Yay! Pixar finally made a movie with a female protagonist! Yay! She does things like ride horses, climb waterfalls and shoot a bow and arrow! YAY! The main supporting character is also a woman! Yay! Yay! Yay!
Wait, she’s still a princess?
Wait, the plot still involves her marriage to a prince?
Wait, (spoiler alert) for most of the film the other female character is a bear?
Well, shucks. This seems like a pretty mixed bag.
From the get-go, Brave had a lot to live up to. Beginning with the super-long time between when we first heard about Brave (Check out Molly’s post about the trailer from a year ago) and when we could actually see Brave, there was tons of hype created that any movie might have trouble living up to. Add the fact that women, girls, and Pixar fans alike have all been waiting for ohhhh about 17 years (or 12 films) for a movie with a female lead, and you have a precise recipe for disappointment.
Not that Brave is a disappointment per se, but since its release on June 22nd, the reviews have definitely been mixed; praising the film’s animation for doing a beautiful job of capturing the lush landscapes of medieval Scotland (and Merida’s utterly unruly curly red hair), while calling attention to the lackluster storyline that falls a bit flat in comparison to other Pixar films like Toy Story, Wall-E, or Up. While it dominated the #1 spot at the box office in its opening weekend, it fell to #3 the following weekend, suggesting that there isn’t much momentum behind the film.
Why not? Well, the way I see it, there’s a good, a bad and an ugly to both the cultural context surrounding Brave and the film itself.
First, the good: Princess Merida herself is a pretty awesome princess. She pushes back against tradition, she literally bursts out of a fancy-pants dress she has to wear so she can shoot her bow and arrow, and she doesn’t rely on a man to help, save, or kiss her.
Now the bad:  The film, and the marketing behind it seem to downplay the crux of the story, which is really about the complexities of the mother/daughter relationship. Instead, in order to widen the appeal to include those of the male persuasion who might be turned off by the thought of an animated version of Terms of Endearment (I am dating myself here, I know) the film spends plenty of time with Merida’s bumbling dad, mischievous brothers, and assorted other oafish clansmen. Well, that’s fair right? We don’t want to exclude the boys the same way we’ve been excluded, right? Well, yes, of course. But not at the expense of the actual meaning of the story.
Finally, the ugly: Perhaps the reason the film’s story doesn’t have the impact of some other Pixar films is that the company just couldn’t commit to an entirely female-centric film. Brave was originally created by a woman named Brenda Chapman in response to her own experience raising a daughter and the challenges that entails. However, Chapman was fired from her role as director and replaced by a man with whom she now shares the directing credit. I can’t help but think that perhaps some of the nuance that would have set Brave apart as a story about mothers and daughters may have been lost in the transition.
In the end, while “Brave” does finally give girls a strong Pixar hero to whom they can relate, we have to question whether Princess Merida  and her bow and arrow simply represent another cookie-cutter female archetype (Katniss Everdeen, I’m looking at you) created to placate feminists rather than exemplify the importance of female-driven stories in their own right.
Have you seen Brave yet? What did you think? Is Princess Merida a good example of a Strong girl?