Monday, June 25, 2012

Pixar's Brave Movie Review

This past weekend Disney Pixar released its newest movie - Brave. We had both seen trailers for it and had suspicions that we would not like it. Nevertheless, it was my husband's birthday this past weekend and he voted for a date night which included a viewing of this new movie. His sister and fiance came over and watched the kids (this is always a big hit for the kids!) and so off we went with a song in our hearts and a glimmer of hope that this movie might enchant us in some small form or fashion (it being Jonathan's birthday and all).

Alas, it was not to be. We were not remotely charmed and though I am sure that there are plenty out there that will disagree with me on this point: we did not like it.

The basic story plot is this:

The movie is set in the Highlands of Scotland. The heroine of the film is Princess Merida, the very outgoing and headstrong daughter of King Fergus and Queen Elinor. The time has come to call the clans together to present suitors for Merida's hand in marriage. These suitors will compete in the game of her choosing, the winner set to be her new husband. Merida does not want to get married and despises the potential suitors, and so bucks tradition and competes in the games herself, "winning her own hand" in order that she might hopefully escape a marriage. Her mother is appalled by her behavior and in a fit of temper, Merida runs away from the castle. She meets an old witch in the woods who prepares a spell "to change her mother." Merida hopes the spell will cause her mother to change her mind about marrying her daughter off, but instead the spell turns her mother into a bear. Merida and Queen Elinor have until the second sunrise to mend the rift between them or else her mother will be doomed to remain a beast for all time . . . (whoops, wrong movie!).

The theme of the movie: be brave enough to set your own destiny. Harness the wind and become master of your own fate! That sort of thing.

I can already hear the cheers and cries of support for Brave from those who dislike Disney's "typical Princess films" wherein the princess are in pursuit of happily-ever-afters where a marriage always takes place. The demands for more spirited and independent woman have been growing louder and, it would seem, that Brave is Disney's answer. (Ironically, they are still marketing dolls and dresses featuring Brave characters. I was walking in the mall the morning after the movie was released and I saw two girls holding Merida dolls. Girls will still be drawn to girly things, but I guess it makes it better that she's Independent and doesn't get married on film. Still, I think it's kind of funny that they are marketing Merida dolls, in light of the message of this film. It would be more appropriate to market swords and bow and arrows.)

As Jonathan said after walking out of the theater - he is not opposed to the portrayal of strong women on film. He doesn't see anything wrong with strength of character in a female (thank you) and is not remotely put off by it except when it only comes about as portraying all male characters are complete buffoons. Unfortunately, that is exactly what takes place in Brave. The strong characters in this film are Merida and her mother, the Queen. King Fergus is a big-hearted but very silly man who can think of nothing but belching and fighting with the other men. When his wife requests his help in leading the family in any way, shape, or form, he's suddenly an unhelpful idiot, running from the responsibility. Life for him is all about war and smack talk. He likes to be loud and have fun. The clear head behind the throne is the Queen. It is she who "deals with the clans" when Merida enters the competition for her hand and it is she who is portrayed as having the most honor. Her husband is a mere puppet that she seems to keep around because it's tradition to have a male on the throne. She doesn't seem to have a great deal of respect for him at all. It is, in fact, Merida and her mother who save the day in this film as they both discover that taking hold of your "fate" and daring to dream differently than as society might expect - or find appropriate - is the way to go.

The above concern is our major beef with the film. None of the male characters are admirable and it is no thanks to them that society exists at all.

A few other reasons we did not care for the movie:

1. Nudity. Oh yes! In a Pixar film! The clan males are acting in a senseless manner and end up stranded and locked outside atop a huge tower. In order to get down off of the tower, they take off their kilts and make a huge kilt ladder. As they are walking away from the rope, back into the castle, we get a nice look at their bare backsides. (The audience audibly responded to the scene. Some laughed, some gasped and some, like me, sat infuriated that Disney decided to expose children to such things in animated films. I am not. impressed.)

Also, when the queen is magically changed from a bear into a woman, she is wrapped only in a piece of tapestry. It is very obvious that she doesn't have any clothes on (in fact) and is surrounded by clansman. She has to point out to her husband that she is naked and then tells him, "Well, don't stare at me!" when he does nothing immediately to help her out of her predicament. (He seems quite oblivious until she points out the obvious most of the time.) He has to be jolted out of his reverie into telling the other clansman to look away from his wife. Again, I was not remotely impressed with the decision to present this subject matter to children, as if it were normal. This film has the potential to desensitize children to serious moral issues in movies these days - relating to nudity and sexuality - and I'm quite shocked that I did not see this issue mentioned in any review we read before viewing the film. (Hello??!) To me, that's a big issue to discuss!

2. Merida has triplet little brothers who say nothing in the entire film but are in every way the most disobedient children that you could ever hope not to have to spend much time around. They steal food, make fun of people, are disrespectful, and constantly create havoc by generally running amok. Their parents do not pay attention to them and their behavior is atrocious. Yet, they were portrayed as characters who were supposed to be adding comic relief to the film. Personally, I didn't find them very funny at all.

3. The witch. Now, I don't mind witches in stories. I just wish it to be excessively clear when it is to be considered a good witch or a bad one. When you start bringing magic and witchcraft into a plot, I think you need to take care to be excessively clear whether this magic is good or bad. In the film Brave I did not feel like such a distinction was made. The witch made a powerful spell in a creepy sort of manner. She was creepy looking and she clearly had great power. Yet, at the same time, she was portrayed as being sort of funny. I made too many mental comparisons to her and Mama Odie in The Princess and the Frog (linked to my review) to feel comfortable with her. I think Disney is playing with darker magic in a loose fashion, causing youngsters (and their parents) to become confused about the difference between good and bad magic and its general usefulness in storytelling. Magic can be useful in a story but, again, I think it needs to be clear whether it is good or bad. In this case, there is no clear answer. Therefore I am nervous about it and am unable to find the film "cute" in the way I believe it was intended to come across.

In retrospect, this film has very little in it that I can support. There are no values I cherish (the values I do cherish were trashed) and I'm not at all enthusiastic about it. I wouldn't recommend it and would instead urge strong caution in exposing yourself to it. I do not say that because the film scares me, but because I think it markets false values. Chiefly, it portrays males en masse as stupid oafs who barely survive from day to day. There is no glory and no honor in being a man, according to this film. Just practice your belching and butt scratching and leave the important stuff to the women.

Suffice it to say, we didn't care for it and we can't recommend it. Our own children will not be watching this one at this time. (If we ever did watch it, it would be when they are old enough to discuss our issues with it.) That will not be happening anytime soon.


Shonya said...

Yup, I didn't figure I would have any interest in seeing this or sharing it with my kiddos. Thanks for confirming my gut! :)

Jennifer said...

I'm always excited when a new Disney movie comes out, but once I saw the previews for this one I was disappointed. First of all, it didn't even look interesting to me, and second, I've heard some about the nudity and various other things that just turned my stomach. Thank you for your wise review. I'll be skipping this one.

*carrie* said...

Thank you for this review, Carrie.

Nathan was invited to a birthday party on Friday in which they went to see this movie. Eric and I agonized over the decision, but after watching the preview and reading some other reviews, we felt it best to keep him home.

Reading your thoughts encourages me that we made the right choice, even though it was hard to stand alone in it. (All of the other kids who were invited went to see the movie.)

Stephanie Kay said...

Sounds like a movie we will be skipping! Nudity, in a Pixar movie?! Good grief!! It's not necessary in any other movie, let alone an animation.

Diary of an Autodidact said...

I'm with you on the portrayal of men as oafs. (Although it does occur to me that the history of the kings and queens of England would seem to indicate that women are more likely to be capable rulers than men...) I really would prefer to see a little less gender stereotyping in that sense.

As to the nudity, I probably will agree that the first instance is unnecessary. (I haven't seen the movie, so I give a qualified statement.) The second doesn't bother me quite as much (in a theoretical sense) because it fits the narrative. A person who changes from an animal to a human wouldn't have clothes, and at least one of my kids would want to know where any clothes came from if they magically appeared. (I am reminded of Eustace in Dawn Treader, for example.)

Again, without having seen the movie, I am pleased to see a story that does not end in a wedding. I also wholeheartedly agree with a heroine who defies her parents' attempt to marry her off. Women should be encouraged to think of themselves as more than arm candy for a man, and should go and have their own adventures. (This is one reason I enjoyed Tangled more than the average princess flick.) I think this message is still worthwhile and necessary, in this age of helicopter parents living vicariously through their children, and ultraconservative cult-like groups focusing on the control of adult children by their parents. Our children need to have dreams of becoming grownups.

Carrie said...

Oh. I should point out that one reason that many people say that they like it is because it emphasizes a good mother-daughter relationship and encourages them to listen to one another without trying to change the other. I see that in the film and I thought, mostly, that was done fairly well. I'm going to go with that one.

Also, I should tell you that there was one thing I really LOVED about the movie. ;) That is? The waterfall. ;D The Pixar animation made the waterfall look completely REAL and I was blown away by the effects. Just a gorgeous scene. Kudos to Pixar on making that look so entirely realistic!

@D of an A - since you comment here frequently and you KNOW we don't agree on such things, I'm going to just pass on responding. We don't agree on the basic roles of men and women. I'm far more conservative than you, which we both recognize. I don't feel like trying to beat each other over the head with this every time we approach the subject so I'm going to go with an, "I'm going to disagree for the millionth time" without arguing the point.

Anonymous said...

I am happy to have an honest review. Thank you! I saw this morning on the news it was tops in the boxoffice and raised millions! Of course!

Barbara H. said...

Well, that's disappointing and dismaying. I don't understand producers making "men as oafs" films -- don't they realize men watch films, too? It seems silly even from a secular marketing strategy but also from an "aren't we supposed to respect everyone despite differences" politically correct viewpoint as well as from a spiritual viewpoint. And there's just no need to inject nudity in films, period.

Jill O. Miles said...

I saw it with my nearly 13 year old daughter. I was hoping to enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Tangled. I didn't. Not even close. It WAS somewhat refreshing to have the main story revolve around the mother/daughter relationship instead of prince/princess. My daughter enjoyed it, and we now share inside jokes because of it. When she hands me a drink I ask, “Will I turn into a bear?"...then we giggle.

B said...

Too bad. It had promise, but your objections are sound. (I won't say I agree with everything, 100%, but I certainly think you make good points about the film. I'd have a hard time showing this to kids, as it might send confusing signals.) At least the music sounds like it might be worth listening to.

Annette Whipple said...

Seriously. UGH.

Curious if your go-to for reviews was Plugged In, I went to read their review and was thoroughly disappointed that they didn't mention the out and out nudity though they do say "bare rears" in the conclusion...though that is not the ONLY place it should be.

The nudity pretty much turns my stomach...

Cars 2 and this one are two Pixar movies that we won't be watching any time soon.

Thank you for your review!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. It does not sound kid-friendly at all.

Mark Baker said...

I saw it Friday as well. I enjoyed it, although I definitely think Pixar can do better. I wasn't even bothered by the men are oafs thing, and I'm a man. Go figure.

I found the first nudity funny.

Then again, I'm a man with no kids to think about, so maybe that's part of the reason these things didn't bother me. I certainly did mention the nudity when I was reviewing the film because I know some people will be bothered by it, and I do respect that.

Honestly, while I enjoyed the film, I can't argue with any of your points. You brought up some very valid complaints people should take seriously when thinking about this film.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

We'll probably skip it, at least until the kids are a bit older. Thanks for the review!

Emmy D said...

Oh, I'm glad you reviewed this one before I wasted money seeing it. The previews didn't look especially enticing but being Pixar I had hoped for better...oh well!

Bluerose said...

We skipped this one and watched Men in Black 3. :)

I'm disappointed to hear about the nudity! (To be honest, the first nudity part would probably be the only thing that bothered me). Just from watching the previews of Brave, hearing the strong fake accents drove me INSANE, so I don't know if I could sit through it just for that reason.

Annette, what's wrong with Cars 2? I haven't watched it yet, and haven't heard anything. We loved the first Cars.

BerlinerinPoet said...

Confession: I'm a sucker for a strong female lead. I don't like the fact that often it means reducing guys to spineless buffoons, BUT I do like the princess being less princess-y and more independent.

However, I really really really don't like animated movies so I'm SO glad you reviewed this so I can lazily point out your review when people ask if I want to see it. Cause I don't.

Also, nudity in a kid's movie??? Sheesh!

Carrie said...

@Bluerose - I wasn't a fan of Cars2 either. I thought it lacked in charm, mostly. (The first film is AWESOME!!!) It's more PC, fast-paced and action packed. Not hideous, I suppose, but no where near as cute and clever as Cars is.

@Mark - Thanks for sharing your perspective (and acknowledging that it might be different if kids are involved).

@Annette - Your kids would also not like it because there is a bear in the film which is spooky and scary. Our kids are kind of the same when it comes to the amount of tension and stress they can take on film. This is a solid flop in the "scare department." The "bad guy bear" was way too much.

Laura Hartness said...

I saw Brave on Friday, and I agree with most of what you've written here. The movie was gorgeous, but that doesn't make up for the content. My full review here:

I'm glad we share similar thoughts on this-- thanks for the honest review!


Gina @ Hott Books said...

We watched it & except for those five minutes at the end I couldn't see any reason to watch it.
The humor was all off color -- My teenage son thought it was hilarious -- and not appropriate for my younger children.

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