(Some spoilers below.)
At no point does Lawson say that the movie is missing a depiction of maleness or male relationships. Instead, he make the (valid) argument that of the infinite the story lines available, Pixar chose one of the flattest, easiest, and most conventionally feminine, one that Lawson rightly summarizes as, “She’s just a girl who doesn’t want to get married? She’s a girl who rejects girl things and is thus a hero? (Because girl things are silly, whereas swords and arrows are totally cool, period.)” And oh, by the way, she doesn’t get along with her mother and turns her into a beast—teenage girls, amiright?
There is no larger theme of mortality (Toy Story), loss and grief (Up), humanity (Wall•E). There isn’t even anything all that new about Pixar’s take on mother-daughter relationships: they fight, Merida runs away from home, uses magic to punish her mother, instantly regrets this, and comes around when she’s forcefully reminded that she’s still just a girl who needs to be protected from the scary, wild world.
Beyond that, I was uncomfortable during the scenes with Merida and her mother-as-bear, because though I knew the point was to laugh (and to marvel at the truly impressive animation), I realized later that I don’t need yet another opportunity to find humor in the literal dehumanization of a woman, and I don’t need yet another example of a woman who is supposedly better off for having been forcibly changed.
To date, Pixar has released thirteen movies. Its first twelve featured male protagonists, a problem in and of itself, which is why Brave was so damn exciting. (I teared up every time I saw a preview because…Brave!) But ultimately, what sets Brave apart from those first twelve movies is not that its protagonist happens to be a girl, but that its protagonist must be a girl. Woody, Carl, Wall-E, and the rest: the gender of these characters could be swapped without significantly changing the stories and themes of their movies, but Merida must be female, because only women are expected to choose between rejecting traditional gender roles and keeping the kingdom safe, and it breaks my heart that this is the only story Pixar could think to tell about a teenage girl.
TL;DR: Where’s my “Define Dancing” moment of Pixar magic? The closest Brave gets is that one brief but beautiful scene in which Merida takes a day off from being a princess and rides through the woods, practicing archery and eventually climbing the falls, looking for just a minute like everything I’d hoped she and her movie would be.
I enjoyed the movie, and more so its music, but I also wasn’t captivated by it like I was the Toy Story movies, Up, Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Wall-E. I agree with the common criticism of the movie, many of the story beats felt typical Disney, and not a good way but in the it has been done a dozen times sort of way.
The following quote from above is an excellent point and not one I thought about until I read it.
“I don’t need yet another opportunity to find humor in the literal dehumanization of a woman, and I don’t need yet another example of a woman who is supposedly better off for having been forcibly changed.”