Sure, the heroine at the center of Brave is a princess, a plot decision met with some derision from the feminist commentariat, which was looking for a more radical lead role in Disney and Pixar's new hit movie, heavily promoted as a movie about a new type of cinematic girl (new at least for big budget animated adventures). But I'm inclined to dismiss that dismissal and to conclude that Brave really is a radical departure for the Pixar hit machine. And to my eye, it's an important mainstream feminist document.
First, let's get this out of the way. Brave is important because it's a big budget mainstream flick - one of the summer's feel-good family hits! - not an art house indie or a film that a dozen film students load into their Netflix queues. Many millions will watch. And many millions of children will watch over and over and over again - as is the habit of children with their favorite movies. That means many millions of boys and girls will internalize the ethics of Brave, just as they did Toy Story or Wall-E or Finding Nemo.
And those ethics revolve clearly around a notion of feminism that dashes away the post-feminist compromise and places - oh, the very radicalism of it - free will at the center of a strong female character's plot line. To put it bluntly, Merida is the first animated princess in major American film history who does not fall in love, who does not act on the basis of romantic motivation, and who does not (mild spoiler alert) choose a handsome mate in the end.