Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘female protagonist’

In my review of Disney’s most recent princess movie, Frozen, I praised it as being a more modern rendition of Disney’s classic princess formula. While I tried to briefly explain what I mean by that, my thoughts on Frozen understandably left some people a little confused. After all, what about out-of-the-box hits like Brave or Mulan? Those are both great princess movies featuring protagonists and stories unlike any of the other Disney princess movies, aren’t they? In this post, I want to clarify what I mean when I say Frozen is an improvement of the classic Disney princess formula and why I put Mulan and Brave in slightly different categories. To start, let me define what I consider to be the classic formula.

Princess Protagonist + Romance-focused Plot = Classic Disney Princess Formula

The basic elements of the classic Disney princess formula are a princess protagonist (born royal or married into it) and a plot centered around romance. That is not to say that there are not other plots in the movie other than romance, but that romance plays a starring role in the story. The classic formula is called such because these are the basic elements of the oldest Disney princess movies (Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty) and remains the dominate formula in their princess films (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Princess and the Frog, Tangled).

On a side note, Jasmine from Aladdin is an exception to the formula because she is not the protagonist of the movie she appears in, but rather the female lead and love interest of the protagonist, Aladdin. Anyway, now let me break down why Mulan, Brave, and Frozen do or don’t fit this formula.

Mulan: Non-princess Female Protagonist = Not a Disney Princess MovieDownloadedFile-1

I’ve written about this before, but it never hurts to say it again. Disney markets Mulan as a princess. In fact, the only time we see Mulan nowadays in when a dolled up version of her appears in banners brimming with all the lovely ladies of Disney’s princess stories or in other princess-themed Disney merchandise. Therefore, it’s easy to forget that Mulan has no connection to royalty other than saving the Emperor’s hide at the end of her already epic adventure.

While Disney may call Mulan a princess, I see no reason to put her in that category. Her story is much closer to the many male-centered Disney adventures that focus on the growth of a young male protagonist and his relationship with friends and/or family. The only real similarity that I see is that Mulan is a story centered on a woman, just like Disney’s princess movies. That, however, doesn’t mean I have to include her in the princess category and since comparing Disney princess movies to Mulan is like comparing them to The Lion King or Hercules, I don’t. That comparison is fine and doable, but it’s different from comparing a princess movie to a princess movie.

Brave: Princess Protagonist + Non-romance-focused Plot = Non-Traditional Princess Movieimages-26

Brave, on the other hand, is a movie I count as a Disney princess movie because it does feature a princess protagonist. I would, however, consider this movie to be a non-traditional Disney princess movie. Why? Because Brave throws out the romance plot so central to the majority of Disney princess movies in favor of focusing on a mother-daughter relationship. Of course, other Disney princess movies I’ve classified as classic, romance-based plots feature other types of relationships, too, like Ariel’s relationship with her father, but the type of relationship that is most central to those plots is the romance. In Bravethe main plot revolves around how the heroine and her mother come to understand each other when they are forced to work together to undo a spell, pushing what may have been a sub-plot (the heroine’s relationship with her parents) in another princess movie to the forefront.

Frozen: Princess Protagonist + Romance Plot + Non-romance Focused Plot = Tweaked Classic FormulaDisney-Frozen

Frozen falls somewhere in between the pure classic formula and the non-traditional formula, but because the protagonist is a princess and romance, while not the only important plot, is still a central plot, I’m considering it an upgraded version of the classic formula. It mixes elements of the classic formula (romance) with aspects of non-traditional princess movies like Brave (focus on relationships other than romantic ones).

As I said earlier, some of the Disney movies I’ve placed under the category of “classic formula” do have other sub-plots dealing with non-romantic relationships and wishes for freedom/adventure, but those sub-plots are just that–sub-plots. They take a backseat to the main romance plot or are wrapped up tightly in it. For example, getting a chance to see a new world is acted on and achieved only through Ariel’s romance with Prince Eric; Jasmine and Rapunzel ultimately only get their desired freedom through their relationships with their love interests; Tiana has dreams of owning and running her own restaurant, but the story is not about her accomplishing that dream, but of her romantic relationship with Prince Naveen, etc. On the other hand, Anna’s romance and her wish to help/have a relationship again with her sister are equally important in Frozen. Romance is the focus of a good portion of the movie, but obtaining goal A doesn’t get overshadowed by romance nor does Anna’s romantic relationship mean the achievement of that goal.

Pocahontas probably falls somewhere in this group, too. The protagonist is a princess, but unlike Brave, there is a strong romance-focused plot. Like Frozen, there is also another strong plot running alongside the romance–the tension between the English settlers and Pocahontas’ tribe, which the heroine and her love interest try to bridge. However, it’s been years since I’ve seen Pocahontas so, that’s one I need to revisit.

Anyway, that’s it! To some, it may seem that I’m splitting hairs, but I hope this makes my stance a little clearer.

Read Full Post »

200px-Seraphina_book_cover_(US_addition)I was browsing the shelves of the library the other day when I came across a book with a cover of a dragon in a medieval city and “Seraphina” scrawled over it. I was intrigued by the hint of fantasy oozing from it, but what I found was something more than dragons and swords. Seraphina takes readers to a rich world where, after centuries of fighting, dragons and humans have come to a shaky peace. The knights of old who slew dragons have been banished and dragons shift into a human guise to interact with humans. But while peace may have been established between the two groups’ kingdoms, understanding between humans and dragons is still far off. Humans see dragons as monsters incapable of feeling and dragons think humans are at the will of emotion rather than logic. A group of radical citizens called the Sons of St. Ogdo continues prejudice and violence against dragons and a prince of the ruling family was mysteriously murdered in a dragon-like fashion just before the start of the story.

There is certainly action and intrigue (weighted by a hefty sense of realism mixed perfectly with fantasy), but the core of the story is something more personal. Caught in this turbulent time is the protagonist, Seraphina, the daughter of a well-known lawyer with a secret that could cause tremendous grief to both him and Seraphina if the truth were exposed; Seraphina’s mother, her father’s first wife, was actually a dragon. As a half-dragon, half-human child, Seraphina has been kept out of the public eye as much as possible, taught not to draw attention to herself and forced to lie to keep her dreadful secret safe. She is caught between two groups who cannot seem to see eye-to-eye and both of who condemn intermingling. In a world that rejects even the possibility of her existence in disgust, in which neither group accepts what she truly is, how is she supposed to accept herself? This question hangs over both the readers and Seraphina as she struggles with self-acceptance and trust in her interactions with the other characters, as she draws closer to acquaintances and pulls back for fear of being rejected and exposed. It doesn’t help when she’s constantly reminded of these differences, from the silver scales on her wrists and waist to the strange people and memories that inhabit her dreams and if left unchecked, cause her to collapse.

But while Seraphina may struggle with who she is, she is not going to let that keep her cooped away her whole life. She possesses the inner strength to go after her love of music, landing her a job as assistant to the court composer. Through this job, Seraphina suddenly finds herself more in the public and in the thick of things than ever, between a job tutoring the second heir to the throne, Princess Glisselda, and a meeting with her cousin, Prince Lucian, and a personal connection with dragons like her uncle Orma. With an important anniversary of the peace treaty approaching, Seraphina is drawn into the mystery surrounding the death of the queen’s son. Her knowledge and connection to both dragons and humans may prove vital, but she must also keep her secret hidden as she grows closer to Glisselda and Lucian. But the lies she tells to protect her secret could ruin those thin connections.

The whole story is very well done and interlaces various elements and themes seamlessly. It has a good pace, balancing action with internal struggles and character development in a way that keeps readers engaged on several levels. I found myself curious from the first page and very quickly hooked. Finally, while there was a bit of romance, it never became the main drive of the story, which I appreciated. Romance done well is fun, but I often see it become the central factor in novels with female protagonists. This seems to perpetuate the stereotype that the most important event in a woman’s life is finding love. However, in novels like Seraphina, writers show that romance is an important event, but many of things contribute to the adventure.

In the end, the title says it all; as much as this is a story of political intrigue, prejudice, and medieval fantasy, the heart of the story lies in a girl named Seraphina’s journey of self-acceptance and discovery. And that journey, I think, is something that almost all of us can relate to on some level.

Read Full Post »

library-war-1In 2019, a group called the Media Betterment Committee has taken book banning to the ultimate extreme; they destroy books and other media with questionable content using military force without care for the harm they cause in order to protect the people from negative influence. But fear not book lovers. In the face of this disaster, the library organized their own military force to protect freedom of expression. Enter our heroine. When Iku Kasahara was in high school, she came face-to-face with the Media Betterment Committee at a bookstore as they began a raid. Iku refused to give up a long sought after book and got in an altercation with the men, but was rescued by a Library Force member whose face she cannot remember. Inspired by this man who protected freedom, her so-called “prince charming,” she made it her goal to follow in his foot steps and join the battle. Now 22-years-old, Iku becomes the first woman to become a Task Force member, a group of elite library defense personnel.images-54

Toshokan Sensou, or Library Wars, is a mix of military drama and action, romance, and even a wedge of comedy as Iku struggles her way up in the Library Force in the shadow of her mysterious “prince,” butts heads with her tough yet protective superior, Lt. Doujou, and discovers the true difficulties of being on the force. Although the library created their military force in response to the actions of the Media Betterment Committee, many people do not believe they should respond with more violence. As a result, Iku and her comrades face not only head on opposition from the Committee but also from different factions within the library system.

This series was originally a book series written by Hiro Arikawa, who paints an intricate and thoughtful world that, while different from ours, is within possibilities. It’s hard to imagine a time in which a disagreement over freedom of expression and censorship escalates to armed conflict and military librarians, yet Arikawa tells her tale with the complications and subtleties of reality that suddenly, the plot of Library Wars doesn’t seem so out there. After all, people can get pretty extreme about content, going so far as to ban and burn books. Therefore, Iku’s story becomes a window for us to look through and think, “What if…”

imagesAs for Iku, the concept of her situation is intriguing since she is supposed to be the first female member on an elite force, but I have mixed feelings about the execution (speaking strictly about the anime). She is an interesting mix. Iku excels in the more athletic portion of her training and job (strength, speed, etc.) yet she is no genius when it comes to her academics. Nobody wants a perfect protagonist, but Iku is constantly put down for her lack of academic skills by her comrades and it is made clear she is ignorant about things concerning her job that she should know at her level, which I found grating at times.

In addition, while she is supposed to be good at the physical portion of being a Library Task Force member, other characters from her unit make comments several times throughout the series about her usefulness in battle being the lowest on the force. Of course, this isn’t so different from how other main characters like Naruto are perceived by their group; they’re the underdog, but they have heart and potential. Iku is also shown to have courage and strength that the other members admire, and she isn’t stupid as she makes quick decisions that, while reckless, often lead to a good outcome.

As for the romance, admittedly, I had mixed feelings about that as well. Iku dreams of a prince charming, but not so that he can save her again; she wants to be a rescuer like him because he inspired her. However, I felt that Iku had to be protected a number of times, more so than the male characters around her, and this made her character feel a little less competent than her male counterparts. While this and other things weren’t my favorite, what I did like was that her love interest, although more skilled than her now, is shown to have been very similar to Iku in regards to her recklessness and was laughed at for making some of the same mistakes when he was younger. This not only shows Iku’s potential, but shortens the gap a bit between them.

Iku isn’t the only female character making a mark in this story; her roommate and friend, Shibaki, may not wield a gun, but the power she demonstrates through information is nothing to laugh at. Shibaki works as an Intelligence Officer in the library and more than once gives Iku and her combat group information that helps them take control of a difficult situation. She balances out Iku by providing the series with a female character who possesses the same strength of will as her combat friend Iku, but uses knowledge as her power. So, while I somewhat wish Iku weren’t belittled as an idiot, Shibaki stands out as the intelligence genius of the show. She also has the ambition to become the first female Library base commander in history.

It may not be perfect, but Library Wars gives viewers an intelligent story with complexity and mixes genres so many people can find something to like. I enjoyed watching Iku give her best and fight for freedom of expression in this alternative world. Maybe if I’m lucky, the original book series will be published in English some day.

Read Full Post »

In 19th century England, social class meant everything; what you learned, where you lived, your daily life, and even who you could love and marry. Emma, the protagonist of Kaoru Mori’s manga of the same name, is a young woman from a destitute past who, through a chance meeting with an aging governess, is lucky to be employed as a maid and receive a first-rate education. William, on the other hand, is the heir to the wealthy Jones family; with no aristocratic blood and having only recently risen the ranks to high society, keeping up appearances and social obligations are of the utmost importance to his family. One day, William decides to pay a visit to his old governess, Mrs. Stownar, who just happens to be the very one Emma works for. Soon, with a little encouragement from Mrs. Stownar, a cross-social class romance buds and the two finds themselves fighting between love and society.

When I first read Kaoru Mori’s beautifully drawn and masterfully written romance, Emma, I was swept away by the story of forbidden love between Emma and William. The story starts off light, perfectly capturing the slightly awkward yet sweet and warming feeling of two people falling in love with each other. While Mori does use words, often she skillfully expresses emotions through only visuals–a shy blush, a glance, gestures, and actions–that depict them better than any words could. It quickly pulls readers in and holds on tight. But just when you have relaxed into the easy and charming flow of the story and think Emma and William will get together, the class system and life comes down on the young couple, adding new drama.

This seemingly impossible romance is what got me on the first read-through, but after I saw an article naming Emma as a feminist manga, I was a bit surprised; while I love the series, it had never crossed my mind that it’s feminist. Now that I’ve read through the main story (volumes 1-7 out of 10) again, I’m seeing whole new sides to it.

There are actually a lot of strong female characters. Are they running businesses and becoming political leaders? No, but these women are strong-willed, especially in the context of the time period they live in where women had little to no power. However, many of the female characters in Emma are relatively in control of their own lives and/or push the boundaries of the times. Mrs. Stownar was widowed at a young age yet made it own her own as a governess and receives respect from men of many social classes. She even rebels against society subtly by being much less concerned with social classes than most. Emma herself might not seem the strongest and much of the good fortune in her life has been a result of luck, but she’s also got inner strength and perseverance on her side. Emma came as a young child to London with little to no education, no money, and no family to support her. While luck did play a part in, for instance, Emma meeting Mrs. Stownar, she worked hard to get where she’s at and continues to work hard. She also shows guts by pursuing a relationship that defies the rules of society. Not everyone has the strength to goes against the rigid ways of a culture and face the harsh criticism after all. Later in the series, German immigrant Mrs. Meredith is introduced. She’s the wife of a wealthy businessman, but is no slave to the whims of her husband. In addition to her strong-will, she appears to have a very equal relationship and therefore wields a fair amount of power. She actively participates in hiring staff for the household and traveling without her husband on occasions. These are but a few female characters in the series who exhibit strength in the series.

The other thing I love in retrospect about Emma is how the women treat each other. They support each other, something that is great on its own and absolutely wonderful considering the sea of fiction that portrays women constantly trying to undermine other women. Women like Mrs. Stownar and Mrs. Meredith aid Emma in her efforts in life and love and multiple examples of female friendships are shown. Some of the other maids Emma meets do gossip about other women (including Emma), but not in a backbiting way. Even Emma’s rival in love is depicted sympathetically and realistically. She is not trying to hurt Emma or “steal” William the way some female rivals are shown to do; she doesn’t even know Emma exists and truly loves William. It’s very refreshing to see this and is a fine example of Mori’s ability to create deep and original characters.

I fell in love with Emma the first time I read it and rereading it with a new perspective has only deepened my love. If you want a great historical fiction/drama, endearing romance and characters, and beautiful art, I can’t recommend it enough. Unfortunately, this series is currently out-of-print in the U.S. and hard to buy, but check your local libraries and maybe even fellow manga-collecting friends. With any luck, one of our manga publishing companies will pick it up some day and share it with new audiences.

Read Full Post »

Skip Beat! is one of those highly addicting series that’s hard to put down. Funny and drama-filled, it follows Kyoko, a young woman who decides to get into showbiz to best the rising star guy who used her good nature and threw her away. Some day I’d love to write a review on the series in general, but today I want to focus on something in particular: how interactions between women are presented. As I watch or read Skip Beat!, I have noticed that on her quest to rise up the ranks of stardom, Kyoko frequently is met by adversaries who try their best to trample her. Those adversaries are usually women. This alone doesn’t necessarily bother me; getting into showbiz is extremely difficult so, it makes sense that rivalry occurs. What bothers me is that these female rivalries are very reminiscent of mean girl behavior between women frequently portrayed in fiction and that those rivalries make up a majority of female interactions in the series.

From very early on in the series, Kyoko is faced with mean girl behavior. First, Kyoko meets Kanae (a.k.a. Moko) at an audition, where Moko is snide and hostile toward her for no other reason besides that she thinks Kyoko seems too ordinary and is competing against her. Soon after that, Kyoko is assigned to assist Ruriko, an up and coming actress who is spoiled and refuses to work with others yet puts up a nice face initially. She singles Kyoko out from the beginning as someone to use and bully, but her jealousy grows when Kyoko receives attention from popular actor, Ren Tsugura, whom Ruriko likes. Then there is Erika, who is not only spoiled but also a daughter of a big time businessman who used her family’s power to get herself the best roles and thwart any potential rivals. On top of all these rivals, nameless girls are constantly taking jibes at Kyoko, too.

But is this trend of female rivalry in Skip Beat! that much different from rivalry trends in other manga? In shonen (boys’) manga, the hero often has plenty of rivals of the same gender. One of the best examples of this is Naruto. Naruto starts off as an outcast who is disregarded by his peers and even made fun of. But as he gets stronger and proves himself repeatedly, he slowly begins to win the support of those peers. This set up is similar to what is seen in Skip Beat!. Kyoko is often underestimated by peers, but once she proves her acting skills and confronts the rivals in question, the girls at least acknowledge her and many even come to like her. Ruriko’s “battle” with Kyoko makes her realize how much she really loves acting and that she needs to compromise to work with others. Erika decides to stop relying on her family name to get roles but use only her own skills. Some rivals, like Moko, even become friends with Kyoko. This last bit is especially important because it allows readers/viewers to see character depth and development beyond the initial mean girl attitude and shows positive female relationships. Once friends, Kyoko and Moko help and support each other, breaking from the generally catty behavior shown of other young women.

Perhaps the trouble lies in the fact that many of the interactions between young women, rival or not, are coated with displays of the jealous, nasty, sneaky, and cutthroat behavior, even though there are some good female friendships. This is enforced with comments about Kyoko and Moko’s previous attempts at friendship: Moko says that the reason she never made female friends was because they gossip about/backstab others and and Kyoko always wanted female friends, but was shunned by the girls at her school for simply being close to a popular guy. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture of how girls behave among each other. While mean girls do exist and work well for a drama, it is a shame that fiction continuously focuses strongly on the negative because it creates the idea that mean girls are around every corner and overshadows healthy female interactions and friendships. So, it’s not just Skip Beat! but the combination of so many representations of mean girls in fiction that’s the real problem.

Luckily, Skip Beat! does have some positive female interactions as well and provides a heroine who doesn’t let anything defeat her. There also seem to be less mean girl scenarios as the series has progressed. So, don’t let my musings about female interactions stop you from giving either the manga or anime a try if you haven’t already! For those of you who follow the series, what do you think about how female interactions are portrayed? Do they contribute to mean girl stereotypes or is it just another drama filled with rivalry?

Read Full Post »

 

Manga, like fiction in general, doesn’t always give us the best female characters. Many female characters’ minds are filled with thoughts about appearance, such as if their chests are too small or if they should diet, and their aspirations and dreams seem limited to those that involve guys, everything a girl is supposed to think about in a nutshell so to speak. No surprise, they often are unable to handle anything more than making a meal or doing the laundry by themselves and sometimes the heroine can’t even do that.

Not Haruhi Fujioka, the blunt and independent heroine of Ouran High School Host Club, a romantic comedy about a “commoner” on a merit scholarship at the ritzy Ouran Academy who, after knocking over a vase and being mistaken for a guy, is commandeered into becoming part of the school’s host club (a place where, in this case, beautiful/handsome young men converse and entertain patrons) to pay off her debt. Of course, shortly after joining, the boys of the club all realize that Haruhi is, in fact, a bona fide girl. Yawning at the prospect of yet another heroine forced to cross-dress while surrounded by beautiful boys who will surely fall in love with her, one by one? Well, Ouran does things a little differently.

The keyword in the description is comedy. This series satirizes a lot of trends and stereotypes seen in manga such as harems, cross-dressing, and the types of characters that show up in the romance genre. For example, it is not uncommon to see characters in the romance genre divided between the characters involved in the romance and the romantically uninvolved side characters. In Ouran, the male lead of the story, Tamaki, literally draws a line on the floor to separate himself, the self-deemed love interest, from the rest of the main cast who he labels the “sexless” characters. Or how about the scenario where a love interest is thrown into a rage when someone causes the poor, defenseless heroine to cry? In this series, a fight occurs when it looks like Haruhi has been hurt and is crying, only for it to be revealed that she was not upset, her contact just popped out. 

The characters are equally entertaining. While Tamaki is prince-like in many ways, he’s also a narcissist and a (well-intentioned) idiot who is so blind about his feelings for Haruhi that he believes he has fatherly feelings for her; Kyoya is the “cool-type,” but is also propelled by making a profit and known as the “Shadow King” for his puppet master behavior; despite being a senior in high school, Honey looks and acts like a kid from elementary school yet is a master at martial arts and incredibly scary if woken up. The list goes on, but these are the types of characters you get with Ouran High School Host Club.

So, it is no surprise that the heroine of the plot is not so typical either. In many ways, I feel like Haruhi is almost the antithesis of a majority of heroines. She is intelligent and has dreams of becoming a lawyer rather than dreaming of boys; she’s independent and not afraid to speak her mind. This all comes through in the story, like the reason she attends Ouran Academy. Haruhi wanted to go there to get her closer to reaching her dream and achieved this through her academics. Compare that to heroines who choose schools based on how cute its uniform is. I also want to add that I’ve seen spunky heroines and meek heroines, ditzy and misunderstood, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across a heroine who is blunt and somewhat apathetic like Ouran High School Host Club‘s lead. It’s good (and amusing) to see such a different personality!

Because of this, like the story itself, Haruhi is put into classic manga scenarios, but usually handles them rather differently than your average manga heroine. For instance, if a female character with long hair has to cut her hair, it’s seen as a sacrifice (Sakura from Naruto, Keiko from Yu Yu Hakusho). In Ouran, Haruhi used to have beautiful long hair, but after a neighborhood kid stuck gum in her hair, she cut most of it off without batting an eye. The boys of the series regret the loss of her long hair, but Haruhi could care less. While I probably would be in the former category if I suddenly had to cut my hair, I love Haruhi’s attitude. She is removed from social pressures about appearance.

Another example is how Haruhi handled being mistaken for a boy. I have seen the cross-dressing scenario in manga before, but her reaction to the situation is unique. She doesn’t care about dressing like a guy. In fact, right after all the boys of the host club have finally realized that she is really a girl, she says, “I don’t really care if you guys recognize me as a boy or a girl. In my opinion it’s more important for a person to be recognized for who they are, rather than what sex they are.” (Episode 1, anime version) Seeing people for who they are on the inside is something that Haruhi brings up multiple times throughout the series. Can you imagine what fiction would be like if we saw more heroines with attitudes like this?

This outlook applies to her attitude toward the host club members as well. Instead of being one of the masses who can’t help but be charmed by the beauty of the boys of the host club at first glance (a scenario that appears in other manga in a non-comedy setting), Haruhi sees them for what they honestly are, the good and the bad. The audience is often treated to her humorously blunt insights such as when Tamaki goes on a rant about his beauty, Haruhi honestly thinks hard on the right word to describe him and comes up with “annoying,” instantly deflating his ego like a needle to a balloon.

The series is not without some problems. One such problem occurs in an episode in which, after Haruhi stands up to a couple of male bullies and is hurt in the process, a couple of the characters, and thus the story, focus too much on the fact that Haruhi was a girl going up against guys and the physical disadvantage she has as a girl instead of the idea that she needed to learn that she can rely on others sometimes, which I think was the main point of the episode. However, my overall impression of Ouran High School Host Club and its female lead are very good. So, if you’re sick of stereotypical heroines and plots or just want something a little different and fun, check out Ouran High School Host Club! You can watch the anime for free and legally on Hulu.com, but if you want the complete story, be sure to pick up the 18 volume manga series it is based on.

Read Full Post »

What do you get when you mix a rebellious teenage princess, a mother/queen trying to do what’s best for her country and her daughter, talk of a political marriage, a rowdy bunch of men, and magic? Well, frankly, you get trouble, but you also get Pixar’s newest movie, Brave. After months of anticipation, hanging on the hope that this new princess tale would present audiences with a strong princess fit for modern times, does it pass the test?

Brave is set in Scotland in what appears to be the medieval ages. Merida is a headstrong princess who would like nothing better than to practice her fine archery skills and ride her horse through the forest in search of adventure. But life as a princess isn’t so free; princesses have obligations to their family and people. Her mother, Queen Elinor, knows this and has been careful in trying to teach Merida to uphold those obligations, starting by just getting her to behave like a proper princess. Though mother and daughter haven’t seen eye-to-eye on these matters, life has gone on peacefully — until it’s announced that Merida must now fulfill her duty to marry someone she’s never met for political reasons. Unable to convince her mother against the idea, she takes things into her own hands and sets out to change her fate. But will she bring ruin to her kingdom by fighting tradition?

When I first heard the plot for Brave, I was instantly hooked. With a heroine who is not only shown to be skilled in archery fighting against customs and a plot line sporting phrases about changing her fate Before this story really took off, I couldn’t help but think that this could be something similar to Disney’s Mulan. But the movie surprised me in more than one way.

Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios

As you may or may not have picked up on from the plot introduction, Merida and her mother are at odds. Truth be told, my heart sank a bit at the beginning of the film because of this. “Is this going to be another one of those stories where a mother and daughter butt heads?” I wondered. After all, fiction has had a habit of throwing bad mother-daughter relationships in our faces a lot. Yes, moms and daughters may not always see eye-to-eye and some–maybe many–butt heads frequently, but do all the mother-daughter relationships in fiction have to be like that? We see lots of nice father-son relationships in fiction after all. Heck, often moms aren’t even a crucial part of fictional stories. So, when a mom character is actually present, does she always have to be shown as some annoying nag?

That’s why I was extremely happy when it became clear that the minds behind Brave had different ideas for this mother-daughter pair. In fact, although Brave sounds like an epic fantasy from a brief overview, at its heart, this movie is actually about the relationship between Merida and her mother. The dynamic between the two starts off looking stereotypical, but, unlike other stories with this set up, explores the relationship further. While I think we can all understand Merida’s wish to be free, she goes a little too far and forgets her responsibilities to others and how her actions affect them. Queen Elinor, on the other hand, is so focused on the customs and the responsibilities to be flexible and see freer alternatives. Thus bring me to my first surprise; there’s magic and a little action, but Brave is more a journey of Merida and Elinor coming to understand each other rather than a journey filled with fights and mortal danger.

Elinor and Merida are great female characters outside of this mother-daughter relationship story as well. As is evident from the basic storyline, Merida is a whole different kind of princess than the classics. She’s bursting with energy and independence, making her Disney princess predecessors pale in comparison. Queen Elinor is a levelheaded, well-spoken ruler who commands just as much (or more) respect from her subjects as her husband the king. Together the two make a powerful duo of independent women. And isn’t it nice to see a romance-free Disney princess movie for once?

Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios

So what’s the other surprise of Brave? While the basic story sounds epic, it’s actually on the lighter side as plots go. Pixar lightens the mood with a witch who runs a woodcarving business, magic that turns people into bears, and clansmen–er, actually the men in general–who largely act as comic relief. To some older fans who are familiar with Pixar’s work, this may be a bit disappointing. Some reviewers are saying this lighthearted feel is not up to the deeper stories of past Pixar films. I don’t follow Pixar’s work so I can’t compare that too much, but I will admit that the movie felt lighter than Pixar’s Up and Disney’s Mulan and The Lion King for some examples. Despite expecting something more epic myself, this didn’t keep me from enjoying Brave.

In the end, like its heroine, Brave breaks the traditions. Everything that defines classic princess movies like Cinderella and Snow White are thrown out the door to give way to a fun fantasy with female characters, relationships, and messages that get both thumbs up. Regardless of whether you’re six or sixty, if you’re interested in any of that, go see Brave.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »