Brave is a 2012 American computer-animated, heroic fantasy, action-adventure film, produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. The film won an Academy Award for Best Animated Film, the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film, and the BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film. Set in the Scottish Highlands during the 10th century, the film tells the story of a princess named Merida who defies an age-old custom, causing chaos in the kingdom by expressing the desire not to be betrothed.
As Pixar’s first film with a female protagonist lead, Brave sets out to break ground, and tries to provide a role model for modern young girls. The messages in this heroic fantasy movie are both overt and implied. It is a family-oriented movie, with children, young teens, and their parents as the primary target audience. The movie has a message for everyone in the audience. The movie’s central message, or overt message, is to remain true to who you are, no matter the circumstances. Brave also has an uplifting message about improving communication between mothers and daughters. According to USA Today, “Brave simultaneously celebrates the power of tradition, encourages children to make their own way in the world and exhorts parents to see their children as individuals.” Christian Post interviewed Katherine Sarafian, the lead producer, about the central message of the film. She offered this thought for audience: “When you can reconcile who you are with what’s expected of you and learn to trust the love of your family… that’s brave. When you realize, ‘I’m still me and I can still love my family and be a member of my community, just maybe not the way that people would expect… that’s brave” (par. 6). There is also an underlying, implied message that women are weak and need to be taken care of by a strong man. According to “Ideology” in Understanding Movies, “A social culture encompasses the traditions, institutions, arts, myths, and beliefs that are characteristic of a given community or population” (418). Tradition in the Scottish kingdom requires a princess to marry the suitor who performs the best, or achieves the highest score on a chosen feat of strength. Merida, with a head full of fiery-red, unruly curls (unlike traditional princesses) is filled with self-confidence, strong opinions athletic skills, determination, and loyalty. She does not mind being a princess, but she wants to be her own style of princess. The problem is she is still a Disney princess, with all the duties, responsibilities and traditions that go along with the role. This cliché, or implied message, is one of the stereotypes of a demure, passive princess, often seen in Disney movies. Merida shows strength in challenging traditional roles, but the implied message is equally effective at weakening the view that she is forward-thinking and a strong role movie.
The implied message is also presented through old-world traditions and by Merida’s mother who insists she be groomed for and conforms to the more traditional regal roles. While Brave has a strong overt message of controlling your own destiny, family communication, and the ultimate strength of mother-daughter relationship, the implied messages presents an obstacle to the goal of designing a strong role model for young girls. TIME.com states, “Merida is strong, capable, and courageous. But depressingly, she’s a princess, the most traditional role for female characters in children’s fictions. She’s a rebellious tomboy, but her concerns are still limited to those of a princess, the biggest of which remains, as ever, marriage” (Par. 2). Unlike traditional princess fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, Brave strives to present a balanced perspective of females in society. There is no romance for Princess Merida; there is no prince involved in sweeping her away, and it centers on a girl growing up instead of a romantic relationship, but the message is still strong and identifiable. In addition, Merida does not have the appearance or attitude of the traditional Disney princess with her red, frizzy hair and her desire not to be married. This gives young girls and women a better, stronger role model. In essence, Brave is more effective in burying the implied message deeper than is usually experienced in children’s films under a strong message of “girl power”, follow your heart, discover who you are, be true to yourself, and control your own destiny. Even though the film is a touching, heart-warming mother-daughter story, it is not strong enough to overcome the underlying gender stereotypes presented in the movie.
Overall, Brave is a great family film that will touch all ages of viewers. I would give this film two out of three clipboards because both the overt message and implied message balance each other out. The overt message of the film encourages children, especially girls, to be themselves under all circumstances, yet the implied message still restricts them. Merida wants her freedom and not to be betrothed, but she still is a princess and has certain duties that she must follow.
Brave is a sweet movie with traditional, yet modern values. The movie does well in delivering an uplifting message and in depicting the push-pull of the mother-daughter relationship, and shows it is possible for that bond to be one of mutual respect and deep love. It presents a new kind of princess in the terms of appearance, attitude, and ability, and does portray a young girl determined to do things her own way. In the end, young movie-goers will most likely identify with Merida as a strong heroin, but the implied message continues to muddy the waters in terms of exactly how modern this princess actually will turn out to be.