A Brave Move

Caroline HochmanDecember 17, 2016The Soul of GenderMedia

The movie Brave, directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, is a riveting, comedic tale surrounding the ideas of fate, misunderstanding, stereotypes, and gender, hidden under the cover of another accursed, animated Disney princess film.

It starts in what we assume to be medieval Scotland, with the king and queen of one of the four local clans. Our main character is the teenage princess, Merida, who loves to be free (I know it sounds cheesy). She hates being confined to the attributes which make up a princess according to her mother. But Merida has different ideas. Her mother is a source of annoyance to her because she insists on Merida being an ideal princess, which is the opposite of what Merida wants to be. Brave takes the stereotypical, beautiful, dependent Disney princess and transforms it further by saying that she can be free of men and that she can fight — really fight — not just as a mannequin on horseback. It shows a new trend in Disney princesses, which is that they can not only be independent, but they can be rid of the confines of the Disney man.

The groundbreaking aspect of Brave is that gender stereotypes which have been a great factor in Disney princess movies are almost entirely absent. Here is a brief history of sexism in Disney princess movies. The first Disney princess movie, in 1937, was Snow White, in which Disney promoted stereotypes which kids were conditioned by for 76 years: the gorgeous prince, the weak princess and the evil stepmother. After the movie Cinderella (Disney’s 2nd film), came Sleeping Beauty. In Sleeping Beauty, Aurora only shows up for 18 minutes out of 75. This somehow made people believe that she was unimportant — go figure. Made in 1959, it was a considerable step back in princess movies: the whole story is about a timid, dull girl being saved by a beautiful prince in shining armor.

After that came The Little Mermaid, which was considerably better than Sleeping Beauty, but the real breakthrough occurred in Beauty and the Beast. In Beauty and the Beast, made in 1991, Belle was the first princess to be educated. After that came Aladdin, which was shortly followed by the release of Pocahontas. Both were better in terms of depicting strong female characters, but neither were significant breakthroughs. In 1998, the movie Mulan was released featuring the first real warrior heroine. Before and since there have been many princesses brandishing frying pans and umbrellas and the like, but this is the first truly empowered female warrior.

Since then there have been many attempts at gender equality in Disney princess movies but until Brave, the princesses have not broken out of all the confines and stereotypes of earlier movies. Merida has multiple arguments with her mom and goes so far as to try to win her own hand rather than being married off. To Merida, marriage is the polar opposite of freedom, and Merida’s dream is freedom, making her entirely adverse to marriage during the story. Her love is for archery rather than men.

The script in Brave is amazing to the last word, being witty and hammered with jokes. The timing is also impressive, in fact at some points in the movie I was close to tears because it was so funny. The humor in Brave will be enjoyable to the whole family. Although a lot of the humor in Brave comes out through jokes, some arises from making fun of stereotypes. An example of this is the fact that the stereotypes of women being polite and men being rowdy are so extreme that they actually become funny. Brave also has sight-gags, ironic humor and slap-stick humor. Overall, the screenplay in Brave was effective, though at times rather predictable. At some points you can see what’s going to happen from a mile away.

The magic and mystical parts of Brave were a bit young for me, such as the will-o-the-wisps and the witch. But although I was not particularly interested in them, I was sucked in and found myself wanting to help the characters. Other than the magic, the plot did not quite fit my expectations, mostly because when compared with the snappy humor, the plotline was a bit less-convincing. Even though the plot is much better than other Disney movies (mostly because of the humor and fighting), the story is more like an unusual version of a coming-of-age story. It shows the tension between the mother and daughter, an incentive to get their acts together and then a bond between them that is much stronger than in the beginning of the movie. (A similar example of this plot is in the famous film “Freaky Friday”.) While at exciting points in the plot Brave really sucks you in and makes you nervous, at other moments unexpected reversals occur that make up for some of the predictable plot twists. I gave Brave a lower rating because of the weaknesses in the plot.

Brave is great and has some absolute rolling-on-the-floor moments but is meant for a younger audience. I would suggest the movie to people who like really analyzing movies and what they symbolize. All and all Brave was a very good movie and I recommend it.

Caroline Hochman is 15 years old and lives in New York City. Her favorite subject is history, and her hobbies include playing violin and playing baseball.