I'll Be Shooting For My Own Hand: Brave (2012)

It is almost always a sure thing that a film by Disney will at the very least look amazing, and it is only a notion extended when one considers that the best work by the company is often released by Pixar, which is exceptionally spectacular.  However, what is much less assured is to what social commentaries the films may make, for example, Wall-E serves as a gorgeous piece of 3D animated film while also being a surprisingly scathing critique of all things leading our technological society to brainless reliance on machines.  In contrast is Tangled, one of the more cinematic Disney film, that draws upon some excellent references to old school Robin Hood movies, as well as also containing a significant female character.  Yet, Tangled, like so many of its predecessors manages to regress into heteronormativity by its closing moments never really allowing the revolutionary gender politics it seems so intent on setting up in the films opening moments.  Brave, a film from last year, seemed to continually emerge as this sort of enigmatic feminist statement directed at kids, via a Pixar film, although, the more I think about it, I would argue that Pixar aims the narrative elements of its films at adults, while offering sound visual elements to capture children.  Regardless, Brave is, much to my surprise, quite embracing of women's singularity and manages to make a considerable portion of the narrative center around this element, as one young girl struggles to reject gender commodifications and perform in a way that she finds comfortable and liberating, regardless of the expectations of tradition.  Brave is both a highly entertaining film, as well as one that keeps its narrative focus direct and socially advanced.  It was quite easy for me to become captured in the flora laden landscape of the film occupied by vibrant characters and some of the best human-based Pixar animation to date.  It is an incredibly fast-paced film that is perfect for young audiences, yet manages to pack a heavy set of gender reconsiderations into its world in the process.  While it is by no means a superior film to Frankenweenie, I can better understand now, after viewing, why this film has received such rave reviews, and, ultimately, and Oscar.

Brave focuses on the young life of Merida (Kelly MacDonald) a princess, in a Scottish clan whose love for archery and living in the outdoors has emerged directly from the tutelage of her father Fergus (Billy Connolly) a king whose leg was lost defending his family and clan from a deathly bear attack.  This emphasis on athleticism and outdoor activities is much maligned by her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) who hopes that Merida will willingly align herself with history and give her hand to a suitor from a nearby clan as a means of assuring peace in the area.  While Fergus is quite lacking in his support of such a decision, he does realize its necessity to assure clan peace, therefore, falling in line with Elinor when she forces Merida to follow the orders and give her hand to who ever wins a contest. Even after Merida attempts to win her own hand in the competition, the fact proves that she must still get married.  In a last ditch moment of frustration,  Merida visits The Witch (Julie Walters) who agrees to provide Merida with an escape in exchange for a metal amulet.   The spell takes the form of a cake that Elinor is to eat, Merida thinking it will only cause her mother to change her mind gives it to her in excitement, yet when Elinor becomes sick almost immediately after consuming the food things take a serious turn.  The spell Merida has obtained causes her mother to change, not her mind, but physical form into that of a bear, of course, leading to her immediate danger when Fergus senses the presence of a bear within his castle.  Escaping from the castle with just enough time to spare, Merida and her mother seek The Witch to alter the spell, but she is nowhere to be found, instead leaving a riddle as to how to reverse the spell, before her mother becomes like Mor'duu another person whose selfish desires led him to being turned into a bear.  Yet, the persistent chase of Fergus leads to a showdown in a stonehenge-like battlefield, where Merida brings a fixed tapestry that she had damaged earlier in frustration against her mother.  Realizing the seriousness of the matter, Fergus steps back and, with Merida in tears, Elinor finally becomes a human again, the family reunited and the clans at ease.  The narrative ends with Merida embracing her role as princess, but with the full knowledge that she can choose to marry, or not to, at her own convenience.

While I am fully aware that it is not a particularly radical film in its portrayal of unconventional gender roles, Brave, as a piece of animated film, could have been much more heteronormative and still probably made a ton at the box office.  However, the deliberate choice, on the part of the collective of directors and writers to make Merida her own individual, even in the closing moments of the film is quite a powerful thing.  The film is about choosing a lifestyle that is both comforting and rewarding, as opposed to preordained and mandatory.  Merida loathes the idea of feminine beauty and constant beauty regiments, emphasized by her unkempt hair and her disdain when it is trapped within a headdress.  Elinor does not seem so opposed to Merida's personal pleasures and enjoyments because she assumes that it is unnatural or playing against her gender, but because she is fully aware of the political consequences of her daughters choice not to act the part.  It is a larger commentary on institutionalization, internalization and fear of working against an unrealistic notion of the ideal.  In fact, I would not even suggest that this film outright rejects femininity, because, after all, it is Merida's fixing of a tapestry that allows her mother to return to human form.  I am not suggesting that now, textile and tapestry work is uniquely feminine, but within the historical context of the film that would have certainly been the case, therefore, the narrative seems to open up its necessity.  With both commentaries existing against one another it seems to be a film that draws out the necessity of possessing both masculine and feminine qualities, without being forced to exist within one spectrum at one time.  Furthermore, Merida's existence by herself in the films closing moments say that gender is not predicated on finding an other to fifth the dichotomy, but can certainly be its own stand alone element and should be entirely the choice of the individual in question.

Key Scene:  The archery contest is fun and hearkens back to the old Robin Hood films of the thirties.

This is not a film I feel is absolutely worth owning, however, it is quite enjoyable and certainly worth renting.

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