Pixar has taken a lot of heat over the past decade for its lack of female protagonists. Then, when Brave was announced, the news of a lead female character brought yelps of joy, but also a bit of uneasiness since the lead would be a princess. The last thing the public wanted to see was Pixar do a clichéd character, though, there was hope for a unique take on a princess story given the studio’s reputation for creative and imaginative stories. In the last issue of TIME Magazine, there is an in-depth article that brings confirmation to that hope – Brave is set to subvert the princess story by ignoring romance and focusing on the mother-daughter relationship.
In the TIME article, there is a key paragraph that states:
Brave’s medieval Scottish princess, Merida (voiced by Boardwalk Empire‘s Kelly Macdonald), almost never wears princess clothes. Instead, she rides a horse and shoots a bow and arrow. Her mom, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) insists she follow tradition and let the eldest sons of the heads of the kingdom’s clans compete for her hand in marriage. But Merida doesn’t tell her mom that she’s going to pick her own husband, as princesses sometimes do in films. This is a fairy tale without romance. Merida tells her that she isn’t marrying anyone. Then she fights bears. But mostly, like all teenage girls, she fights with her mom.
“This is a fairy tale without romance.” That sentence should hold many naysayers at bay. The worry was that eventually, at some point in the film, Merida would realize that she actually does need romance in her life. However, it looks like Brave will give us a stubborn teenage girl who fights with her mom, which is a reality that happens often in the life of teenage girls. The great thing about Pixar films is that even though they make take place in extraordinary circumstances and in imaginary worlds (e.g. toys can talk, superheroes can fly, rats can cook), the setting never overtakes the characters. While The Incredibles was about a family of superheroes, it was not about the superheroes – it was about the family.
In the same manner, Brave is shaping up to be about the relationship between Merida and her mother Queen Elinor. Brenda Chapman, who pitched the idea for the film, was inspired by her relationship with her own daughter:
“I have this amazing daughter, and she is really strong-willed, and I’m strong-willed,” Chapman says. “She competes with me for her dad. I was thinking, What’s she going to be like as a teenager?”
Just because Merida is a princess and her mother is a queen does not mean they do not face the same problems we do. That concept is where Pixar’s success lies. It has always been said that the studio’s films are a marriage between technology and story. Many films from other studios overlook the importance of the story and simply focus on the spectacle. Pixar has learned that you need to make the audience care about the characters and the method for that is make the public identify with the characters on screen.
As for the merchandise department, some may say that Pixar is being bold by not having its princess character strut around wearing tiaras and princess clothes, which will inevitably make the film difficult to sell to toy companies. Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar and now President of Pixar and Disney Animation, tells TIME that the merchandise is not what is important to the film. It is true that Disney has made billions from the Toy Story and Cars franchises, but how much money do you think they made from Ratatouille or Up toys? People seeking toys of Carl and Russell and Up actually reported difficulty in finding figures or other merchandise in retail stores.
While at Toy Fair last month, I noticed that there was not much Brave merchandise coming from the hundreds of companies represented there. Whether that is due to the fact that the film is an original property and does not already have an established base like Toy Story did, or whether it is because it is a princess film that is not your typical fairytale romance, it is easy to see that the merchandise department is not what is driving Pixar. After Cars 2, where some questioned Pixar’s drive to make the film that made billions of dollars from merchandise, this should be a confirmation that the studio is determined to focus on the story and the characters, in spite of how challenging it may be to market.
If you are a subscriber of TIME, you can check out the full article here.
Image above is ©Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.