I always knew I’d end up revisiting the essay I wrote on Pixar and gender roles in 2009; it was always a matter of time. Their projected 2012 release, at the time titled The Bear and the Bow before the lauded studio cut the name down to Brave for those of us who appreciate brevity, caused something of a stir upon its announcement; “Pixar” and “princess movie” don’t seem to go together so harmoniously considering that the animation giants have spent so much time fashioning strong female characters for so many of their films. But this is a question of inevitability. When I published that piece two years ago, I knew Brave‘s marketing and ultimate release would either uphold my thoughts or prove them to be naive– so in the back of my mind I prepared to dredge up my work and re-examine my assumptions and conclusions.
Last Wednesday, Pixar released for our viewing pleasure the full Brave theatrical trailer to serve alongside the delightful and breathtaking teaser given us three months ago. Maybe I could stand to wait another six to reprocess my ideas and analysis, but despite having limited footage at our disposal the time nonetheless feels right. Partly, I’m impatient; mostly, I’m sure to have my hands full reviewing the film in earnest upon its release.
Largely, though, the trailer provides enough information to support some of the arguments I proposed in ’09– namely that Pixar appears to be using Brave to deconstruct princess movies directly. First, it should be said that I don’t think badly of the parties who took umbrage of any sort with the announcement that the film would revolve around a princess. Not at all. There’s reasoning within that camp that’s completely acceptable and even compelling, though I ultimately disagree with it; a princess film almost by its nature at least plays partially into the gender stereotypes that Pixar upends so well in so much of their résumé, and goes in the face of the company’s record of fashioning diverse protagonists for their audiences to follow along with as Disney has done princesses to death.
What causes the most concern, though, is that Brave‘s choice of protagonist cannot stand up to Pixar’s other protagonists in her unasked for but nonetheless bestowed position as a role model for young girls. She’s just a princess– not a cowboy or a jetpack-toting astronaut or a robot or a superhero or, come to that, even a talking car (or dog). Put plainly, Merida, the princess at the film’s heart, represents something of a failure on Pixar’s part to cater to the young girls in their audience and also to the rest of their viewers as well.
At least she did in 2009. With the release of the trailer, I don’t know if most of those suppositions can be easily made anymore. “But it’s a trailer!”, some of you may still be saying with fervor. I understand; it’s not the full movie, and the full movie could end for Merida in a way that traps her in princess film traditions instead of allowing her to totally tear them down. I fully allow for this possibility. But the likelihood of that happening is next to nil, because frankly, that would be false advertising.
If we can attribute any significant meaning to the trailer at all– and I’m of the mind that while trailers are trailers, it’s certainly possible to derive truth from them nonetheless– it’s that Merida’s not happy being a princess. In point of fact, she shows signs of outright rejecting it. True, her penchant for archery (an attribute mentioned in any plot synopsis you might find on IMDB or Wikipedia or, well, any other source) alone indicates something of a rebellion against her royal station, but in that two-minute frame of time Merida is depicted rebuff the trappings of her birthright head-on.
In doing so Merida by default challenges the station of “princess”, but there’s something to be said for outer appearances here, too. She doesn’t look the part at all. I would go so far as to argue that in mere image alone, Merida should appeal to all of the girls with Band-Aids on their knees out there. Tangled hair, bow and arrow and all, she’s clearly more the type to go exploring in creeks and woods than to relish in the ladies’ activities her mother admonishes her over early on in the full preview. Combining both image and action, though, and Merida to my eyes represents the sort of female character any girl can look up to– one who refuses to allow her gender to define her as a human being.
What does all of this say for Brave as a film and as progress in the outlining of gender roles? Maybe nothing. I’m completely willing to eat crow in June ’12 if Brave proves to even slightly uphold the promise shown in the film’s exciting, lovely to behold trailer (and maybe it’s a bit daft to take a critical eye to two minutes of footage from a film that could potentially run up to two hours). But I wouldn’t be writing any of this if I didn’t truly believe that Pixar had something to tell us in this preview. Whether the film is actually any good remains to be seen, of course, and yet there’s enough here to satisfy any concerns about the film’s intentions in altering perceptions of gender roles.
So– what do the rest of you think about the Brave trailer? Does it speak to you the way it speaks to me? If nothing else does it make you excited for the film’s release?