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Is Brave a Feminist Story?

Pixar's Brave: Feminist Fable or Just Another Pretty Princess?

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When Pixar first announced plans to feature a female protagonist back in 2006, critics and moviegoers alike had high hopes for The Bear and The Bow, as it was then called. Six years later the movie, now titled Brave, has hit the theaters, and some are saying that it doesn't live up to the hype — not because it's not visually stunning (it is, reviewers agree), but because its heroine, Scottish warrior-wannabe Merida, is yet another princess.

"You can't help wishing they'd thought a little further outside the box. A princess, really? They couldn't have bestowed girlhood on an inanimate object? An alien? A micro-pig?" writes Sarah Stewart at the New York Post. (You can watch the trailers here.) "This Celtic-themed story hews so closely to classic fairy-tale tropes, it's the studio's most Disney-fied production yet." Keep reading to find out if Pixar missed the point.

But did Pixar really miss the point with their red-headed heroine? Over at Slate's XX factor, Hanna Rosin says that Brave is more radical than one might think.
"The men in Brave are all oafs, idiots, or sissies; not a shred of intelligence or heroism among them," she points out. "Merida's father checks all the sitcom doltish dad stereotypes: he is inarticulate, gives bad advice, and knocks down everything in his path; in fact, central plot developments depend on his stupidity. . . . At one point, a noble warrior moons everyone, at another, the whole crew of them walks around pantsless. All the wisdom and bravery comes entirely from Merida — a rebellious, yes, princess — and her mother, the Queen."

What's groundbreaking about Brave, Rosin writes, is that it deals with women and power — not political power or a willingness to lead, but "raw physical power, edging over into violence." Merida is no delicate flower hidden away for her own protection, waiting for true love to set her free; she is stubborn, physically strong, rebellious, tenacious, fierce. She is disgusted by the tradition that promises her hand in marriage to whoever wins it in a tournament, and exploits a loophole in order to enter the competition herself. It's great to hear her declare, "I'll be shooting for my own hand!" before beating the boys; the problem is that a lot has changed, pop-culturally speaking, since Pixar started working on Brave — so much so that what may have seemed radical in 2006 is just run-of-the-mill now.

"Now, smack in the middle of 2012, we have been bombarded by images of defiant young women who shoot arrows (see Katniss Everdeen), and fairy tales featuring females with some fight in them (see Snow White and the Huntsman, among others), and numerous works of film or television that have injected much needed estrogen into the zeitgeist," Jen Chaney points out at The Washington Post. "All this evidence of the rise of the femme in mass entertainment amplifies the sense that Brave has arrived really late to the girl-power party."

And yet . . . isn't it better late than never? Sure, one wishes that Brave had proved to be as wild and stunning as Merida's gorgeous red hair. But just her tresses took nearly three years and a team of animators to get right; maybe Pixar's next female lead will live up to our super-high expectations. For now, though, we still get to enjoy a visually beautiful movie about a smart girl who learns how to handle her power. At least she's not just another pretty face, pining away while waiting for her prince to come.

Web exclusive: Meet Pixar's First Princess and the Actress Who Brings Her to Life

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