A Brave Addition to a Fine Summer of Cinema
While everybody else is seeing The Amazing Spiderman or getting fireworks ready, I finally got to go see Brave. This is Pixar in fine form, and though I am proud of the English side of my heritage, and pity those who have to grasp at tenuous Celtic links to feel good about their heritage, I'm still a sucker for Celtic stuff. There are nice touches of Celtic folklore in the story, but I'd put it at the level of flavor for the general audience, and not as strong as what you'd get, for example, in the Secret of Kells.
Brave is beautifully done. The comic relief is almost all provided by male characters. The film has not one, but two strong female characters in major roles, not to mention a rather delightful wit- I mean, wood carver. Visually beautiful, good writing, some laughs, a good balance of action and characterization, a conflict between two sympathetic, strong, and different female characters, it's very enjoyable. My only criticism has to do with the pulling off the plot's solution. Somehow, it managed to be both too predictable and not formulaic enough. An odd criticism without explanation, I know, but I think I will skip explanation for now so as not to spoil the show. This plot defect (defects?) doesn't mar the movie, it just makes it imperfect. The film had the potential to be more complex than it turned out, but I still recommend it to girls and to the general audience.
Postscript on Strange Criticism
So, I ran across a criticism of Brave online that struck me as simply strange. I ran across it thanks to the lovely Once Upon a Blog's Fairy Tale News, and if that one post comes in for a share of the criticism below, you shouldn't take that as a detraction from enjoying what's on offer over there. Mary Pols decries Brave in Time as a "failure of female empowerment." Following the links (especially this NYTimes article) and doing some searches on my own turned up a good deal of criticism, good and bad, centering on Merida's mane of curly, flaming hair. The idea that Merida's hair is a part of what's wrong with the film, frankly, makes me shake my head and laugh -- but the latter with bitter weariness.
It seems to me that certain strands of feminist criticism, like many contemporary ideologies, are tempted by either the Scylla of materialism or the Charybdis of a disembodied Gnosticism. You can tell what I think of both options with my analogy. What I mean by it is, either Merida is her hair or she needs to be liberated from her hair. On the whole, I guess that there are probably more feminists who want to turn gender into a cultural construction so that they can escape biology for some new cultural realm of the Mind (f.) which they construct in its place. Never mind the fact that Gingers might be empowered by Brave (oh, how we picked on them during elementary school!), but I seriously doubt that there is a strong connection between folks who enjoy the aesthetic of her fiery locks or the technical and artistic accomplishment of portraying them on screen and the reduction of women to their hair (or the cultural values pertaining thereto). The fact is, art lets us do something that life does not excel at as well: fit the outer embodiment to the inner person. Just as art explodes our tendency to overplay the correspondence between appearances and the realities beneath them in destructive ways, so it also lets us enjoy a world where these correspond to a greater degree. To reduce art to either one kind of art or the other, now that would be a failure of human empowerment. Further, in a market where art is also business, these kind of physical manifestations of character are an important part of the art's success -- especially for art pitched to kids.
Who knows? Maybe these are just Sassenach critics seeking to oppress my Celtic forebears and colonize their hair with some less ethnic coloring? (Yes, sometimes it is very good to be a hybrid.)
Where I would agree with feminists, or just film critics of any stripe, is that we can do better than Brave. But they should appreciate how hard it will be to do better in some areas, and that when better comes, it may have Brave to thank in part for doing so. The ecology of art and criticism is necessarily red with tooth and claw, but Brave doesn't deserve a take-down, and the art of animated cinema will improve from its success and suffer if it is considered a failure. But then, this is coming from someone who doesn't plan on seeing most Pixar films a second time and does plan on seeing Brave again.