“Brave” Definitely Takes Some Brave Steps

Merida, the Scottish princess and expert archer.

Yesterday marked the release of Pixar’s first film starring a female protagonist, a historic turn for a franchise steeped in the male gaze with its other films (fantastic though they may be).  The story comes to life over the gorgeous Scottish highlands, and introduces us to the royal family of Castle DunBroch. “Brave” is a story of family and the love that binds, being courageous in the face of fear, and of a young woman speaking her truth when her freedom comes into question and letting no one but her decide her fate.

We see Merida expertly command her giant horse and shoot arrows (never missing her mark), wield a sword, climb the face of an imposing cliff to drink from an enchanted waterfall, and never back down or cower when she is scared. When it is called for, Merida is always brave in the face of danger. Merida is thrown from her horse and accidentally cut from her father’s sword, but both times she shakes off the injuries and gets back to business. When Merida follows the will o’ the wisps (said to lead a person to their fate) and finds herself at an old witch’s cottage, she asks for a spell to help change her mother’s mind. She is given a cake that holds the magic that as it plays out, demands Merida use all of her skills and courage to set things right. The wisps indeed lead Merida to her fate, a change that shifts how the clans view their children and their right to be who they are. We see time and again both Merida and the regal Queen Elinor use their minds and their physical strength to defeat challenges. The empowerment around the female characters in the film is honest and meaningful.

Merida and Queen Elinor struggle to communicate with each other.

The secret to the witch’s spell and setting the kingdom right again is to “mend the bond torn by pride”. Queen Elinor finds it difficult to let go of royal tradition, despite the fact that these customs are making her daughter miserable and suffocating a part of who she is. She is unsure of how to talk to Merida because Merida is so different from what she is expected to be. Merida must find a way to express to her mother that she isn’t ready for marriage, and wants to determine whom she will love for herself in her own time and on her own terms. Merida doesn’t know how to speak the words that honor what she feels in her heart. It is clear she loves her mother but feels trapped by the life that is planned for her. Merida is desperate for her mother to accept her for who she is. Merida and Elinor take turns saving each others’ lives in several scenes. In the end, the relationship is mended by listening to each other and showing each other respect and love.

 

As Merida says at one point in the film, “Legends are lessons.” I think Pixar’s princess story centered around a princess with a wild heart, teaches us some important lessons about the legends we’ve been teaching our children. I’ve read that people think this story was not Pixar’s best work as it wasn’t original enough of a tale. I disagree. We didn’t need a tale never told before like Toy Story or UP. This time, Pixar understood what we needed was a different version of a story that had been told in such a narrow way so many, many times. Pixar took some brave steps with this movie, showing strong female leads that act and look different from the princesses this country has been gorging themselves on for the past decade. Pixar gave us a new legend for our kids, one that retells a fairy tale with a different kind of hero and a different kind of happy ending. We now have a story with a hero that is a brave and feisty princess whose passion for adventure in life leads to a change in the fate of an old legend and in turn changes the way the clans live. In Pixar’s “Brave”, the princess rescues everyone with her wit and valor, and in our culture that overwhelmingly values superficial, sexualized, and dumbed down females, I’d say Pixar took a bold step to makes us think. “Brave” challenges us to change the way we think about girls. I know first hand how hard that is to do, and I am thrilled with the retelling of a tale that was long overdue.

Merida prepares to give a speech that will stop the warring of the clans.

My family went with a large group to see the film, a mix of mom, dads, girls and boys. We ranged in age from 4 years old to 44 years old. We ALL loved the film. My six year old daughter was sitting on my lap during most of the movie, and she was completely enraptured while watching the story unfold. There were many funny parts, and she did some deep belly laughs a couple dozen times. She cheered for Merida, and at the end, turned her face to mine and said, “Mom, she did it. She saved all of them.”

Pixar gave us a story last night that confirmed for my daughter what she already knew about herself: There is a hero inside.

Pixar put the challenge to Hollywood to do things differently. Hollywood studios make movies to make money, so I hope that other families speak with their dollars and give Hollywood the message that this is the media we want for our families. That is worth the price of admission.

 

Pixar creators wanted Merida to be a regular looking girl that all girls could aspire to.

To address some concerns raised in our Facebook community:

-There are some very intense and scary parts that get very loud. I would say in general it might be too intense for kids under five or six. You know your child best, but go in prepared that for young children, there are some nightmare-inducing scenes that are integral to the story but might not be best for little ones. I talked to Amelia ahead of time, we knew there were going to be some intense scenes fighting the evil bear Mor’du. When she got scared during the movie I would remind her that it has a happy ending, so if it isn’t happy then it isn’t the end.

-There is violence. The story’s cast are the warrior clans of the Scottish Highlands. They find each other in big wrestling brawls in several scenes (there little to no violence showing people hurt with weapons). There is also violence against the bears, which might upset little animal lovers. I would liken the violence to that of Lion King, if Simba shot arrows at bears and threw punches at kilt-wearing hooligans.

-I have read comments that Merida is a rude or bratty teenager. I completely disagree. She is headstrong and independent and voices her opinion, which I’m sure for people not used to seeing girls that way might be disconcerting. To me it is completely normal and I saw Merida as a young woman who needed to find a way to speak her truth and when she wasn’t being heard, she rebelled in desperation. She stood up to her mother but was never rude or insulting. I think the film opens some good discussions on how we can disagree with someone we love but still respect them.

-Amelia commented many times how happy she was that the females were not wearing makeup.

Merida's clever little triplet brothers Hubert, Hamish, and Harris.

-While I think boys will also love this movie, I have mixed feelings on how males are portrayed in the film. King Fergus is impulsive and silly, but also fiercely protective of his family and loving and respectful to both his wife and daughter. The triplet brothers are rascals, but also extremely clever, particularly how they maneuver through the castle during a big chase sequence. They are like a medieval Mission Impossible. The clan leaders each have quirky personalities and make mistakes, but also remember their loyalty to each other and come to fight as one joined force when they put friendship above bickering. The clan leaders also change the way they regard their sons and become more accepting of each of the boys. Men don’t play an important role in this story, and I can see where someone would say there aren’t good role models for boys. I might suggest they consider the measured and wise Queen Elinor who is also shown to be fiercely protective of her children when they are in danger. And of course Merida, a heroine from Disney and Pixar the likes of which we have never seen.

-I’m told the extra money for the 3D viewing was not worth it. I thought the movie in 2D was visually spectacular.

-Body Image: Merida is shown as athletic and strong. Her legs and bottom are thick and muscular. She shows amazing feats of strength in the film. There is a curve to her lower belly that shows she is not a waif or as some people were concerned, “skinny”. She is lean and athletic and strong.

-Merida, her spirit and her hair, are never tamed. She remains true to herself throughout the film.

-Those of you that are Scot-Irish like my family will definitely feel transported home and you will be most proud of your heritage and values.

-The music in the film is absolutely gorgeous, as is the animation and views of Scotland. I want to go back by myself and be able to take it all in again. It was magical.

-All of the preview preceding the film feature all male protagonists and mostly all-male casts. While Brave may not be a perfect movie, please see its significance in Hollywood at this moment in time.

-While there is discord between Merida and Queen Elinor in the film, the overwhelming message of the film is that there is nothing family won’t do for each other, and that love is the tie that binds us, even if we strike out on an independent path to follow our fate.

“We saw it last night with our daughter who was thrilled beyond measure to see a princess who fought her own battles and rescued others, who was the hero and the author of her own story and who learned that it is just as important to listen as it is to be heard.” -Ali Crehan,PPBB Community Member

Throughout the movie, Merida loves and protects her family.

 

Last night after the movie we had a bonfire and while the adults sat and chatted, our wild girls rode their imaginary steeds as they raced around through the yard, turned the tree fort into a castle they defended themselves, protected us from imposing bears, brandished swords and bows, and searched for will o’ the wisps in the darkness of a beautiful summer night. The only time the action stopped was for a s’mores break, and they were right back at it. There was no waiting for a prince to show up, no cries for help. At one point I heard Amelia yell, “THIS IS THE WAY TO OUR FATE!” as she and her buddy tore around the house on their horses one more time. As they came around the corner of the house, her friend yelled back “YOU GO ON TO THE CASTLE, I’M GOING BACK FOR THE BEAR!”.

They were rescuing themselves and writing their own tale, which is what Brave is all about.

If you had the chance to change your fate, would you?

*All images via Pixar.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Wow! If I loved your review this much..I can’t imagine how much I’ll LOOOOOVE the movie! :o)

  2. Richele says:

    I loved Brave, too! :)

    Your comment on body image reminded me of the TV show Avatar: Legend of Korra. Korra (the female protagonist) is very strong and athletic, and what’s wonderful is that her body actually matches her ability. Look her up and check out her arms. They rock! This show is best for ages 8 and up.

    • Ahh Legend of Korra. Love that one too. And it’s precursor, Avatar, the Last Airbender, is fantastic as well, with some wonderful male and female characters. And it’s target audience is a bit younger (Korra is geared towards Avatar fans who had grown up a bit). My 3yo and 5 yo love both shows.

      Just got home from seeing Brave, and we all LOVED IT! We saw the 3D, since that’s all that was showing, and I don’t think it was vital either. My 3yo only climbed into my lap during the last fight, between the momma bear and the mean one. And even then, she wasn’t majorly scared.

    • I do need to check out Korra. I think it is too old for my kiddos, but I’m interested to see what it is about and study her character.

      • If you can find it (Netflix has it, I believe), the precursor, Avatar: The last Airbender, is for a younger audience. I think all the characters are well done in that one, male and female. I’d definitely be curious to see what you had to say about them.

        • I love The Last Airbender! I actually had written a pretty long comment about how awesome the female characters are in that show (even though the protagonist is a boy). I love that they have extremely diverse skills, personalities, and interests, but that none of them ever comes off as a damsel in distress. But then I decided the comment was too long, and what I had first thought of was the body image part (which isn’t as great in The Last Airbender, really), so I stuck with that.
          I’m glad you brought up the original series for me :)

  3. No mention of the amazingly disturbing violence on the mother “bear” perpetrated by her husband and a mob of warriors? I think that deserves a pointed section in any review. How do your feel about the juxtaposition of such a strong female character surrounded by such intense violence (specifically this attack on the female)? Do you think this type of unarguably intense violence will further stratify the perceived “anti-princess” and “pro-princess” camps, something we surely cannot participate in due to the countless wedges already driven between young girls (and women)? Was it a calculated technique in order to ensure profits from all who enjoy the buying of branded products? There were some great things about this movie, but this particular scene really got to me (as a mother, a woman, an advocate and ally, and as a human being).

    • Anna -
      Nope. No mention. They weren’t attacking the mama bear was female, they were attacking her because she is a bear. That has everything to do with the legend of Fergus avenging his lost leg to Mor’du and nothing to do with her being a female. They were chasing her and caught her. I’m not sure I’d describe that as “amazingly disturbing violence”. I’m not sure if you’ve ever caught a bear, but after the film I was talking with a friend who is a bear hunter, and we were discussing how the bear was tied. Bears are incredibly strong, and their legs and snout have to be secured the way it was depicted in that scene. In all other scenes when Queen Elinor is a human female, she is adored and respected by King Fergus, and really by the other lords and clansmen. When Fergus finds her torn dress on the chamber floor he is devastated that harm may have come to his beloved. While I don’t like or appreciate violence towards women, I am not opposed to women being surrounded by or part of fierce fighting. Both Merida and Elinor prove themselves to be fierce warriors, which is great to see and a deep part of Celtic tradition. Isn’t that what so many of us wanted, a warrior princess? But now many people are taking a step back an saying, “Well, we didn’t want her to be THAT tough. Take it easy on her, she’s a girl.” I’m okay with seeing women fight (and I don’t mean cat fight with each other). Merida and Elinor were fierce when they had to be, and I’m okay with that. They not once needed a man to rescue them, and I love that. In the end, it was the female characters working together in battle that saved the clans.

      Elinor’s fight scenes in particular show the audience, especially the kiddos, how fiercely a mother will protect her child. I don’t think the fight scenes between the bears are anything worse that what my kids watch on National Geographic and other nature shows.

      I don’t participate in nor promote the infighting between the princess camps as I practice and teach balance, so I’m not sure how to answer your statement that was posed as a question.
      And yes, everything Disney does with its branded products is calculated.

  4. One part that really stood out for me, was after Merida did her little speech about how they should be able to choose who they love and marry when they’re ready, and one of the male suitors that was intended for her, backed her up and was like Yeah! We should get to choose when we’re ready. I thought that was an awesome moment.

    • Nicole -
      That is a really important moment, actually, because all three of the suitors make similar statements saying they didn’t feel ready and wanted to choose a bride for themselves, someone they cared for. It showed the younger generation saw each other is individuals who have worth, and not objects to be traded and married off like chattel.

  5. Anna: that scene got to me too, BUT, I loved how Merida came to her mother’s rescue and fought off her own father to protect her Mum. Even when she was wounded by her father’s sword, she never gave up.

    • Nicole -
      Agreed. Merida said, “I’ll not let you kill my mother” and took several blows from Fergus’ broadsword. She would have had to be incredibly strong to do that in real life, and I think that comes through in the scene. Fergus at this point still does not understand the bear is really his wife, and when Elinor the Bear breaks free of her bonds to fight the incoming Mor’du, Fergus doesn’t save Merida and Elinor. The women save everyone else.

  6. Wow — great read! I enjoyed the movie too, and my 6 year old daughter absolutely loved it. She even got home and dug her bow and arrow out, made up a target and started shooting in the backyard again. You should have seen her face when she hit a bullseye — so happy.

    I want this movie to do insanely well. I want it to be a major hit. I have some serious reservations about this movie in particular but I think it is so important that Hollywood see a young female protagonist can hold her own at the box office. I’d love to start seeing more and more strong girl characters in kid flicks.

    As for the film itself … I’m glad they showed Merida being all strong and athletic and fierce. But I can’t imagine a boy-led movie that would focus so much on marriage. Seriously, two thirds of the movie are spent either discussing marriage — boys being the underlying theme — or doing things because of it, ie. getting a spell and all that unfolds because of that. When Merida finally has her big end-of-second-act denouement … she comes to terms with her thoughts on marriage. WTF? You cannot tell me a boy character would spend so much time on this topic. There would be grand adventures, journeys, armies to fight, whatever — but a boy character’s main speech wouldn’t have to do with growing up and thinking of getting hitched. No way.

    I have a tiny nit at the end, when the “villain” is finally beaten. Who does it? The main character? Of course not. She’s a girl. She is actually seen on the ground, cowering, while someone else saves the day. Again, if this were a boy movie, there is no way that would happen.

    I appreciate they called her Brave and showed her doing lots of neat things, but when push came to shove ….

    And yet, like your daughter, my daughter seemed to take home the same message: Merida was awesome. I’d call it a good start — but I’d still like to see a movie in which a female kid character just acts like a kid.

    I don’t mean to hijack this thread, sorry, but I wrote more about this at Babble.com and included links to some great commentary by dads of daughters and sons — http://blogs.babble.com/dadding/2012/06/22/brave-new-world-not-quite-brave-is-still-all-about-boys/ — it’s a fascinating topic.

    Love your blog!

    Mike

    • Hi Mike -
      Thanks for the link. I totally disagree with your review of the film, but it was interesting to read. The movie is called “Brave”. Not “Merida the Brave”, but just “Brave”. So I don’t see what the problem is with another character also being brave, which is what happens in the scene you have issue with. Merida isn’t cowering, she is searching for her weapon and regrouping. There are numerous scenes when Merida is in a scary situation, but acts with courage. Climbing the waterfall, shooting for her own hand, fighting Mor’du in the fallen castle, taming the fighting clans in her castle’s throne room, racing into the forest to save characters at the end….I think it is really unfair to say we never saw Merida act bravely.

      I also want to point out that the issue of marriage is imposed upon Merida, not something she brings up or was even on her mind. She spends the rest of the film not so much talking about marriage, but rather asserting herself, who she is, and what is in her heart. I think there was actually a strong message in the film to let girls come of age in their own time.

      You are right that a movie with a male protagonist would probably not have been centered around marriage and/or fighting it, but then again, when is the last time boys were treated like objects and traded by kingdoms like chattel? Never. This film needed to feature a princess who wouldn’t allow herself to be married off as a political pawn in the wars of the clans of medieval Scotland. Not only did she win her own personal freedom, she completely changed the way the clans would treat the marrying of their children in the future. Give some credit where credit is due.

      And overall, yes, I’d love a story about a strong girl with had nothing to do with princesses or marriage. “Brave” was never either of those things, it was always the retelling of a fairytale. In fairytales, there is both a quest and a happy ending….we get both with “Brave”, and it is a vast departure from what we are used to seeing. This film has merit and was a really good start, one film cannot be expected to right all of Hollywood’s wrongs, and hopefully we’ll continue to move in the right direction.

      And I’m bummed for your daughter that you cannot fit a horse in the backyard. I had to tell my daughter today that we are not getting a falcon as pet.

  7. Thanks for the review Melissa and I really appreciate your thoughts too Mike (comment above) – I was all set to go see “Brave” with my 12yr old son, and 9yr old daughter when my nearly 18yr old son said he wanted to come see it with us too! As he has to work today, we’re putting it off for tomorrow so we can all go together – i think this is such an important movie for ALL to see! I’m also really keen to see the relationship with the mother as this is another rub for me – mothers are either non-existent or horrible mean step mothers in all fairy tales. (from nemo, through to the classics)I feel Mothers get such a bad deal.

  8. Karen powers says:

    After seeing it this morning, I am thrilled to finally have a heroine that matches the princesses of my daughter’s imagination. I was disappointed that none of the male characters matched Merdia and Elinor in intellect and ability. All existed to provide, unnecessary in most instances, comic relief. Why to build up a woman, must we still bring down men? The message would have been better – choosing yourself and your own destiny – had any of the suitors been her equal.

  9. Brilliant review. Spot on!

  10. ok, so have finally seen the movie – LOVED it. Can totally see your point Karen, (above) as i watched it with my 12yr old and 17yr old sons, the men were all just violent clumsy shallow characters with no sensitivity or insight- which was a shame.
    Afterwards we had an interesting discussion about the word “fate” and how it is a rather passive adult concept. My oldest son doesn’t like the term at all, i took it as knowing who you are at your core. this quote summing it up nicely –
    “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are” e. cummings.
    I personally related to Merida’s struggles, and am happy to say my daughter didn’t – she just thought it was cool.
    I laughed, I cried, and was glad to be a part of an historical moment for girls!
    ps. love the discussion above – passionate discussion, the sign of a significant movie :)

  11. that was a great review, thank you so much! :)

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