This weekend I saw Pixar’s Brave. When I sat down in the theatre I thought: I’m seeing Pixar’s first female protagonist, this is so exciting! The previews had been epic; the amazing red hair, the scottish accents, the archery. I was pumped.
But then, as I sat there waiting for the movie to start I thought: Pixar’s FIRST female protagonist? It’s 2012… the first Toy Story came out in 1995. So it took 17 years to come up with a good story that was about girl’s journey. Interesting. Ok.
Wind went out of my sails a bit. But! Brave was written by Brenda Chapman (wrote and directed Prince of Egypt) – sounds promising. Although she was replaced as director by Mark Andrews (no notable director experience) in 2010 due to creative disagreements.
And then I watched the movie and it was pretty and I laughed, and I was held in mild suspense and given mild relief. It was a good children’s movie, but I left underwhelmed. Where was the depth that Pixar is known for? Where was the subtleties, the complications, the adult overtones?
Sometimes it’s hard to see the cultural norms because they are… well… normative. They are every where and expected so asking for something different can feel unnatural. Like Yoga. You had no idea your body could bend that way! Oh, but it can… if only you attempt it.
The first Pixar female protagonist is a …. Princess?
For 17 years Pixar has had the creative vision to come up with believable stories for:
- Toys that come to life (3 times)
- Monsters from under the bed and the back of the closet (prequel coming soon!)
- Cars that drive themselves (Pixar’s biggest commercial success)
- Robots (a movie with barely any dialogue)
- Fish (where is THIS sequel??)
- Old people and talking dogs (A single tear rolls down my cheek)
And the best that Pixar could come up with for a girl is…. A PRINCESS! Let’s give them a big fucking round-of-applause for the most over-written story on the planet. Well, I take that back. The second most over-written story. Because instead of the “Princess is swept off her feet by prince” schtick, it’s the “Princess rebels from societal norms, witchcraft and tom-foolery ensues”.
When I asked Kamel if he liked the movie he shrugged and said, “Yeah, I liked it. I thought it was a good movie.” Really? REALLY? I do not believe him. This movie has the same skeletal frame as every major animated movie about a girl (maybe except for the Princess and the Frog… in that one she isn’t even a Princess and she really just wants to be a business owner). When we left the theatre Kamel even said the story reminded him of Tangled. But when I pointed out that we talk about weaknesses in movies all of the time and about movies being shadows of other movies and how that’s a cop out frequently, he said, “But… these are just a certain kind of movie. The princess movies, they all go in the same category. It’s still good.” And then my head exploded. What if every animated movie about a boy had them as a prince trying to capture a princess’s heart? Is that just a “type” of movie? The Princess movies in one category and then all of the other interesting adventures involving boys in another. Obviously, my mistake. What bullshit!
And then I remembered a few years ago Kamel was in a Q&A with Pete Docter (the director of Monsters Inc. and Up) and Kamel asked him “Why hasn’t Pixar ever had a female lead character?” And first he responded with a joke (obviously… because it’s just so fucking hilarious), he said, “Because No Girls Allowed!” and then he said, “Just kidding.” And went on to explain that they realize it’s a problem but, “they just aren’t good at making great stories for girls.” He told Kamel they were working on it by hiring Brenda Chapman.
Hearing this story again, my head exploded for the 2nd time. What a crock of shit. Boys just can’t write girls? Girls are so confusing! We only know how to make them Princesses and have them fall in love with roguish men, and when we’re really pushing the envelope we give them a masculine skill like archery. So, if Wall-E had been a curious and spunky girl robot who fell in love with a determined and grumpy boy robot named Eli, the story just wouldn’t have made any sense? What if Nemo had been a daughter and not a son? Are there no girl monsters? Oh right, I forgot… women are just too difficult to capture outside of the tried and true Princess money-maker. My bad.
And even if I put my bra-burning feminist “I’m sick of princesses and I demand more” flag-waving aside… the movie was meh. It was just ok. It was pretty and comical and they already have someone who dresses up as the girl at Disneyland with giant red curls, so I guess all is well in the predictable universe. But I expected more. Where was the warrior? Where was the invention? Where was the story I hadn’t heard before? Pixar wins because it is not just about good animation, it’s about excellent storytelling. And this fell flat. As the first Pixar movie with a female protagonist it fell flat, because it focused on the story of a girl? No. It’s because they didn’t think beyond the predictable, gendered, boring box.
There was absolutely nothing Brave about this film, from concept to closing credits.