disney movies, nor is her character one-dimensional evil. The same could be said for the witch in the movie, who is not entirely disagreeable even though she plays the role as the antagonist. While deceitful in some ways, she acts as a somewhat likable character, and a source of comic relief. While she is a recluse, she also runs a wood-working business to help supplement and cover for her witchcraft. In some ways, it lends itself to a clever commentary and pastiche of the roles witches should play in children’s fantasy films. Instead of the witch’s inability to conform to society being what makes her evil, she serves to show others the evil that they do upon themselves, and give them a chance to make amends.
The film also toys around with what it means to adhere to tradition and respect those traditions, but also with how to challenge them productively. For example, the arranged marriage is a tradition constructed to preserve peace among the clans of Scotland and her refusal could result in civil war; Merida is aware of this. In the end, it is the constructive dialogues she has with her mother that lead them establish a new order within the kingdom. It breaks the dichotomy between tradition and modern views of femininity without posing either one as inherently evil and finding middle ground.
While I write this I think of my young girl cousins who are around or under the age of 5 always running around outside and getting messy. Quite frankly, another Disney princess movie with a contrived romantic plot would not make sense to them at this point, and I’m surprised it has taken Disney this long to produce a Disney princess movie without a romantic counterpart. The film is not about the girl’s quest to find a man, but a literal refusal of it. This is the movie that young girls deserve to have, and the movie I wish I had growing up.