Kilts and Red-Heads and Bears, Oh My!
“Brave,” the new Disney Pixar film receiving rave review, is being enjoyed by kids, parents and analytical college students everywhere. From immature kilt jokes and straight-on shots of cleavage to touching moments between mothers and daughters, human or not, “Brave” is sure to be a family favorite.
This past Tuesday, Nicole and I went to the Pearl Theater at Avenue North in Philadelphia. As we hurried up the large staircase to reach theater seven, the promotional posters for “Brave” drifted back and forth above our heads getting us more excited to see the film. When the opening credits began to roll, we both took out our notepads and prepared to scribble away. Here are those very scribblings decoded and our thoughts about the movie:
- ~Curiously enough, Eilnor, the mother, and Merida, the main female protagonist, have to develop their own language to communicate after the mother loses her voice, her primary power. They create a hybrid language of physical gestures and vocal sounds. Much like a secret bond mother and daughter would create in real life anyway, whether or not one of them turned into something other than human…
- ~Merida kicks butt in a dress without being sexualized! She never wears pants. She let’s her hair grow wild and free. She practices archery, but she has a chosen gender-specific femininity about her yet doesn’t have to sacrifice one for the other. WHOOOO!!!
- ~All the non-royal women in the film are either idiots or passive-agressive. I’m looking at you, childish serving wench. Your hysterical screaming fits were funny, but in a pathetic, tiring, I’m-dealing-with-a-three-year-old kinda way. While she’s not an idiot, the Witch was a Bitter Spinster full of malice and ill intentions. I guess these characters do serve as a contrast to Merida and Elinor, but barely hold up as additional foils or even supporting roles.
- ~The adult male characters are obsessed with physical prowess and strength whereas women are associated with communication/vocalization. The husband and wife are the perfect example. Fergis is always gesturing with his arms, touching his wife, grabbing a spear, pounding tables, etc. Elinor, the mother, is incredibly still. She doesn’t move unless it’s for a specific purpose (this is when she’s a human).
- ~King Fergis does not gender-type his children. He teaches Merida the bow for God’s sake. He actually says in the very beginning something like “it’s good for a girl to learn how to fight” (not exact quote). His problem is that he can’t choose between his wife and daughter, and honestly, that’s probably good. He loves them both but he doesn’t want to take sides. The other three clan leaders, however, are caricatures. They are chest-pounding manly men, however, their sons are are their dynamic halves. The way the movie redeems itself is making the children unconventional and then contrasting them with their traditional parents. In that way, I think the film shows itself to be smart and very aware of gender roles.
- ~Apparently, violence is funny. The Stooges showed us, Tom and Jerry showed us and Jackass and Steve-O showed us. But is it really? Sure it’s an animated kids movie, but violence is never funny…because it’s violent.
- ~While the story is about a royal clan, it is unlike any other royal group in Disney movies in that they are self-made royalty. The parents have earned their power through bravery and strength. In this story world, class is not set in stone. There is both upward and downward mobility. Fergis has moved up, but he could easily be moved back down if he offends the other clans, which all together could overthrow him. Each clan is a check for the others’ power. There is certainly not absolute power invested in one person.
In conclusion, Nicole and I seem to disagree on one point: who is the villain? She believes that the mother is the bad guy, but I’m not so sure. Personally, I think that the villain is as the Witch puts it: Pride. Nicole goes on to say “that instead of like in Tangled, where the step-mother was a crazy possessive psycho bitch, Mother Elinor in “Brave” is a complex character. She is the one I feel the most empathy with as a viewer. She has a real dynamic change throughout the film. That’s what draws me to this movie and makes me want to say it is groundbreaking for Disney Pixar. The characters are complicated. They are not black and white, good and evil. Sometimes they’re damn dangerous. Throughout her transformation, mother learns to be more free and physical with her self-expression. Merida meanwhile learns to be more restrained and to vocalize her feelings in a more articulate way better, to stretch beyond her physical nature. Here’s the thing: buried deep in this film is the gender-typing idea that men aren’t good communicators and women aren’t physical beings. Merida and Elinor challenge and successfully break the typing. Ultimately, I think “Brave” acknowledges gender stereotypes and then says that they aren’t unbreakable. The shot at the end with mother and daughter riding says it all: Elinor’s hair is free from those plaits and is flying in the wind, but they are riding together, not in competition with each other. They have learned to transcend the categorical restrictions imposed by gender. I think this is a positive message for women, that does not necessarily deny men or lay blame on them.” I too agree, and want to argue that there is perhaps a socio-cultural-political message in this movie that is telling women not to compete with each other or even to attack men as a common enemy in the name of seeking equality. Instead, this film is trying to tell women to ally themselves with each other for the bond between women, young and old, black or white, rich or poor, makes us more powerful together than separate. Overcome our differences for the empowerment of all.
And last, but not least, as the icing on the Scottish cake (movie reference intended), “Brave” is proudly directed, written and produced by women, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi. That’s freaking fantastic when so many of Hollywood’s blockbusters are only overseen and creatively controlled by men. We Fatal Femmes acknowledge and commend the beautiful work created by Ms. Chapman and Ms. Mecchi.
Want our thoughts on another aspect of the film that we didn’t explore? Just comment below! Thanks for reading! Come back to for more media deconstruction each week! Go feminism!