June 27, 2017

“Brave” Proves It’s Anti-Princess By Being Anti-Boy

By Julie Samrick

Sweet Snow White and demure Cinderella are passé, yet my young daughters still adore them.  Even so, the archetype for Disney’s leading ladies has shifted over time to valiant heroines who don’t need any rescuing. In fact, the new Disney princesses of the past 20 years have started saving the prince too.  Therefore I expected Brave to be a tough, girl power film, and it is.  It also proves princess movies don’t have to have lots of pink or even (for the first time) a romantic love story. What I didn’t expect is for Brave to go so far as to be anti-male and anti-marriage to push its feminist message.

 

The protagonist, Merida, is a princess living with her parents and 3 little brothers centuries ago in the highlands of Scotland.  When her parents plan for her customary betrothal, Merida rebels and by taking matters into her own hands sets off a sequence of cataclysmic events.

 

Her mother, Queen Elinor, symbolizes everything Merida loathes.  In early scenes she is loving and playful with her daughter, but over time the Queen becomes rigid and unhappy, married to someone who’s not her intellectual peer.  She attempts to tame Merida’s fiery free spirit by turning her into “all that a princess should be…perfection.”  Merida doesn’t want fancy clothes or to sit like a delicate flower- she’d much rather shoot arrows and ride her horse.  “I don’t want my life to be over,” she declares. “I want my freedom!”  I kept expecting someone, anyone, to come into the film at this point to show Merida how wonderful and harmonious marriage can be.

 

Instead, all I could think was, I wouldn’t want to marry any of the men she has to choose from either. In fact, not one boy or man in the movie is shown in a positive light.  Her little brothers are juvenile delinquents; the suitors are all stupid and ugly; and her own father plays the central buffoon, a barbarian who can’t stop retelling the same story of his hatred for bears. I kept waiting for a man, any male at all, to be shown as respected.  Even Merida’s male horse, Angus, lets her down.

 

It is said in the film that “one selfish act can turn the face of a kingdom” and it does. Merida is not brave, but selfish, and her mother pays the highest price. Merida barely apologizes until her mother is in mortal danger. Until then, we are supposed to buy that mother and daughter are learning to appreciate one another.  Queen Elinor is forced to let go of her perfectionist ways, but Merida- she doesn’t change much at all. She doesn’t show compassion for her mom, who must lose all her former dignity before she can see Merida’s point of view. If any of the characters are supposed to be Brave, it’s Queen Elinor- certainly not Merida.

 

Brave earns its PG rating mostly for violence.  There are several brawls and scary bear chases.  There are also a few sorcery scenes that could be scary for younger viewers.  Though it’s an animated film, in one scene a group of men are left without kilts and we actually see their bare butts. That’s a first as far as I know for animated films.

 

The music, animation, and landscapes of Scotland are nice to see on the big screen.  Teens might identify with the mother/ child miscommunication.  Yet overall, I can’t recommend Brave, which is a shame after all the hype. 

 

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Comments

  1. I have not seen “Brave” and do not plan to do so, but not because of the review here. (I just don’t get into the new animation style. Give me “Beauty and the Beast” any day.) I have no problem with you disliking the film, but I do wonder about some points in your statement. I don’t understand the support of Disney “Princess culture.” I love pink as much as many girls do, but this whole “princess” attitude is destructive to girls—and my saying this has nothing to do with me promoting a feminist argument. “Princess” culture among young girls today promotes the same entitlement culture that is bringing our country and our youth to shame. So, a new cartoon without a lot of pink and tiaras is a positive change. A girl who wants to develop skills through hard work also is a positive change. It is much better than floating around a castle brushing your hair all day. We–men and women–were not put on this earth to waste our time or believe that we are owed something.

    Additionally, regardless of the fact that the film is a modern story set in historical times, the fact that it IS set so far in the past–specifically the Scottish past, is a point worth considering. The reality for a woman like Merida in that time period is vastly different than what she would experience today. Even if you don’t agree with the modern-day message you think that the film promotes, you could still turn this into a learning experience for your kids. Why not discuss history and the reality of daily life in the past? Do a research project and see for yourself if things were good or bad? Read some books and discuss how these men and women lived so long ago. This does not have to lead to an “anti-marriage” or “anti-men” conversation. Instead, you could come to the conclusion that you are very fortunate to live during the time period in which you do–to choose good men and make successful marriages. You may still conclude that Merida is over-the-top in her attitude towards marriage, but you also might discover that, for a character in her time period, she has a point. If she married one of the men you describe, and if he harmed her, it isn’t like she can make a call to 911. These are all things to consider.

    In other words, I think that we should all stop jumping on the bandwagon. Instead, we need to step back from our own attitudes and examine exactly why we disagree with something. This, of course, involves seeing the other side and questioning why someone made the choices he or she did. In the end, we may not agree with those choices, but we will learn a lot from the time we took to think about them. You can turn any experience into a learning experience.

    • I completely agree that messages empowering young girls are so important, but I don’t like that this movie has to bash boys and men to do it.

    • I think it is great to see hardworking and strong princess that can save her self, that’s why I watch Mulan. Merida is just so selfish and doesn’t change much, only getting along with her Mom when she agrees with her. Plus the movie is practically saying that men aren’t import as they are just idiots compared to women which isn’t a good message. Brave and strong princesses are great, but they have to care about others too. I love Mulan because she is a empowering girl, but also is caring and there still being competent men in the movie. All things Merida is missing. My opinion, I guess, is that Merida just could have been done better.

  2. Ann Van De Water says:

    My two friends and I just saw Brave with our 6 daughters, ages 6-14. We all really liked it. One friend said it was the best Disney movie she’s in a LONG time and I agree.

    I thought it was a mother-daughter story more than anything else. We Moms talked about how we do often feel like we are in battle with our daughters as they push our limits, defy us, and argue. We certainly also enjoy our girls and have many moments of connection, sharing, and fun as well, but the battles are exhausting. I remember “battling” with my own mother as well, mostly in junior high and high school.

    True, there are not any great males in the movie but I definitely don’t think it is anti-marriage just anti-arranged marriage. The Queen comes up with the idea of changing the tradition and allowing young people to choose their partners.

  3. Christina Konze says:

    I agree with Ann Van De Water. I think that because this is a kids’ movie, the characters are exaggerated. Can you remember the last realistic kids’ movie? I can’t, because then kids wouldn’t watch it. Hyperbole is a form of storytelling, and I have a feeling that this movie is based on a very old story anyway.

    I think Merida is a great role model. She knew she wasn’t ready to be married, and certainly not to any of those doofs, so she said so. I was raised in a house with 4 daughters, and we were taught to stand up for ourselves, know ourselves and live upstanding lives. This movie did indeed hit home with me, because all 4 of us girls have hurt our mother in some way in our lives like Merida did. Girls are selfish most of the time, and it takes something big to change that, usually.

    And I thought the relationship between the king and queen was positive, that they really loved each other despite their different personalities (a good message for today). And the music was so good! For one, I am glad for the change of pace for the typical princess movie. One does not always need a prince to be happy! I mean, I found one, but I was 22, not 16 or so like Merida.

  4. Took my daughter to see it yesterday – expecting a girl empowering movie but got a male bashing silliness. There is a fine line between empowering girl and bashing the father and this movie have definitely crossed the line.

    And the moms here don’t see that?

  5. Pete Peterson III says:

    I agree with your assessment.

    Stark anti-princess, anti-romance, and anti-Disney feminists who even criticized Tangled are probably happy with Brave. I got the feeling that it was written by one of them. The whole affair is even an extension of one of a modern feminist cliché (“mama bear”).

    Despite their ownership, Pixar is not Disney. The difference starts at a low level, where their philosophy regarding animation puts technology first. Even in this very pretty movie, as someone familiar with computer graphics work I found myself distracted by cute little technical tricks being employed, rather than mesmerized by amazing animation as I was with Tangled (Glen Keane is a modern master, IMO).

    And I think, after seeing Brave, that the folks at Pixar actually very much resent Disney, and what the parent company stands for. The most telling signal was not the many inverted themes but the name they gave this anti-princess; every time they said her name I heard a certain French epithet. Pixar, no doubt, thought that was just hi-larious.

  6. My family watched Brave today. My first thought when the movie ended was thank goodness one of those men didn’t cut off Merida’s hair and take away her power!… Thank goodness her power didn’t lie in her hair to begin with!! (Tangled was abysmal, and I get physically ill every time I recall that scene.) Thank goodness for Merida, who is brave enough to speak up for herself – brave enough to follow her own destiny rather than simply doing what she is “supposed to do” – brave enough to say Joseph Campbell’s words, “‘What will they think of me?’ must be put aside for bliss.” These are all the things that I was not brave enough to do in my own childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood. The Merida character embodies all the ways that I aspire to be brave. When my daughter and I have conflict, I try to remember that she is so much more than she is “supposed to be.” Her life is her own, and she is creating her own destiny. May I never throw her metaphorical bow into the fire.

  7. Thank you! I wrote an almost identical review on my blog. Yes, yes, and yes again to everything you wrote here. The king, arguably the most “normal” male depicted, can’t even give a speech without prompting from the queen. This movie is anti-male for sure. I hate that the queen is “enlightened” and Merida’s selfishness is celebrated. I am so disappointed in this movie.

  8. Funny I didn’t see the anti boy or anti marriage. I got the understanding that she wanted to make a choice when and to whom she wanted to. I liked the movie and so did my wife and two girls. After years of helpless damsels I’m down with the change Jem and the holograms was close but Jem was getting rescued almost every episode and the Misfits just started to get on my nerves. My girls scout leader didn’t much care for the movie but her thing was “it’s an alright movie if you are in to the girl power thing”. And so all the men folk in the movie were not quite numb it made for good comedy and with out it the movie would have been a bit dull. I’m sure it will even it self out soon enough.

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