Brave: a feminist’s review‏

This film left a whisky-warm taste. In many ways Brave – Pixar’s latest animated offering about a Scottish princess who doesn’t fit the ‘princessy’ mold – merits the hype.

The bow-touting, outdoors-loving daughter of a bearlike Scottish king, Merida doesn’t conform to her mother’s wish to be the perfect princess. She can’t sew, eat or dress in a ladylike way, and prefers riding through the Highlands on horseback – cue some wonderful sun-hued shots of Scottish scenery – to embroidery. When her mother announces a trial to determine Merida’s future husband, then, the plot is set for some angsty teen rebellion and blah blah blah.

So far, so Mulan. But I think this film distances itself from previous cartoons about Feisty Females. Refreshingly, there is no love twist. More interesting still, Merida’s mother’s transformation into a bear (it’s a long story. No honestly) leads to a genuinely gripping change from conservative matriarch to warrior. It’s a rare climactic fighting scene which includes only female fighters – even if it is still wrapped in layers of Pixary maternal love. This is a story about belonging, but from a very different angle. It certainly is not, as one critic described it, a film ‘shackled to the bonds of family’. (It’s called FAMILY and it’s a CARTOON, you scrooge, so the feudal system isn’t properly elaborated. You’re at the wrong screening.)

Pixar is formulaic, but it is a formula that works well. There’s no doubt the technology used to mirror human behavioural traits has improved hugely. If this means our heroines become even more hirsute in future then I’m all for it. The film is light-hearted, technically superb, and perfectly good money’s worth.

It may be grating that feminist kids’ cartoons are still newsworthy – almost as annoying as the apparent need to describe Merida as ‘feisty’ and ‘a redhead’ in every review – but until empowered female cartoon characters the world over are passing the Bechdel test, we should embrace the films which do this so naturally, and with such humour.

My only reservation is that they chose to star Rebecca Brooks. With a bow and arrow. Given the recent press reviews, didn’t they think she should lie low for a while?


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