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Monday, June 18, 2012

A New Redhead for Us to Love - Merida!

This Friday, the general public officially gets to experience Merida’s world when they see Brave, the new film from Disney, and the Pixar division’s first princess film.

This is all pretty ironic, considering that in November of 2010, Disney’s Ed Catmull had stated that Disney was not planning on doing any more fairy tales for a while. Disney expected Tangled to not do so well at the box office…of course, they were proven wrong. So now we are getting Brave, and Disney has put the story of the Snow Queen back on the table.

Granted, Brave got the renamed title treatment that Tangled did. Originally, the film was called The Bear and the Bow…not necessarily princess-like, but the title was not as quirky or solid. Tangled was renamed because Disney feared that calling the film by its title character (who is, in fact, a girl and a princess) would have scared boys away. Who knows if it was the name change or the simple fact that Flynn was actually made into a solid character? In any case, the film did well and the boys at the office were reminded why Disney became a household name in the first place.

So the girls are back. And with every successive film starring a princess, Disney seems to get better and better with portraying a strong and independent female that little girls can idolize and women can relate with.
I have felt some trepidation regarding this film, I must admit. I love Pixar’s films; the stories are solid and heartwarming, harkens back to classic Disney films, and the animation impresses me with every viewing. However, this is the first time they will be featuring a female lead as the main protagonist, and the first time that they are dealing with a fairy tale. The original director for this film, Brenda Chapman, was to be Pixar’s first female director, but due to creative disagreements, was fired from the film. While it is not unusual for these things to happen while working on an animated film, it comes as a nasty sting here, especially towards women, who are still not getting an ample amount of creative expression in the entertainment industry. As a woman, it gets frustrating to hear about people fearing to alienate the male populous regarding entertainment when females have felt that alienation for most of history itself.

So I can’t help but wonder what specifically happened here. Was her presence actually hurting the film, or was it something that was just harder for the male-dominated studio to relate to and understand? Is it not crucial that a female perspective is expressed in Brave, considering that for the first time Disney is showing the complicated relationship between a daughter and a mother who is not a villain?

I can’t help but think of the film Incredibles. It is a fairly entertaining and solid film, but the one aspect of the movie that I have always felt wasn’t quite right was the mother/daughter relationship. This is not something that can be simply explained to men, and is not something that they can generally understand. And when working in a creative environment, it can be difficult for some men to relinquish some control and listen to a female perspective, even if it would make the final product stronger. The glass ceiling is still very present, and I’m hoping that in the case of Brave, it will not hurt the film.

I have mostly positive thoughts for this film, though. It is fun to see a princess that is not really interested in sitting pretty, but rather being active and adventurous, one who takes charge in controlling her own destiny. That is the stuff that solid films are made of. The fact that Merida is an archer is just, well – cool! I was happy to see at Disneyland when the merchandise for Brave had just been released that of all of their items, they were mostly sold out on the archery sets (and I’m not going to lie, I kinda want to get one for myself - FYI, the online Disney Store is already sold out of them!). And from what I have seen in the previews, the dynamics between Merida and Queen Elinor feel more natural and honest.

Some have complained that while Disney is trying to push the fact that Merida does not want to get married (and really, who could blame her from the selection she’s offered?), the film is still centering its plot on marrying Merida off, and if they really wanted to be progressive, that issue would not have been included in the film. However, I disagree with this sentiment – sure, it would be nice to see a female protagonist just doing her own thing without the focus being on making her an accessory to someone else, but we are dealing with a fairy tale that takes place in an age where this is simply what happened to young women everywhere, princesses especially. Marriages were used to bond other families, tribes and kingdoms together. Women were expected to carry on their bloodlines and have as many children as they could because the life expectancy of children making it past adolescence was perhaps 1 or 2 in 5, and just living in general your life expectancy was to make it to 30. Heirs needed to be produced to ensure that the family name and bloodline could carry on. Yes, it is a fairy tale, but it is set in a certain time period to make the story more believable to general audiences. And let’s be honest – we still have parents arranging marriages in this day and age all over the world, or in more modernized places, mothers pushing their daughters to get married because they want grandchildren.

I am also very, very happy that Kelly Macdonald voiced Merida. Reese Witherspoon was originally supposed to voice the character, and while I love her, she is not Scottish. A Scottish accent is not easy to fake, so it is better to hear some authenticity.

While Brave appears to be expressing a similar style to Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon (a fantastic film, but from a different studio), the sweeping images of the Scottish highlands in the trailers remind us that we will be seeing a film from the animation geniuses at Pixar. While the merchandise and final trailer have mostly given away the film’s plot, I am excited to see this movie and welcome a new redhead into my heart, one who hates having her wild mane brushed, acknowledges corsets for what they are, and is incredibly brave. That’s the kind of girl modern females are aching to see.

So, are you planning on seeing the film this weekend? Are you one of the lucky few that have gotten to see it in previews? Or is Merida scaring some of you boys away? J

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