Reason for watching it: I have read a lot of analysis of the film, some strongly positive and some very angry, and I was curious to see it.
Circumstances of watching it: A nice relaxed evening with cjwatson and his younger two kids.
Verdict: Brave is a lovely story about a mother and daughter, and gorgeously animated, while I'm somewhat ambivalent about the Hollywood "Scottish" setting.
I found Brave to be an amazingly good piece of storytelling. It's just gloriously exciting, really pacey, a bit of physical comedy but honestly not much, mostly the plot moving forward with few digressions into the typical cute but pointless scenes of critters being cute. Even though it's primarily a children's film and as far as I can judge fully accessible to even quite young children, I couldn't predict where the plot was going, and in several respects it stays away from the obvious grooves.
I really enjoyed having a proper Bildungsroman with a teenaged girl as a the hero, and I very much appreciated the way it avoids the obvious tropes about individuation. It starts out looking like it might be the kind of clichéd story where the heroine is a girl-who-hates-sewing and has adventures and is generally too cool for all that feminine stuff. In fact, Merida's personal growth is much more interesting than that; she gets to have adventures and achieve independence, but she also comes to understand more of her parents' perspective, and values stability and domesticity as well as archery and horseriding and excitement.
I understand why some people loved the film, because it's such an atypically nuanced exploration of the relationship between a mother and her daughter. I also understand why some people were offended by the same nuanced portrayal; Brave challenges the usual children's film ideal of maternal love, but equally, a viewer coming from an abusive family background might well be offended by the happy ending and feel that it does reinforce the horrible message that parents' good intentions excuse all kinds of actually harmful behaviour towards their children.
As someone who's exceptionally fortunate in my own parents, I personally really enjoyed the development of Merida and Elinor's relationship; it feels like the portrayal of the often painful but ultimately healthy transition from a parent-child relationship to a more equal relationship. I really loved the arc of Elinor being transformed into a bear, the way it literalizes the idea that a loving parent can still be a genuine threat to a child, and the way that the mother and daughter end up protecting and saving eachother. Partly because the bear is just beautifully animated, it's very much a bear and also very much Emma Thompson's Queen Elinor.
So in many ways it's a great film, it's feminist without being femme-phobic, which is a big thing. I have a lot of sympathy for the anger against the Disney Princess franchise, but Merida seems like a great character for children of any gender to relate to. The downside is that I found the setting really cringey. Friends (and strangers on the internet) have commented that Brave would be considered cultural appropriation if the characters were a non-white ethnic group. I don't particularly want to have the debate about whether prejudice against white ethnic minorities should have the name of "racism", I don't think that's fruitful, but whether or not it's comparable to racism based on skin colour, it still exists and is still a problem.
Merida's situation in Brave arises because the supposedly "Scottish" clans are violent and brutal and basically "primitive", and everybody drinks heavily and wears (anachronistic) kilts. Plus, gender roles are straight out of neo-Victorian ye olden days. On the positive side most of the voice actors are actually Scottish, with the notable exception of Thompson whose accent wanders somewhat. And they used at least some actually Scottish scenery and music as well as more generic rocky mountain background and generic Disneyish songs (honestly the score is kind of unmemorable for the most part). But I felt really uncomfortable with the whole setting, partly because unlike with most Hollywood stereotyping, I felt like I was actually in the target audience. I was being invited to find entertaining the idea that Scottish people are violent primitive stupid drunks, which is a stereotype that has historically been used to excuse nice middle-class southern English people like me profiting from Scottish land and resources while destroying Scottish, especially Highland, culture. And it's not something just from the past, the same stereotypes and prejudices were being aired in the English press during the Scottish independence referendum, for example. Also, you have to add onto that the weird American romanticism about "Celtic" stuff.
So overall I don't know, I enjoyed the film a lot, but the setting made me really uncomfortable.
Reading Wednesday: Still reading and enjoying The Dervish House by Ian McDonald; nothing much more to report.
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