Thursday, June 28, 2012

Brave Storytelling

On Tuesday we went to see Brave. Most years my husband and I trade off who gets to take the kids to the newest Pixar (most other kids' movies feel like punishments to sit through, but we get super excited for Pixar and Miyazaki), but this year we made it a family night.

We loved it.

Unabashedly. All of us. My son next to me giggled. He grabbed onto my arm, terrified in the best way. He left the movie bouncing and already asking to buy it when it comes out on DVD. My daughter asked for it thirty seconds after he did. My husband and I both agreed it was great.

Then, lo and behold, I start hearing about reviews which seem to think it wasn't a fabulous movie.


Just kidding! I'm totally not letting you off that easy. I'm going to tell you why you are wrong.

It seems to me negative reviews fall under two categories.

1) It wasn't what I was expecting!


2) It had no plot!

Oh, sweethearts. Here we go.

1) Really? You're complaining because the trailer didn't give away crucial parts of the story? I love that Pixar managed to keep the core of the story and what it is really about a secret. GOOD FOR THEM. I hate it when I sit through a three minute trailer and feel like I've seen the entire movie. If you can tell the whole story in three minutes, WHY MAKE A FEATURE-LENGTH FILM?

Now, I get where this complaint comes from. Sometimes I pick up a book expecting X, and it turns out to be Y, and even though Y is really good and probably just as good as X, I really had my heart set on X! (X being a variable, not a rating, because come on this is me, guys. PG-13 is as far as I go.)

But instead of complaining and deciding that since I wanted X, Y is therefore worthless, I usually just go ahead and write X myself so that I can have the story I wanted and still appreciate Y.

Basically I am advocating making your own dang movie if Brave wasn't what you thought it would be.

Or actually I am saying: don't let your expectations poison a perfectly good reality.

(You can embroider that on a pillow. I won't even copyright it!)

And now we get to 2) It had no plot!

1 I can understand. But 2 just makes me mad. My husband and I discovered the animation of Hayao Miyazaki via Pixar, and as a storyteller I am so, so grateful. American films, particularly animation, tend to have the same type of storytelling. They are very A to B plots. This is the setup, this is the conflict, this is the resolution. Everything is tightly tied to the plot--so tightly there is no room for wonder, no room for breathing or playing.

If you've watched any Miyazaki films, you know that he does not fall into the plot trap. He soars over the plot trap, in the middle of a rainstorm, on a cat bus. He is all about characters and exploration and telling a story in a way that is not necessarily efficient but always magical.

There is more than one way to tell a story, and just because it is not the plot progression you have been fed in nearly every movie you've ever seen, doesn't mean it's not a plot. Dare I suggest it means it's...a better plot?

Of course I dare suggest it. I totally just did.

Again, I think this one is a direct result of/reaction to the first problem people had with it. The plot was unexpected, and so it was declared no plot at all.

But these two problems I can gracefully accept (other than, you know, writing really long blog posts about why they are not problems at all). It's the other problem I take major, major issue with.

People are annoyed because this is a movie about a girl that is not about a girl and a boy.



I saw some complaints that men were nothing but plot devices in the movie. Well, umm, they are characters. In a movie. So, yeah. But they are also side characters who, by virtue of being SIDE characters, are not actually main characters. WHOA. CRAZY HOW THAT WORKS.

Look, I know that reverse sexism is just as bad as sexism (okay, actually I don't know this because I don't think it happens enough to impact our culture with the same degree of pervasive and insidious influence as reverse-reverse-sexism [or just plain old sexism if you want to keep things simple, which, why would we want to do that?]) but this is not sexism. This is telling a story with two female main characters.

What's sad is that it is even remarkable. It shouldn't be remarkable. It shouldn't be a talking point. But it is, so let's focus on the positive of Pixar creating a story with a girl MC that is universally accessible and non-alienating based on gender.

(We will leave artificial gender constraints for another rambling blog post.)

If you are still reading, bravo! Reading long, ranty blog posts burns more calories than walking up a steep incline. Bet you didn't know that! Have some extra dessert.

If you still haven't seen Brave, what are you waiting for?

If you disagree with my assessment, feel free to comment!...on someone else's blog. (Just kidding! Well, kind of. Not really.) In the end, all of this dialog about Brave is a good thing. People are watching it. People are thinking about it. And hopefully people are thinking about it in the ways that will lead to more thinking, more thoughtful viewing and consuming of entertainment, more questioning of what we watch and why we respond to it the way we do.

Until then, red haired girls with stories of their own ftw.


Rick Daley said...

I really hope this movie does well, so Hollywood will greenlight more movies with female protagonists. Breaking molds is good. With all the re-makes and re-boots swamping the cinemas, a great new character is welcome, indeed!

I'm probably going to take my kids (boys, ages 7 and 10) to see this tomorrow, when the Ohio heat goes from Hot to Will Melt Iron...

Kami said...

THANK YOU!! I have been confused at the complaints as well. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Miyazaki!! We own all his films. I'm so happy you appreciate good story telling!

Artemis Grey said...

Okay, I haven't seen it, halfway because I was afraid that after loving the 'idea' of it, I would be disappointed in it, that there would be some long lost prince, or not-yet-seen male actor who would 'help' Meridia on her journey.

So now, I'm TOTALLY thrilled to find how much you liked it and that there will be no ambush-save by some male character, that Meridia is her own hero. LOVE. THIS.

I will now go watch Brave and then pretend to be Meridia for the next few weeks :)

Isaiah said...

My wife and I are planning on taking our girls this weekend to see it and we can't wait. As a writer with two lil' girls, I feel the burden to write strong girl characters for them to read and fall in love with. As a guy, that challenge is magnified, as it seems to be ever harder for a guy who writes a girl character to be taken seriously. (Unless you're Stephen King. JK) I'm toying with the idea of writing a love triangle that ends with the girl choosing option C, none of the above. Toying with it. We'll see how that goes.

K.T. Hanna said...

I loved this movie. I went to see it with my husband and he liked it, loved the first part (before the twist) better. And I get why, but I loved everything about it.

I laughed, I cried and since I'm currently pregnant with my first child (a daughter) this movie really struck a chord with me. That sort of strength, that sort of message - not being about a girl who is about a boy and a girl...

This movie has a strength I hope people will come to understand.

Thank you for sharing.

Brenna said...

I LOVE that you addressed this because I was so disappointed that people weren't loving it as much as we all hoped we would. I've yet to see it, but I'm optimistic once again, thanks to you.

And sidenote: as you pointed out in your post regarding that it isn't reverse sexism, this is a pet peeve I have with many reviews of Kristin Cashore's Graceling - people who try and argue that basically all the male characters in it were villains and all the female characters were "good guys" so she's sexist. Um no, because there are only like 2 actual female characters (minus a few random ones here and there) and the rest were male- not all of whom were villains. You can't generalize in arguments such as those. It just doesn't make sense.

Anyways, this is all to say that you are fabulous and brilliant, so I won't ramble anymore.

Brenna from Esther's Ever After

midnightblooms said...

What I lovelovelove about BRAVE is the story is a love story but not a romance.

Also, I agree with your statements about Miyazi films 100%. His movies are magical.

Tara said...

This movie was awesome. I was really glad Pixar decided to do a female lead, and I liked that it was a different "princess story" than other disney princess stories. I LIKED that there was no romance definitely broke the cliche.

But it did remind me a TINY bit of another disney film with a bear...

E.J. Wesley said...

You've summed up my view of the movie pretty well. Thought it was great! Totally wasn't what I was expecting in an awesome "Up" kind of way.

Think that's why so many people were down on it as well. It just wasn't a conventional Pixar/Disney movie. No pop music soundtrack. (Birdy & Mumford & Sons did the "big song" for Pete's sake.) There wasn't an over-the-top villain. No Prince Charming. Just a beautiful story about a girl and her mother.

I'd call it refreshing, not disappointing.

Stephanie Sinkhorn said...

I actually wrote two blog posts on Brave this week. I enjoyed the movie a lot. I REALLY liked that it was centered around a female relationship and that it didn't fall into the "princess needs a MAN" trap. Loved that.

I'm starting with that because I want to make it clear that although I liked it, I still walked away a little disappointed, and not for the reasons stated here. That doesn't mean that I thought the film was bad (it wasn't!) or that I didn't enjoy watching it (I did!).

The movie wasn't plotless at all, but I still felt let down by the overall scope of the plot. It didn't feel deep or thematic to me. I linked a great blog post on my blog that summarized my feelings pretty closely... a lot of other Pixar films have multiple themes and a big change at the end. Growing up, dealing with death, changing the nature of one's society, saving their world. And Merida has a big adventure and gets to be strong and heroic, but in the end, there just wasn't enough CHANGE for me.

Yes, she gets to have a choice in marriage, and that's an important thing. Yes, she and her mother learned from one another and experience a stronger bond, and that's important, too. But in reality, Merida started the movie as a princess who was expected to be betrothed to a prince and live as queen of her kingdom. In the end... she's still a princess who will be expected to marry and become queen. She now gets the CHOICE of who she will marry, but the expectation is still there.

I had a few other issues, but this comment is super-long already, so I will stop! I'm sorry to be the nay-sayer, but there are legitimate issues to be had with the film. THAT SAID, it DOES NOT MEAN that I think it was a bad or stupid movie. I liked it very much, and recommend seeing it. There was a lot to love. I just personally wanted MORE.

And I mean, I have issues with A LOT of my favorite books and movies. They're still my favorites.

Natasha M. Heck said...

It is funny, but I could feel the influence of Miyazaki. It was the scene *SPOILERS, but not really* of her walking through following the will 'o the wisps through the forest. I felt very calm at that point since I knew the film would also take me where I needed to go. And it did! I felt so very happy that this film focused on the relationship between the mother and daughter. My husband is an orphan so I hear how he is "Spider-Man" and "Harry Potter" all the time (yeah, we have a weird sense of humor) and now I feel like there is a film for me with my family (though, I have three older brothers). I was ready for it to come out on DVD when I left the movie theater too.

Thanks for a wonderful review and for saying the things that crossed my mind!

Kiersten White said...

Steph--I do get the "not enough change" argument. I was really happy that the change was between two characters and didn't mind that it wasn't sweeping. But I definitely see where you are coming from, and I don't think there's any problem with having a problem with that : )

I considered it a more quiet story than most of their others. I like quiet stories. It gives me hope that my own quiet stories (I know! I am capable of writing them, believe it or not!) will find the audiences that need them.

Gretchen said...

Thanks you for writing this! I haven't see Brave yet, but I think you are right on with your points about female MCs. I feel like everyone is talking about this movie, but I didn't really know anything about it. After reading your post, I am now super excited to go see it!

Heather the Mama Duk said...

My mom, sister, and I took four boys ages 4, 5, 8, and 10 to see Brave and we *all* came out totally thrilled with the movie. My daughter (12) was at camp and was a bit jealous we were going to see it without her. Her dad and grandfather will take her. I really related to Merida since my daughter has said some of those things to me and, sadly, I've said some of the things Merida's mom said.

The movie was definitely not what I expected from the preview, but it was excellent anyway. I kind of like that it wasn't what I expected. It was better! I've heard the no plot argument, but I don't get it. There was a definite beginning, middle, end, conflict, resolution, etc. Plenty of plot for me.

Mandroid said...

Wow, I haven't seen any of those complaints. Guess I'm running around a different circle. The complaints I do hear is that it lacks any depth to the plot and it doesn't feel remotely like a Pixar movie, both complaints I completely agree with.

It was a fine movie and I'm so happy that little girls finally have an animated princess to look up to that doesn't just wait for a prince to rescue her, but it's not a movie I'd watch again. There wasn't really anything there that made it seem like I'd get something out of a secondary watch.

Rachel said...

My two girls are visiting their Nana and Papa for a couple weeks in CA, so while they went to see Brave with their grandparents, my husband and I went to see it as a date. :)

And I completely agree with Stephanie. I loved the animation, the characters, the fact that there is no guy sweeping her off her feet and saving her. That she matures and grows into a friendship with her mother. But, I thought the story lacked layers.

And to be perfectly honest, I was hoping for more magic. This is the Celtic region of the world, with forests full of magical beings. I was hoping for a bit more. But, I'm a sucker for magical beings. ;)

Dan said...

This is a serious question. Can anyone point me to where someone is actually saying they didn't like the movie because it was about a girl? I see a lot of people saying "People have said they don't like it because it's about a girl" but no one links to anyone saying it. I'm beginning to believe that no one has actually said it but that everyone really WANTS someone to have said it so they can tear it down.

Kiersten White said...

Dan, that's a legitimate question. I have actually seen and heard that reaction, but I won't link to them because I don't want to be like, "And THIS PERSON HERE is wrong! Go tell them!"

Studios themselves perpetrate this, though. When Disney makes a movie about Rapunzel but then decides that Rapunzel can't be the main character because then boys won't like it, well, you know it's a systemic problem.

Makayla Anderson said...

I have just turned 14 today, and I have yet to grow old of my love for animations. My entire family loves them and we have all wanted to see Brave since they released the trailer last year. I love Pixar movies, teen romance, paranormal romance, etc. I do not have a picky taste in entertainment. I believe that after I read Supernaturally, I re-read a novel on a zombie apocalypse. And animations takes YEARS to make, so please don't complain on the dry plot that you might be bored, just watch the pretty colors.

Jan said...

Bravo to Pixar for thinking out of the box. It's too bad that this particular box even exists anymore!

Dan said...

Kiersten, thanks for the response. I understand that. You never know what people are going to do if you point them in a direction. If you've seen it, that's good enough for me. I have just tried to find it and couldn't.

My Summer Girl said...

I loved Brave so much! It's actually the first Pixar movie ever with a female protagonist. She is the first ever Pixar leading lady, which is huge! I loved all of the animation, the plot, the characters (adored Queen Elinor!).

The arguments that have been making me mad, well, it's not really an argument, but an opinion that I have strong views against. It is that because Merida is this strong, independent 16 year old that doesn't want to get married right this minute, or be with a boy at this time, they call her a lesbian. Like, I can't even imagine why someone would even go there.

She's a 16 year old girl that isn't ready to be a spouse, and still wants to have her own adventures including wielding weapons. This trait is laudable in young men, but because a girl wants to do the same thing, she's either less of a girl and "butch" or categorized as a lesbian. That simply isn't fair to me. It's a kid's movie, not a political statement. We're here for a magical story, not "secret brainwashing." Sexual orientation- related stereotypes bother me. Just because a girl likes to shoot arrows (which is considered a more "feminine weapon" anyway)does not make her more manly and like girls, just like guys that wear tights or have more feminine personalities do not like men by default.

And I personally feel, if Pixar ever did make a movie about a lesbian or gay character, they would market the crud out of it, because it would be a a way of making money.

Ariana said...

Aaaaagh I love this blog post so much I wanna kiss it. Excellent. Also, I love your point about Miyazaki's works - he's one of my biggest inspirations.

writingwithcats said...

I'm so excited to see this film. That being said, did you see this post flying around? Emma who wrote it worked on the storyboard for Brave and this is a list of 22 things she said she learned about storytelling since coming to Pixar (she tweeted them and someone compiled them):

Liesl Shurtliff said...

I really, really wanted to love BRAVE, and while I loved the humor and the characters and the setting, I have to say the story itself was a disappointment to me, and I agreed with a lot of the reviews. And you know? I don't feel I have to defend that. It just didn't reach me, didn't pull me in to that magical place. In fact some aspect pulled me right out, and at the end all I could think was "That was BROTHER BEAR meets BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Weird."

I'm happy for those who really loved it, and I hope it does well if only because I want all family friendly entertainment to be a success. Unfortunately, it just didn't do it for me as so many other Disney Pixar movies have.

Tere Kirkland said...

Haven't seen it yet but, um. Isn't that the tagline of the movie, or some such line? Change your fate? So why would anyone think to expect a typical boy saves girl plot?

Spirited Away is one of my favorite movies, so I'm glad that the nuances I loved in that movie seem to be present in Brave.

Thanks for the review/rant!

Christopher Blum said...

Hopefully nobody is dismissing any movie for being about an independent female character. I feel like we're starting to see the backlash against Twilight, which is the worst thing to happen to feminism in many moons. Best case scenario is that this leads to female perspectives becoming okay in mainstream entertainment again, and we engage in a serious cultural discussion about what equality truly means.

Sailor RA said...

I appreciate your ranty blogs. They make sense when most of the other nonsense out there does not.

I haven't seen it yet, but hopefully I'll get to the drive in this weekend to see it.

Also, the fact that you "get" Miyazaki just makes you all the more awesome.

Susan Francino said...

"He soars over the plot trap, in the middle of a rainstorm, on a cat bus." LOL!

Well I NEED to see this movie now! I think I'll really like it. :) And while I am FAR from being a feminist and love a good romance, I am truly flabbergasted that people can't handle a movie about a girl who doesn't fall in love at the end. I mean, seriously?! Sheesh, people.

Nic said...

I have a lot of thoughts on Brave that I'm still trying to sort into a coherent post, but one of the main things I enjoyed was that the plot wasn't hitting you over the head with a sledgehammer.

That said, I think that the plot had plenty of depth AND scope, actually. It wasn't just about mending her relationship with her mother, or even undoing the curse...but mending the rift that SHE had created involving the entire kingdom. Think about what kind of state the clans were in before the more personal conflict was resolved, and think about the legend that came before. Merida saved her entire kingdom, after it was nearly brought to ruin AGAIN by one person's selfishness--this time, her own selfishness. If that's not enough plot to please people, I really don't know what would be. ;)

Kris (Imaginary Reads) said...

I haven't seen Brave, but I agree that everything has merits and an audience of its own. And I like the idea of Brave being a story about a girl without a guy. There really aren't enough good stories out there nowadays that can tell a good story without romance (I love romance, but it's nice to see a girl stand up for herself without a guy--it's possible!).

P.S. Love Miyazaki!!

Maegan Langer said...

I haven't seen BRAVE yet, but this post made me want to see it more! I've always admired Pixar's storytelling prowess (except maybe with CARS, but I think that was more because I don't really care about cars in general, so it was hard for me to get into a movie about cars). Anyway, BRAVE sounds like a fresh, unconventional (for lack of a better word) girl-power movie. Can't wait to see it!

Janiel Miller said...

My two-cents worth:
I thought Brave was absolutely gorgeous visually, I very much enjoyed the music, thought the casting was spot-on, and felt it had a spectacular set up. One that matched the promise of the movie's trailers. All of which had led me to expect a much more adventurous storyline, much more personal risk on Merida's part, and a much greater Personal-Responsibility-Taking moment.

Ultimately, I don't have a problem with the type of story the movie ended up being. I have a problem with what its trailers led me to expect. I can adjust, but it's disappointing. And it's disappointing being disappointed.

I think peoples' comments about Brave having a thin plot come from this. From being led to believe a big exciting thing, and then finding out it is a much quieter cute thing. Not a problem if that's how you sell the movie. But audiences usually don't like to be misled. And some of us felt misled. (Especially the 6 high school boys sitting behind me who came specifically to see a Female-protag movie because they thought it looked great and hoped it would deliver like Tangled did.) Maybe we disappointed peeps make too big of an emotional investment in our entertainment. :)

All I know is that there was so much that was wonderful about this movie that I wanted it to go further. Maybe a sequel?

The Story Queen said...

Can I agree with everything you just said even though I haven't seen Brave yet? *kicks self*


Lisa Dunick said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have sooo many aspiring writer friends who rely so heavily on certain 3-act plot structure that, of course, works but can also be very reductive. Even my husband was in awe of the pacing of the movie. :O)

J.M. Blackmon said...

I'm going to see it with my family tonight :) Can't wait!!!

Honestly, the boy thing completely annoyed me too and I'm so glad they made it all about her. I get this huge adrenaline kick/sense of satisfaction when I watch the trailer and she hits the bulls-eye EVERY. TIME. Girl power FTW.

Kate said...

Thank you for your very long blog post!!! It was amazing!!! And I'm glad I earned the extra dessert! Haha. :)
I totally agree!!! In fact my first comment upon coming out of the theater was, "I love how pixar gives you an amazing trailer that makes you definitely without doubt want to see the movie, but doesn't give the plot away at all!!!" Really, totally honestly, I said that! :)
I also said how happy I was that they made the female character not be part of a matched set! How she is her own and is capable of being her on person without a guy! You need to find yourself, before you'll be able to be part of a good couple with someone else. You'll grow together, but you need to know who you and be comfortable with being who you are before becoming a couple. Come on people! Don't you see this?! It's okay to be single!!! You can do things! I know, it's amazing, right?!!! :)
Brave is on my top five favorite movies! I cannot wait to see it again! And will definitely buy it when it's released!!! :)

Unknown said...

The thing about Brave that I'm glad to see is also one of the selling points to Snow White and the Hunstman, although the film is far from perfect (mainly pacing and casting, including their refusal to cast actual people with dwarfism for the dwarves). In the original legend, Snow White marries her Prince Charming. In this movie, she has two men she could wind up with at the end but is single when she ascends the throne. More like Brave and SWatH, please!

Lynette said...

TOTALLY agree! The whole REASON I loved it was BECAUSE there wasn't any romance! I. Am so sick. Of Romance.

That is why I loved it.

Unknown said...

The issue I had with Brave was that Merida basically poisoned her mother to get out of the marriage, and that the movie made fun of the mother as a bear. As a daughter and a mother I was aghast that Pixar would think it was okay to gloss over those two plot points.

Dara said...

My husband and I went to see it over the weekend. I LOVED it. Don't get me wrong--I love the old school movies with the happily ever after marriage endings, but I really, really LOVE this one too. A mother-daughter relationship movie is awesome. Plus, the setting...and the music...oh I could gush forever.

And don't get me started on Miyazaki movies. I have been in love since college, when I first saw Spirited Away (which is still one of my top 5 favorite animated movies ever).

Alyssa S. said...

I was completely enthralled this movie. I love that it broke every mold and that it set itself apart from every other Disney princess movie (not that I'm knocking them because I happen to be a princess movie fan). The way it honed in on the mother/daughter relationship was amazing and it had me and my 6 year old daughter in tears at the end. Well done Disney/Pixar...or so I say anyway!

Livia said...

Brave was a good movie. It showed that females have power and strength too considering Katniss in The Hunger Games proved it. Merida showed it once again without hesitation. Females can dominate the box office, it is when can they? Rarely do they have a chance and now Brave showed there is a chance for females to take over.

Margaret Vinshire said...

I loved that movie to death, and I can't believe people actually said it has no plot.

I'm a big fan of really strong female protagonists. I don't mind a romance as long as it doesn't downgrade the female protagonist into something lesser.

I'm disgusted that people would actually say that about that movie. I, for one, loved it to death.

(And I secretly admit that despite being much older than 8, the Creepy Glowing Eyes on that Prince turned Bear freaked me out.)

Milla said...

Okay, when I find out that you have blog, I was like: "OMG I CAN STALK HER HERE!!!1" and when, the first post is about Brave.
Seriously, Brave. I am a huge Disney-fan, and I love Merida (and her hair the most <3 I want them, mur!) and Brave. I actually mentioned Brave for my english (in school) ireland music project. Ehheh.
But well, I read that and argee. Haha, and now I'm going to go and get crazy cause you like same movie than me XD Evie's creature and the Brave? Fabulous ;)