Friday, July 6, 2012

The Peanut Gallery: Be Brave

I've decide, after some deep thought (meaning, hey, this seems like a good idea; I should totally do it!) I'm going to add a subsection to my blog called "The Peanut Gallery." These are just normal posts but will all be titled THE PEANUT GALLERY and have a nifty little colon and then some other title along with it. They'll mostly be film reviews and my opinions on them, along with some book reviews thrown in. Why include these reviews, you may ask? 1) They are totally relevant to most subjects on here. 2) I love writing film reviews. I, in no small way, kind of want to be Roger Ebert. And 3) I really love movies. And I see a lot of them. And I have opinions. Lots of them.
I was motivated to do this after seeing the Disney/Pixar movie Brave. If you haven't seen this movie, I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend it. Because it is the first Pixar movie to feature a princess and the first Disney movie to feature a princess WITHOUT accompanying her with a love interest.

For reasons I don't quite understand, film viewers and reviews have instantly begun equating the lack of a prince and Merida (the main character)'s lack of desire to marry with her sexual orientation. This article does a really good job of discussing why this is just silly, but I do want to dwell on it a bit further. Why does not wanting to get married equate with being gay? I guess if we're still saying marriage is strictly between a man and a woman (which if this is your precursor, then you've already lost me), then that's were this line of thought must be coming from, because otherwise it makes no sense. I know many lesbians who absolutely 100% want to get married - just not to a man. No where does the film Merida suggest that she doesn't want to marry a man; but it's also not that she couldn't be a lesbian. It's just that because she doesn't want to get married and she likes shooting arrows and riding horses and she's a bit of a "tomboy" that suddenly "oh my God, she's gay." The logic doesn't follow, it's a huge assumption (about gender norms, among other things), and what does it matter? It's not about her romantic relationships. Brave is a movie entirely about mother/daughter relations. And this is where the focus should be.
This article from Ms. Magazine does a fantastic job discussing this. Too few movies really look at the relationships between women. Sure, we get lots of romantic comedies and buddy comedies and romantic dramas and sometimes family dramas. But we rarely see the main characters of a film both being women, especially mother and daughter. The way this film portrays Merida and Elinor's relationships is both honest and heartwarming. As an only child who's had a very easy relationships with her mother (we've never had a serious fight; this appears to be beyond abnormal from the way the rest of my friends talk about their mothers), the rockiness of their relationship is something I sympathize with less but it still captured a complexity in the relationship between my mom and I, and I found myself easily relating with both mother and daughter. I also loved the use of the "mother bear" idea tied throughout the narrative, and the writers did an excellent job of seemingly drawing off mythology (such of that of Callisto in Greek myths and I'm pretty sure there's a Native American legend about a woman turning into a bear, but I can't remember what it is). Also, I love the bits they show of Fergus and Elinor's relationships; the portrait they paint of this family is so, so vivid I haven't had such feelings for an animated family since Despicable Me (and never really had before that, actually. You win bonus points, modern animated films, for making awesome movies about family that make me cry).

Another thing I loved about this movie was Merida. She's quirky, she's funny, she's a ginger (ginger princess for the win!) I've been pondering ideas of "strong female characters" here recently and stumbled across this post on Tumblr about it. I absolutely love this post; what it says is so accurate. Too often we either group women into damsels in distress or ass-kicking action heroes. The problem is that both of these groups are just 2-D facades when what we really need are human women; not specifically strong women. We shouldn't have to classify characters separately if they're strong, but we do because they seem so exceedingly rare. What I like about Merida is that she is strong - physically and mentally - but she gets upset, makes mistakes, and shows her weaknesses as much as her strengths. She might be the most three-dimensional Disney character I have ever encountered and she isn't strong so much as she's human. I wish this movie could have come out when I was little - I feel like being exposed to a character like this when I was younger would have greatly changed my experiences and my perspective on the world for the better. Also, I would have been utterly obsessed with her (and her hair. I totally love the hair - but remarking upon this, I love that their is very little mention of appearances in this movie. So much of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast - while I enjoy these films - are on looks and beauty. The only mention of appearances is in reference to Merida having to look courtly - which she loathes. God is it nice to have a princess whose not stereotypically pretty and whose looks are barely mentioned).
Also, this movie is set in Scotland. Your argument for not seeing it is invalid. (They did a great job researching on the location, it shows; and it's so nice to see Scotland not being presented totally stereotypically like it was in Made of Honor (hate, hate, double hate).)

So, is this my favorite Disney movie ever? Yep. Yes it is. :D

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