It goes without saying that Pixar films always have great visuals. The animation they have become known for always features lush, sweeping landscapes and colors that make the real world seem like a washed-out version of what we'd really like to wake up to every day. But eye-candy isn't enough to elevate a film, though some fans of "Avatar" may choose to disagree with me on that point, and audiences also flock to Pixar thanks to heartfelt stories that emphasize the importance of family and friendship- and Brave is a fine addition to that excellent tradition.
Joining in the Disney meme of "fiery" heroines Merida carries her headstrong attitude from the roots of her bright red hair to the tips of her archery calloused fingers. Constantly badgered by her mother on how to be a proper princess Merida chafes at the confines of the role and escapes on horseback into the forest at every opportunity.
As is inevitably the case in princess stories Merida is confronted with the reality that she will soon have to marry for the stability of the kingdom of DunBroch. After trying, and failing, to get her mother to understand that she's not ready for marriage or comfortable with the confining nature of her status, she rebels by vying for her own hand against the other sons of DunBroch- and wins. Her mother, Queen Elinor, is understandably angry and the ensuing fight sends Merida back into the forest and into the cabin of a witch. Merida, in what she thinks is a moment of inspiration, asks the witch to cast a spell that will change her mother, and her fate, only to be met with disastrous results.
"Brave" is a very simplistic film but one I'm grateful to see on the big screen for so many reasons. As a mother who has had a daughter go through her "princess" stage it's often a bit dismaying to see so many female heroines attempt to prove their independence from their parents by rushing off to find their prince charming; Disney has made a cottage-industry of that particular trope. As much as I enjoyed "The Little Mermaid" I cringed a little at the way Ariel mooned over Eric and the fact that he only seemed infatuated with her voice. Ariel wasn't quite so needy as to be singing "Someday My Prince Will Come" but the film didn't send the independent-woman signals I would have preferred to my little girl. Belle, from "Beauty and Beast" was much more my style and "Mulan" will always be one of my favorites, but the underlying stories still have a strong undercurrent of romance-- "Brave" has none of that.
Merida isn't a perfect heroine. She's typically headstrong and makes a lot of mistakes thanks to her frustration with her mother. From an adult perspective she can actually seem a little bratty. But "Brave," despite its appeal to adult audiences, doesn't seem to be a film for grownups. Those of us who might have had a nit-picking mother (or fear we've turned into one) can relate to Merida, but I suspect only a young woman can really understand the tooth-grinding, foot-stomping irritation depicted in the film. Merida's actions are understandable even if they are predictable.
Some reviews I've read have already dismissed "Brave" as lacking compared to other Pixar films. It's called simplistic- which is a fair critique. It's called too "fairy-tale" as well, and I suppose it is- to an extent. "Brave" doesn't deviate a lot from the standard coming-of-age tale we've come to expect from Disney and Pixar. But I do wonder if part of the lack-of-interest is due more to its uniquely feminine focus as opposed to any lack of storytelling. I don't like to cry "sexism" and it may be totally unwarranted, but "Brave" is unique in that the male characters are on the periphery. Even Disney's most "girly" movies usually have a male character, front and center-- usually to sweep the leading lady off her feet. But "Brave" sticks to a smaller story centered on Merida and Elinor; a fact I found endearing but something that seems to bore a small percentage of the overall audience.
Oddly the main twist of the movie (one I won't reveal here) has generated some flack as well. Some have called it cliche while others have said it deviates too strongly from the first half to work. I actually disagree. There's enough foreshadowing at the beginning of the film to make the connection to the second half and eventually draw the story full circle- so the storytelling works in that regard. And while the twist offers a few jump-out-your-seat moments, it also leads to some of the funniest sequences as well. Perhaps it could be argued that the momma-bear cliche is a bit overdone- but I liked it just fine.
Despite the occasional criticisms I've seen I still think "Brave" is a film that will be enjoyed by most audiences- the men in my family loved it as much as I did. But it really is a story that calls out to mothers and daughters. It reminds us of the special bond forged in childhood and that the petty urgencies that can seem so important aren't worth the rifts they too often cause. The message is delivered with the same humorous flair as always, and more than a few tears. It's especially wonderful for mothers because it gently demonstrates that, sometimes, our stubborn children need to be saved from themselves- just a little. "Brave" found its way into my heart- and hopefully will work its way into yours as well.