Last weekend we saw Brave (2012), Pixar’s first animated feature with a female protagonist. It’s the story of pop culture’s latest kick-ass archer, Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), a fun-loving redhead would-be adventurer. Unfortunately, Merida is also a princess, suffering under the stingy bootheel of her mother, Elinor (Emma Thompson). When Merida comes of age, three rival clans show up to vie for her hand in marriage; thing is, Merida isn’t interested, and tries to game the system to control her own destiny. This leads to a rift with her mother, bad choices, humorous escapades, and adventure.
This is not top-flight Pixar for me (for that, see The Incredibles), but it’s still very good, with stunningly gorgeous art, solid characters, a nicely structured story, and the usual great comic timing. Unfortunately, as Pixar’s first foray into tailoring an adventure for a female lead, it’s only a baby step. It’s hardly the most egregious fumbling of gender politics in film I’ve ever seen, but in light of the spotlight on that issue, it’s definitely a let-down. Merida is an awesome hero, brilliantly rendered, but she’s given a less-than-epic story arc that doesn’t show her heroism off to the best advantage. I still enjoyed the film plenty — it’s beautiful to look at and quite entertaining — but I’m not surprised that others found it to be a disappointment.