Mothers are Stupid Bears: A Review of Brave
[Spoiler Alert] Brave features an appealing young heroine, Merida, a teenage princess who rejects marriage for independence. That is all well and good — and it is why I was there. I had heard the buzz — strong heroine, female protagonist, a young girl who seizes control of her own life. But the villain is Merida’s mother, the queen; she bosses Merida around and tries to force her to get married. Merida rebels, finds a witch, asks for a spell that will “change her fate” and ends up turning her mother into a bear. Yes, a bear.
Besides the fact that this plot device derails the movie, the image of mother-as-bear is disturbing. The bear has the dumpy figure of a middle aged woman (big hips etc) and is foolish rather than scary; she cannot speak and does not know what to do. Thus Merida has to show her mother/bear how to take care of herself; she leads her through the forest and becomes the one in charge.
Although ultimately the mother/bear pulls it together and fights off an enemy bear; mother and daughter heal their rift and the mother/bear turns back into just a mother — the final kiss in the movie is between mother and daughter (I did like this) — the message of the movie is that mothers are stupid, dangerous, and controlling and need to learn their lesson. Merida appears to triumph, but her options are severely limited. She cannot grow older or she will become a middle aged woman and look how dumb they are. In addition, mothers are stupid, so she can’t be one of those either. Clearly, Pixar thinks that the only choice for a young girl heroine is to stay a young girl heroine. Granted, the father in the movie is a buffoon as well. So, maybe the movie is telling us that there are no grownups. The only person to be is a young rebel. So Merida is James Dean? But she isn’t. She is a heroine lost in a movie that gets confused when it is not heading toward a wedding.
And maybe this is the biggest problem of all. Without the marriage plot, Brave falls into chaos; the writers can’t seem to dream up another story for a heroine. Nemo’s father can search for his son. Buzz Lightyear and Woody can fight off the villain toy-killer. A rat chef can save a restaurant. But Brave gets muddled when Merida says she won’t get married. There is a strange confused subplot where Merida and her mother save the kingdom, but only sort of and this storyline seems like a last minute addition. Merida’s only goal is to reject a wedding — and so the movie ends with her back in the castle as a daughter again. A happy daughter, but a daughter all the same.
I wonder what would have happened if Pixar had not fired Brenda Chapman, the original director. But maybe it is a cultural problem: what can heroines do besides get married?