I always look forward to Pixar films with great anticipation. Cars 2 notwithstanding, every effort is interesting, innovative, and creative. As a feminist dad of a teen daughter, the idea of the female protagonist seemed interesting. And I like Scotland. I really wanted to like this. I really did. Unfortunately, Pixar retreated to shop-worn movie themes without much inspiration for anyone.
First of all, a princess. Really? A princess? Is this the only thing people can think of for female characters? I don't need to explain why Brave is a failure of female empowerment, since Mary Pols already did in Time.com, but I simply affirm her critique that having yet another princess who rebells against the wishes of her domineering parents is "so chapter one."
Yet we hardly get out of chapter one with the next problem, rebellion against tradition. This hackneyed theme of "Always follow your heart" is as old as princesses. Tradition is always held to be the enemy of freedom, humanity and self-realization. Tradition is, as in Brave, defended by doddering old men who are either too dim to see the wisdom of individual choice, or desperate to hold to a waning (and irrational) power base of legend and fairy tale. Whether it's the fearful old penguins despising the dance revolution in "Happy Feet," or a cranky old father who thinks his mermaid daughter should avoid inter-species relationships, it is always wrong to follow tradition.
This is not surprising as the echos of romanticism continue to reverberate in our culture. From Romeo & Juliet to The Godfather, we've learned to throw off tradition as a constant fetter on human flourishing. But that's just it. It's tired. It's been done. Move on, already.
As an anthropologist, I get tired of the constant message that communities bound to tradition, or authority, or hierarchy can only be portrayed as backward, unchanging and limited. Progress, whether in international development or Pixar, seems to only have one direction. As a Christian, I am frustrated that my culture pushes against any notion that we should have obligations to community or tradition. The desires of our heart are not always, or should not always, be our guiding principle. Of course, I don't expect my culture to conform to my faith; this is part of being in but not of the world. At the same time, it doesn't mean I have to enjoy getting this message time and time again.
Pixar is still my favorite movie studio. Sure, Brave would've been better had it ended a little more "Roman Holiday" and a little less "Princess Diaries," but it still beats most of what Hollywood tries to sell. Moreover, one (or two) clunkers can't erase their impressive record thus far. I do hope, however, they'll return to more creative themes, richer characters, and won't be satisfied with only one film featuring a female protagonist.