My New Brave World [Stay at Home Nerd]
I’m not a film critic. I’m not even an overly cruel film reviewer posing as a film critic, but last week I watched Brave with my wife and three-year-old son and it got me thinking. Having just returned to being a full-time stay-at-home dad after the birth of my daughter, now three months old, I was curious to see what this Pixar film, with it’s first female protagonist, was all about. I vaguely remember some criticism of the girl being a princess and having to possess predominantly male attributes in order to succeed. Of course, I went into this film with an open mind and an open heart.
Who I’m kidding? No I didn’t. Quick, name the superpowers of the family members in The Incredibles!
Strength coupled with a secret life he can’t tell his wife about for DAD.
Flexibility coupled with patience, compassion, and intelligence for MOM.
Speed coupled with a love of sports for BOY.
Ability to disappear coupled with a force field ensuring she never gets hurt for GIRL.
Oh, wait, those aren’t super powers, those are just the stereotypical traits of a father, a mother, a son, and a daughter, and if there’s one thing Pixar does extremely well it’s stereotyping. But, is that wrong? Wait, what?
Spoiler alert! Lots of spoilers coming up.
The mom/Queen in Brave turns into a bear after the princess goes to see a witch. Didn’t see that coming.
Now Princess Merida is a Princess and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. She could be a boring princess or an uninteresting princess or any kind of princess that people don’t like, but just being a princess is not a knock, any more than Lightning McQueen being a racecar is a knock. McQueen happens to be a super douche racecar that never apologizes to anyone for being such an A-hole, but being a racecar is central to his character and his story. Would Cars be any better if it was about a compact sedan trying to squeeze out a few extra miles before being traded in for a younger model? Probably, yes, but then the car would have to be female because only women have those types of insecurities.
Ouch. For that joke to work, if that joke worked at all, it has to be based on the “stereotype” that woman need to be youthful to be desired.
And that’s where I don’t fault Pixar. Skyfall is the best Hollywood film I saw last year. Sorry, Argo, I loved you too, but you’re not competing with 50 years of Argo films to reboot a franchise, while maintaining, perhaps for the first time ever in a Bond film, a theme. The theme is that sometimes “the old ways are the best”. The story is built of the same stuff as the joke above, but has a male protagonist, which means that the stereotyping exists with or without Pixar making movies, with or without you or me watching them.
Pixar may be guilty of reinforcing those stereotypes, but I don’t think that’s the case here. Does Merida possess “male attributes”? Her father loves her. He gives her a bow after she shows interest in archery. She rides a horse. She fights for the right to decide whom she’ll marry. Those don’t seem like manly attributes. They seem like the attributes of first-born children and leaders everywhere. In fact I know more women who ride horses than men, and the only archer I can think of is Geena Davis. Can you name another one?
The real goal for Merida in Brave is to change her mother back into a human instead of bear. In order to do this she must literally and figuratively mend their relationship. She sews back together a tapestry (is sewing a female attribute?) that she sliced during a fight with her mother in the first act (which is a glorious first act) and she does it while riding a horse. She also tells her mom (is communicating a female attribute?) that she loves her while asserting that just because she wants different things for herself than her mother wants for her doesn’t mean she doesn’t love her. The resulting hugfest saves her mom who was about to be killed by a terrifying old bear that was a former king or something. The actual plot of this movie is pretty hard to explain, but that doesn’t stop my three-year-old son from wanting to watch it everyday despite its sketchy Princess protagonist.
Of course he doesn’t call the film Brave, he calls it, “Silly bear, scary bear.”
If you liked this post, please do us the further boon of Liking the Fierce and Nerdy page on FaceBook. Also, we’re giving great stream on Twitter, so do give us follow.