Ok, I’ve been holding my tongue for a while now–mainly because I’d been waiting to see it with a couple of good friends before I said anything–but it is now time for me to get into the conversation on the newest Pixar film, “Brave.” My level of excitement was nearly uncontrollable as I waited for this film. My obsession with Celtic myths and legends was the original impetus for me to study myth.
To amp up my excitment even further, it’s a Pixar version. I’ve been on this rant for a while now about Pixar as Disney’s force for renewal in the corporation at present. Pixar + Scotland + some of the most kick tail talent Scotland has to offer + EMMA THOMPSON + Mumford and Sons and Birdy?! Pixar does a fairy tale? I just kept thinking to myself: how can they lose?
Bruce and I went–in secret like Murran and William Wallace–to see it on Saturday. We snuck away, our own version of quality time. Pretty much as soon as the credits started to roll, I was deeply moved by the experience. Bruce and I saw it in 3D, which we rarely do except for Disney animated films. The colors, the lifelike feel, and the music all made for a truly spectacular experience.
I really don’t want to post any spoilers here. Just go see it!! During the first song “Touch the Sky” I had a moment where my breath actually caught…like…full on air out of my lungs…took me a minute to breathe again and I started to cry…It can’t really even quantify it, or explain how it happened. The best way I can think to describe it is the feeling you get on a roller coaster when you go over the edge and whooosh–your breath catches as you speed down 100ft or more. But, I digress. I’ve said enough about the fabulousness of this film. Go see it!
So imagine my shock when I discovered that the film reviews were mixed. Without divulging too much about the story, there have been two major criticisms of “Brave” that I’d like to address.
1). Some reviewers have suggested that it is the most “Disneyfied” of all the Pixar films so far. Well, that’s true. But, how could it not be? This is a fairy tale, and if Disney is nothing else, it is THE authoritative mythic voice for fairy tales in contemporary culture.
When Ed Catmull and John Lasseter announced to the LA Times that The Walt Disney Animation Studio would step out of the realm of fairy tales for the moment (because, apparently they’ve tapped out the market) one of my thoughts was to wonder if Pixar was going to take over Disney’s fairy tale interpretations. When I heard that they were going to actually DO a fairy tale it felt like Lasseter’s way of saying that Pixar could do better. And frankly, they did, pretty much unarguably, with the exception of the introduction of Disney’s storytelling motifs.
But, to all of those annoyed by Pixar’s use of those recognizable Disney motifs-DUH! They have been subsumed into the Disney machine. The big three of Pixar–Steve Jobs, John Lasseter, and Ed Catmull–took on huge roles within Disney Corporate when the merger took place back in 2006. The relationship between Pixar and the Walt Disney Animation Studio is bound to get even more incestuous than it already was (Lasseter started from within Disney, after all…as a grad of CalArts and an animator in the 80s). These filmmakers cut their teeth on the Disney method. When they came to make their own Disney Pixar fairy tale, is it any wonder that they drew from the well of Disney type fairy tale motifs?
2). Merida is too boyish. In other words, some have argued that the filmmakers went from one extreme to the other–from a passive princess to, as Ebert put it, “a boy in girl’s clothing.” One blogger even noted *note my le sigh* that Merida’s lack of interest in girly pursuits such as how to nail a boyfriend, clothes, and primpy stuff suggests that she is (perhaps) an early template for a lesbian princess.
While I would happily welcome any LGBTTQ character Disney or Pixar wished to develop, I found this blog to offensive on many, MANY levels.
First of all, how dare this writer suggest that a woman’s feelings regarding their culture’s gender roles indicate their sexual orientation?! *growl, hiss, roar* I will avoid my feminist rant. I think it is pretty obvious why this would be construed as offensive. Feminine images in Disney/Pixar films have been in flux in the last 20 years, essentially since Ariel. As I’ve previously suggested, they reflect the changing relationship to the feminine within the studios.
Second, this interpretation of Merida indicates a shallow understanding of what the film as a whole accomplishes, not to mention the characters themselves. Merida is a young woman, just at the cusp of adulthood, is in the process of coming to know who she is as a woman. This is an archetypal moment in the life of a woman, and there have been myriad interpretations of this archetype in mythologies throughout the millenia. To a mythie person such as myself, Merida might be interpreted as a Celty kind of Artemis, the virginal Greek goddess of the hunt. THAT is the point. Of course there is no lover there, because when one is in that space psychologically, life is not about sexuality. Were there a lover chosen for Merida, it was be a tale of tragedy for Merida and her family. The filmmakers at Pixar intuit this. Well done guys.
Furthermore, focusing in even deeper on this character, one might consider that the Merida type of character–smart, a tomboy, and a woman who refuses to allow her identity to be controlled by anyone–can be seen in the characters of Jane Austen’s Lizzy Bennet and Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March. In contemporary culture, she can be seen in JK Rowling’s characters of Hermoine and Ginny, as well as in the character of Katniss Everdeen. Moving back even further, Shakespeare gives us the strong will of Juliet. And although all of these characters are women in relationship to men…indeed Juliet gives her life for a man…they ALL choose their own fate. The ability to change her own fate is ALL Merida desires.
AND, in order to choose her own fate, Merida must relate to her mother. I mean, we just CAN’T have a story about women relating to women without the story being sexual, can we? And is it even more scandalous for us to have a story of a woman who develops her identity outside of husband, home, and children. Lord forbid she deals with her childhood and her forthcoming womanhood first! I forgot that wasn’t allowed. Anyone who would expect otherwise from Merida clearly doesn’t understand Celtic women and their battle strength.
Next Blog: My review of “Moonrise Kingdom”–innocence vs sanitization.