The sad truth of being a female movie-goer is that you always go into a film fully expecting not to be well-represented by whatever’s flickering down at you from the screen. Sure, every once in a while a Thelma & Louise or Bridesmaids will come along and movie pundits will start crowing about it being “The Year of the Woman,” but nothing much ever comes of it. Soon women in movies return to their usual lot as sad workaholics looking for love, or strippers with a heart of gold. Unfortunately, the same problems seem to apply to kids’ movies as well.
Studies have been done (some excellent ones at a media institute run by Thelma herself, Geena Davis) about the way young girls are portrayed in films made specifically for a younger demographic and the effect it ultimately has on their self-image later in life. Let’s just say, the results of these studies are pretty depressing. That’s why it’s always a breath of fresh air to see a film that may act as an antidote to all of that “someday my prince will come” nonsense that’s pumped into little girls from birth.
Pixar’s Brave not only features a feisty female lead character who attempts to buck the limiting expectations set out for her, but also focuses on the ever-complicated mother/daughter relationship, something that’s almost never explored in animated films (mostly because the mother figures are either evil or dead).
The story focuses on Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), a bundle of curly red hair and spitfire energy, who is the eldest child of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (EmmaThompson). As per the traditions set out by their family history, Merida is expected to learn to become a proper lady and marry the son of one of the neighbouring high families as a way to solidify the peace of the previously warring clans. Unfortunately, Merida much prefers bounding around the countryside on her horse to sitting up straight at the table for tea, and practicing her archery skills over learning to walk properly while wearing a corset. As a result each day is a battle of wills between Merida and her etiquette-spouting Mother that leaves King Fergus, who secretly admires his rascally daughter, caught in the middle.
When the time finally comes for the families to present their sons (voiced by Kevin McKidd, Steven Cree and Callum O’Neill) to Merida, she revolts and declares that she would rather take her own hand in marriage than consider just any strange suitor. This, of course, leads to a huge scandal and an argument between Merida and her Mother and in anger, Merida makes a stupid choice that may destroy her family forever.
Brave succeeds not because the story is particularly strong (the final act feels a little bit like screenwriters Mark Andrews (who also directs), Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi painted themselves into a corner and weren’t sure how to get themselves out) or simply because the animation is breathtaking (it is), but because it’s so different from the types of films that kids very often get offered these days. There’s no slapstick (okay, maybe a little from Merida’s adorable younger brothers) or stale pop culture references that will date the material, nor are we presented with a story that focuses on the princess finding love as a part of her happy ending.
It’s classic-feeling with a contemporary – dare I say, feminist – twist. Considering the current state of the movie industry, that makes Brave practically audacious in its execution and must-see for anyone who needs a good, old-fashioned strong role model, female or not. And who among us doesn’t need that?