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.
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.
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.
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.
-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
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.
*All images via Pixar.