Sunday, June 24, 2012

5 Lessons From Disney/Pixar's Brave

The new Disney/Pixar film Brave is a powerful film. The overall plotline has been masterfully unspoiled from the previews, though I was able to deduce much of it from the general marketing push (specifically some of the Subway restaurant tie-in materials), but the title alone indicates at least one theme that will be prevalent in the film. I've done a more comprehensive (though still spoiler-free) review of Brave over at Black Gate magazine, but I had some other thoughts that I decided were more appropriate to share here.

As I watched the film, I found myself wishing I had a daughter, so I could instill some of the values being shown in the movie into her. Alas, I have only the two sons, but still most of these values are important for them to understand as well.

1. A girl can be a hero

Disney has frequently had strong, courageous female characters over the years. Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana (The Princess and the Frog), and Rapunzel (Tangled) were all female leads, and certainly other films featured independent female characters who stood up to traditional gender stereotypes and roles, like Jasmine from Aladdin.

However, in all of these cases, these strong, independent women were tied closely to their male counterparts and romantic partners. (Mulan might be an exception, but I can't recall if there was a romantic subplot, because I haven't seen that film since it was in theaters.) The heroic climax is often one that is resolved primarily by the male character or, at best, jointly shared between the romantically-entangled couple. It is, after all, Prince Eric, not Ariel, who finally dispatches Ursula. It is the Beast, not Belle, who kills Gaston. (Belated spoiler alert ... but, honestly, if you haven't seen these movies, you shouldn't be reading this post.)

Brave completely throws that model out. The conflict that drives the entire film is that the princess Merida is supposed to get betrothed but doesn't want to. 

No, it's not just that she's unsatisfied with the suitors. 

No, she has not secretly fallen in love with a street rat peasant instead. 

She's just more interested in other things and wants to wait to find love later on in life. Basically, this is a girl who has more important shit to do than marry some guy ... like, you know, become a kick-ass archer and swordfighter!

The climax of the film rests squarely on Merida's shoulders. Well, okay, Merida does share some of the burden in the climax ... but it's with her mother, Queen Elinor, not with any of the male characters. In fact, Merida's father - the only significant male protagonist - is a major antagonist at that point in the film!

Hands down, it is Merida and Queen Elinor who are the heroes of Brave.

2. Legends are lessons that ring with truth

This is a line that gets repeated a couple of times throughout the film and I think has a lot of merit. It's not that legends are true, but that they have the ring of truth about them and they teach us something. For me, this resonates with my own view over the last few years, as I have begun to realize that spirituality contains certain valuable truths even though the legends surrounding spiritual traditions are not something I can lend any factual credibility to. Brave presents a third option, which is to respect the lesson of the legend without embracing it as fact.

Frankly, if the lesson is valid, then whether or not the original story is factual becomes somewhat unimportant.

Of course, the nice resonance of this quote is that it helps solidify Brave itself as a legend, since it is a lesson that rings with truth.

3. Loving parents are sometimes wrong

This is not to say that sometimes parents are evil or malicious. That lesson was taught in the stories of Snow White and Cinderella. (Yes, I know, they were step-parents, but still...)

No, in this film Queen Elinor (Merida's mother) loves Merida immensely, but she is also deeply wrong about the course upon which she believe her daughter should be travelling. She goes to great lengths to thwart and dismiss Merida's desires, to chastise her for even having desires in the first place, and really steps over the line by trying to destroy one of Merida's most prized possessions out of anger. As a parent, this is an extremely well-handled scene and resonates with frustration we've all felt, but it also sets Merida up for a very realistic rebellious response ... and another related lesson.

4. Rebellious teenagers are sometimes really wrong

In response to her mother, Merida seeks out a magical resolution to her problem ... and things go out of control. She acts out of anger and frustration without considering the consequences or getting a full understanding of the events that she's going to set in motion. She's a pissed off teenager looking to seize control of her own life and defy her mother by any means necessary. What could possibly go wrong with that plan? Well, I can't tell you without spoiling the film.

5. Reconciliation comes from setting aside pride, admitting your mistakes, and forgiving completely

The final lesson is general enough that I don't think I'm giving away anything about the plot by saying that this is the key lesson of the film. It is, in a sense, its own from of bravery, which ties it back into the film's title. The climactic scene, in which this lesson manifests, is entirely predictable from the moment you realize what's happening, but it's also incredibly emotional. The three adults in my group (including me) teared up during it, despite the fact that there really wasn't any question about how things were going to unfold! It was, in the words of my wife, a "classic."

It was, in short, a legend ... a tale of mothers and daughters, the battles they fight, both against each other and united together.

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1 comment:

pork said...

i thought the lesson was that our fate isn't written for us; we must be the author of our own destiny. at least that's what i got out of it. :)