Being a lady in ancient societies was a real drag. You had to truss yourself up in uncomfortable dresses, follow the rules of court and be prim even as the men around you acted like imbeciles. If you were really good at following the rules, your grand reward was to be married off to some drooling noble who made up in breeding what he lacked in intelligence and sensitivity.
So it’s not that surprising that young princess Merida (Kelly McDonald: Boardwalk Empire) balks at her fate as a trophy wife. She rejects mother Elinor’s (Emma Thompson: Men In Black 3) attempts to mold her into a proper princess, preferring to ride roughshod through the highlands firing arrows at targets.
After seeing the three less-than-impressive options she’s faced with marrying, Merida follows mystical Will-o-the-Wisps into the woods in hopes of changing her matrimonial destiny. What she finds is a witch, who cooks up a special tart and assures the young princess that if Queen Elinor eats the tart, Merida’s fate will change.
What could possibly go wrong?
Merida’s fate changes, but not for the better, and it’s up to her to right her mistakes and save the kingdom and her family from chaos.
Pixar has made a reputation as an innovative animation house that tells original stories. With Brave, the studio that brought you sentient toys, heroic rats and a Buster Keaton robot goes a more traditional route, telling a princess story. The story doesn’t break any new ground, but Pixar’s telling is innovative.
This feminist fairytale features a sort of heroine we rarely see on the screen, let alone in children’s films. Merida is smart, independent and flawed. She’s a selfish teen willing to feed her mother a magical tart without knowing what it will do, on the off chance it will get her what she wants.
It’s refreshing to find a princess who isn’t practically perfect in every way. Merida grows up during the course of Brave; she doesn’t compromise her beliefs, just changes her tactics.
Merida’s relationship with her mother also holds an interesting dynamic. Both are sure they’re right and therefore feel no need to listen to each. It’s a dysfunctional dynamic — but not an unrealistic one — that shifts the focus from idealized princess tales to stories of real women dealing with relatable issues.
Full disclosure: Your reviewer’s mother wasn’t so thrilled with Brave’s mother-daughter dynamic, especially the poisoned-tart storyline. But it led to an interesting discussion and no enchanted desserts. That isn’t to say Brave avoids all stereotypes. The hills of Pixar Scotland are populated by wild, hearty clansmen who enjoy brawling, drinking and yelling. King Fergus (Billy Connolly: Gulliver’s Travels) has a kind heart but a dull mind. What saves him from being a clear buffoon is his genuine love for his family, which is his only defining trait beyond a peg leg. Indeed, all the men of Brave are humorous nitwits rather than reasonable characters.
In spite of a few easy jokes at Scotland’s expense, Brave is a great story for mothers and their daughters or men who want to look into the complicated world of women’s relationships. Just don’t take your mom out for sweets after the movie.