I wanted to love this. Scottish accents! Directed by a woman! First female Pixar protagonist! Princess without a love interest!
The "progressiveness" hype reminded me a little of the "first Black princess" hype surrounding The Princess and the Frog. Unfortunately, while TPATF managed to stand on purely artistic merits - great songs, fantastic voice cast, ripping storyline, great banter - Brave's political correctness just made the film seem didactic and clunky.
The problem is, a feisty princess who doesn't want to do what she's told is hardly new. Back in the dark days of unenlightened Disney, Jasmine didn't want to be married off for political reasons; Ariel wanted to be free to live her own life; and both of them, in their own ways, found royal life constricting.
Now, personality-wise, I happen to find Merida far more likeable than Jasmine or Ariel; but story-wise, her plight comes across as far more cliched and heavy-handed. Princesses have their hair brushed painfully! Princesses wear tight clothes! Princesses have to be graceful! We get it. It's not new.
The odd thing is, Pixar seemed to be aware of this - it was lampshaded when Merida's father, pretending to be her, made a hilarious falsetto speech about wanting to ride free with her hair blowing in the wind, shooting arrows off into the sunset. So why did they let the clunky dialogue pass?
Other underwhelming features of the movie included the humour, the encounter with the witch (jarringly out-of-place; its allusions to modern technology belong in a Shrek movie, not the dark, mythic world that was most of the movie), and the triplets.
That said, Brave had its high points. The animation was incredible (Merida's HAIR!) - from the trailer I was worried it would look too similar to How To Train Your Dragon, but it was head and shoulders above it in terms of detail and lushness. The designs of the tapestries, clothes and castle were nice. The will'o'the'wisps, despite looking very much like luminescent jellyfish, were pleasingly eerie. The gentle, character-based humour of Merida's mother struggling against her newly feral personality worked well (in contrast to the potty-humour of the male characters); and the subtlety of Mordu's involvement was nicely done. Also, while the songs didn't impress me much during the movie, they've grown on me since - "Into the Open Air" is a particularly nice little piece.
So no, I didn't hate it. It was telling to hear my daughter puzzling over who Merida married (because that's what princesses do, right?!), and asking why she didn't wear trousers; so perhaps it was more mind-blowing to a four-year-old than to me. And that's fair enough. But it's a shame Brave didn't knock both of our socks off, like The Incredibles and Up - both of which films managed to portray strong female characters without coming across like an undergrad Gender Studies project.
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