Pixar’s “Brave” Is Not For Boys
1. There are a whole bunch of thematic similarities between Brave and The Little Mermaid.
2. Despite the thematic similarities, Brave does not get on my nerves the way The Little Mermaid does.
3. Brave messes around with the witch-mother element in other Disney films by actually making the witch somewhat innocuous rather than evil, and the mother something other than an absent character, or a malicious step-parent. This is consistent with the more general philosophy in the film of making the women the point of the film: the female characters are not one-dimensional. It is good for your daughters.
4. It is less good for your sons. The male characters in the film are one-dimensional. They are either spritely, voiceless, little boys, menacing figures, buffoons, or obstacles. In Brave, although it is the mother-daughter relationship that is tested by the system of arranged marriages that is in place, it is still a male construct: Men are the problem in Brave.
5. What fathers can take out of this film is something similar to what they can take out of The Little Mermaid: Don’t lose your cool around your teenaged daughter; remain a rational person. But this isn’t much of a message to take away.
6. The message for boys is even more shallow: Don’t…um…buy into a patriarchal system of arranged marriages? Don’t eat the cake? I’m not sure what boys are supposed to take away from this movie, except that women aren’t cardboard cutouts. While that’s not an immaterial message, it’s more subtle than boys will probably recognize. It might lay a foundation for relationships with complicated, genuine, women in the future, and if it does then that is a good thing. But there are no role models for boys in this movie. Men aren’t even presented as classic strong stereotypes: they are presented as lampooned stereotypes. In that respect, it is a step back in the evolution of prince characters Disney has been engaged in for half a century.
Not every movie has to have male role models. Brave might be a worthwhile movie just because of its updated treatment of Disney princesses and witches/mothers, but Disney and Pixar still have a ways to go before they hit the right balance in messaging to boys and girls.
(Editor’s Note: As usual, I’ve overestimated you, Internet. While I admit to a little link-baiting with the title of this post (I’m trying to make $35 in ad revenue so Adsense will cut me a check), the obstinate mis-reading is getting hilarious. The actual criticism of the film is: There are no role models for boys. (One commenter points out that Merida herself is a good role model for boys. Fine. There are no male role models for boys.) That observation either has value to you as a parent, movie watcher, or media critic, or it doesn’t. It’s an observation. It’s a criticism insofar as you have some values about role models in media; it’s not a criticism insofar as you don’t have those values.
Some disagree that there are no male role models, though I think it’s hard to stretch the characters that far. We’ll just disagree about our interpretations of those characters.
Others claim that having no role models for boys is just some kind of turnabout, and why bother point it out at all? Again, the observation either has value to you as a parent, movie watcher, or media critic, or it doesn’t. The observation isn’t false because girls have had it worse.
The most hilarious criticism of this post comes in the form of claiming that I think the film will harm boys in some way, or that they shouldn’t see it, or that this observation all by itself makes the film terrible or overwhelms the other values of the film for parents, movie watchers, and media critics. I don’t know why I let it get to me so much, but it really, really bothers me when someone tries to tell me what I meant by a statement. It bothers me even more when they have no evidence outside of their own filters to back up that claim. This post is not a claim about how meritless the film Brave is, and it’s not an attack on female leads in films or female characters getting attention. The observation is that there are no male role models. A further observation is that what messaging there is for boys, though good (learning to relate to complicated women rather than cutouts) is too subtle. Somehow, this claim about how subtle the messaging is misread as “Burn this movie! It hurts boys!” That’s not in this post at all.
So, if you feel moved to leave a criticism of the post along any of these lines even after reading this postscript, I apologize for what I can only assume is terrible writing on my part. I didn’t think I was being more critical than the actual sentences convey, in my reading of them.)
(Further Editor’s Note: I’ve made $3 off of you so far. Thanks, Internet commenters. I’ll get my check from Adsense in no time.)
(Final Editor’s Note: I’ve closed comments on this post now that they’ve started repeating, and I don’t care to accumulate them while ignoring them, or cut-and-paste my replies. Most people who are just so grrr mad seem to mistake a title for a conclusion, and that’s fine. I wrote the title, so it’s only fair that I get to experience its aftermath. But I’m bored with explaining the minor point the post makes to people who can’t help but see a sweeping, and retrograde, claim in it that isn’t there. It’s inspiring me to deal with people sarcastically instead of sincerely, and as satisfying as sarcasm is sometimes, I don’t actually like it. Feel free to use my Contact Page to send me anything you want to share.)