Brave is a new Disney Pixar movie that highlights the trials and tribulations of Scottish teenager Merida, who is nearly forced into marriage by her mother, Queen Elinor.
Does this sound like a movie for children to you?
I’d argue that it is and it isn’t, but the complexity of this movie really makes it reachable for all ages. I am a twenty-something American female, and I connected with Merida for a lot of reasons: she is headstrong, competent, excellent at a task that in her culture is generally reserved for men (archery), and wants to live her life the way she sees is right. This is a 21st century girl caught in a medieval world, and she is not understood by anyone until the end of the movie, but that’s the point. It is about being yourself and not letting anyone tell you otherwise…possibly, or very likely, to your detriment, but knowing in the end that you preserved the thing that makes you you.
That being said, some ideas along these lines may not be suitable for young children, who for the most part, cannot possibly understand what that really means (side note: this is a good thing! Let kids be kids!). I’ve heard a story or two of children picking up some of Merida’s headstrong characteristics, for example, applying her arguments against why she does not want to get married to why they do not want to eat their broccoli. Heads up, complainers: that’s what parenting is for! Have meaningful conversations with your children about subjects like these, and no they won’t get it at five years old, but at fifteen, they certainly will. In the mean time, please laugh your ass off when they act like something they’ve seen, and discipline where appropriate if it gets out of hand.
So, one of the big points of this movie is the conflict between mother and daughter. I have noticed that older women with children tend to side with the mother, and younger, childless women (like me) tend to side with Merida. The conflict is this: the Queen has, for all of Merida’s life, been preparing her to be a proper lady, a princess, and a future Queen. In turn, Merida has been a willful child, learning all of these things but pursuing her own path. What they fail to realize is that Merida is EXACTLY like her mother. The Queen basically rules the roost and does things her way. She is competent at what she does, and as a result, their kingdom appears to be prosperous and happy. Unfortunately, she has come to believe and act like her way is the only way, or only right way. This results in her criticizing every move that Merida makes, constantly picking at the girl. Wouldn’t you flip if someone acted this way towards you for years and years? I know I would. Ultimately, the film is also about familial obligations and responsibility, and that is what the Queen was trying to teach her daughter…and what went so terribly wrong.
In this story, both sides are right, and both sides are wrong. Eventually they come to see this, but of course not until mayhem, terror, and a little bit of hilarity ensue. This movie is surprising in that it has some actually scary moments, because they are some serious near misses concerning characters’ lives, and while I know things would end well (because, uh, it’s Disney!), I still had to wonder if some truly bad things were going to happen. Disney movies with threat of impending mortal peril have always been my favorite. This is why Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorites. I mean, come on, Maleficent is already terrifying…and then she turns into a dragon! A FREAKING DRAGON!!
Anyway, the one problem with Brave is that while mother and daughter make up and accept one another as they are, Merida’s apology is much greater and detailed than her mother’s. I really thought that the Queen had some serious apologies to make in return, besides accepting her daughter for who she is. I mean, that is a mother’s job anyway. Most of it wouldn’t have happened if she had listened to Merida in the first place. She never apologized for being what she had come to be, which is a raging control freak. An admission of said control-freak-ness would have been nice at least. At some points I really felt she was unnecessarily cruel, and Merida did not act in a similarly bad manner until it had been done to her over and over. In this situation, the vulnerable one is ALWAYS the child. Let me say that again…THE VULNERABLE ONE IS ALWAYS THE CHILD (no, that doesn’t mean kids get to be rude to their parents…it means if parents are rude to their kids, who are more vulnerable and sensitive, what do you expect is going to happen?). The Queen got what was coming to her by treating her daughter with such a lack of compassion, but I still didn’t feel like she apologized well enough, because it’s not like Merida was having a picnic while her mom was suffering…but what that suffering is from, I will not say. That’s up to you to figure out!
So what about the fun factor? Part of the appeal of this movie is how beautiful and striking it is. Merida’s bright red hair certainly helps make this a really appealing film as far as graphics go. Another thing that adds to the fun is Merida’s three little triplet brothers, who are adorable and hilarious. Many a laugh can be gained from them, and not only that, but they are very helpful little guys…with the right bribe in place! The situations King Fergus gets himself into can also be pretty funny, especially a scene where all the men have used their kilts to fashion a rope, and the shot pans out to reveal their bare bottoms. I think I cried laughing. The men in this movie are not exactly main characters, but they are rough and rowdy, funny, and dedicated to their kingdom. They also don’t mind being told what to do by a woman, which is fairly unusual for the time period that is being portrayed, but so is a girl not getting beaten for refusing to get married (which obviously happens in this movie, right…). It is different for something set hundreds of years ago, but let’s be real, this is a made up Disney version of “medieval,” and it’s kind of nice to see that the men respect the Queen, and do as she says, because they trust her and her husband (and she can have quite the sharp tongue, as I alluded to in the last paragraph).
All in all, while this is a Disney movie, I felt it had some real complexity that is deserving of conversation and inspection. The problems in it, like those in real life, do not have black and white solutions, however simple the plot may be. I think parents and their older children can use this movie as a way to discuss subjects like individuality, integrity, bravery, and duty to family. It is excellent fodder for some discussions on the differences in people, and how and why to celebrate that.
I rate this one two thumbs up, if only because (thank heavens) there is no romantic story line except for the King and Queen’s, who very clearly love one another and are committed to each other and to ruling their kingdom well. There is a reason this won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature Film, and I can safely say that it might be one of the best movies of 2012.