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A rare delight with a laudable message

Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) in Brave

A great deal has been made out of the fact that Brave is the first Pixar movie with a female protagonist. Since Disney has had female protagonists from the beginning – Snow White was released in 1939 – Pixar isn’t exactly breaking new ground. If anything, Brave is the first major American animated film with a feminist female protagonist. Belle in Beauty & The Beast and Mulan were the closest before, and they weren’t very close at all. But Merida, the tomboy teen princess in Brave, is the sort of character many women hoped for after Anne Sexton’s feminist rewriting of Grimm’s fairy tales in 1971 exposed to a large audience the relentless misogyny of Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.

Merida, unlike previous Disney princesses, does not need a prince to save her, either through swashbuckling or a kiss of true love. Merida is self-assured, bold, courageous and outraged by the sexist double standards of medieval Scotland. Merida’s story is not about which boy she will love, and what hurdles she must jump to be with him. Instead, it is about what her refusal to be married off to a random prince does to her relationship with her mother, who is a perfect courtly queen whose singular desire is to make Merida the paragon of princess virtues. Brave is an action-adventure tale about how a traditional mother and a rebellious and visionary daughter reconcile. It is the sort of movie that a lot of progressive parents of young daughters will find as thrilling as their daughters do. Even if the film doesn’t have the emotional depth and cinematic wonder of Up or Wall-E, it’s a delightful movie with a laudable message; a combination quite rare this summer.

Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is the oldest child of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who is determined to turn her daughter into a polite, well-read, demure and courtly princess who will eventually be married off to the next king. But Merida would rather ride her horse through the forest, practice her archery and climb mountains. When the three oldest sons – all doofuses – of the three clans allied with Fergus come to the castle to compete for her hand, Merida rebels spectacularly. Elinor and Merida have a terrible fight, and they both say horribly mean things to each other. Elinor, being an adult, immediately regrets the fight and feels guilty.

Spoiler Alert: But Merida, being a teenager in a fairy tale, gallops away on her expressive Clydesdale Angus; allows some glowing will-o’-the-wisps to lead her to a witch; and then asks the witch to cast a spell on her mother “to make her change.” Merida foolishly thinks the spells will just make Elinor change her mind about forcing Merida to marry one of the clansmen; instead, the spells turns Elinor into a bear. Yes, you read that right. It’s perhaps the weirdest plot twist in Disney history.

Benjamin Walker in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

The rest of the film follows Merida and her mamabear as they try to reverse the spell. All ends as you would expect, though happily ever after for Merida is very different from that of Belle and Ariel. Also different: In previous Disney films, a witty heroine is always matched by a capable and studly hero. But in Brave, all of the males – including Angus but not including Merida’s mischievous triplet toddler brothers – are brutes or dolts or both. This makes for some nice comedy, but it’s not quite feminist.

Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell
Written by Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi
Starring the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson and Billy Connolly
Rated PG
At your local multiplex

also playing

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

If you’ve been to the movies over the last few months, you may have seen a preview for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and been one of the hundreds of thousands of people to laugh out loud while saying something to the effect of “What the hell?” It’s an apt response to what is probably one of the strangest premises for a big budget summer action film. Based on the popular, and very postmodern novel of the same name, the film follows the life of our 16th president; the murder of his mother by a vampire; his training as a vampire hunter; his courtship of Mary Todd; and, at the film’s climax, the Battle of Gettysburg; which, in this world, was actually fought between the North and a bunch of long-fanged undead in gray uniforms. Directed by one of the masters of slow-motion combat Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted), it stars Ben Walker (Meryl Streep’s son-in-law) as Lincoln and a typecast Rufus Sewell as his slave-devouring arch nemesis Adam. The movie is knowingly ridiculous, from its premise to the balletic fights and the hilarious rewriting of history. But in that ridiculousness is a whole hell of a lot of fun.

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Posted by on Jun 28, 2012. Filed under Movie Review. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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