Movie Review: Brave

Disney princesses get a bad rap today. I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read or conversations I’ve heard about Disney movies being responsible for young women’s messed up expectations of romance. Sometimes Disney deserves this, other times I’m not so sure. For example: Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty are barely characters. They are victims who need rescuing from a man. Gross. But then you’ve Belle – the only Disney princess who can read. Jasmine doesn’t want to get married. Pocahontas risks her life to prevent a war, while Mulan suits up and goes to war. They may not be the strongest, most fleshed-out characters out there, but they aren’t entirely victims or dependent on a man either.

Pixar is generally praised for its strong character work – male and female (and robot, bug, and toy). The Incredibles brilliantly captured the ennui of suburban life, the compromises you make for family, the nostalgia for a golden age, teenage angst, marital woes, the desire to be special, and so many other great emotions. UP was fantastic at bringing Carl from a timid boy to a sweet man to a doting husband to a crotchety old man who had lost everything he loved, and then back to sweet man. The one thing Pixar has lacked is a female protagonist. Until Brave.

Brave tells the story of Merida, a Scottish princess as wild as her ginger mane. All she wants is to hunt and ride and shoot and climb and put her weapons on the table. But as a princess, she has duties and responsibilities, and her mother will not rest until she learns them. As a result the two are constantly at odds, neither feeling listened to. So when Merida hears she will be betrothed, she sets out to find a spell to change her fate. And that’s when things really get going.

Unfortunately, it takes kind of a while to get to that point. I personally enjoy a slow build-up, unless the rest of the movie feels rushed as a result – which I found to be the case in Brave. Without giving too much away, the spell has a time limit of just two days, instead of a perhaps more standard three. While this might have increased the similarity to another Disney film I’ll discuss in a second, I think we could have benefitted from an extra day of consequences and quests.

So, yes, let’s discuss what I’m sure you’ve already heard: Brave is pretty… conventional. Even standard. I mean… A red-headed princess who wants more from life and seeks out a witch for a spell that has a time-limit and potentially dire consequences? Sounds a bit familiar to me. Or maybe a princess who is beset by suitors, and runs away from the pressure? Have I heard that before? But in my opinion, they are all totally different. Where The Little Mermaid succeeded was its sense of longing. Ariel might be a princess with a perfect life, but we all know that feeling of wanting something different. We all have something we want to do, some place we want to go, but for some reason or other, just can’t. We’ve all felt that powerful longing, that ache for something more. That, to me, encapsulates The Little Mermaid. And Aladdin isn’t really about Jasmine, it’s about Aladdin, natch. Brave, on the other hand, isn’t really about longing. It isn’t about finding a new world. I mean, yes, Merida longs for freedom every bit as much as Ariel (though we don’t feel it nearly as powerfully). But the driving force behind the movie is really her relationship with her mother, and this is where Brave distinguishes itself.

Name a Disney movie about a mother and daughter. Go ahead. Try. Snow White? Evil step-mother. Cinderella? Evil step-mother. Sleeping Beauty? Her mom is in four seconds of the movie. Alice in Wonderland? Same thing. Tangled? Evil fake-mother, although this is the closest we’ll get. Lion King? Father/son. Hercules? Father/son. Aladdin? Father/daughter. Little Mermaid? Father/daughter. Beauty and the Beast? Father/daughter. Mulan? Father/daughter. Noticing a pattern?

So yes, maybe Brave tells a pretty standard story. Maybe that was the point. Maybe they looked at a world where there were no standard Mother/daughter stories and thought, “Hey, let’s make one.” It’s not about creating a female protagonist, who has to be this new feminist symbol for a new generation of women. It’s about creating a new story, a new fairy tale, that mothers and daughters can curl up and watch together in the same way that daddies and daughters could watch Little Mermaid. At least, that’s what I thought.

Anyway, the movie is gorgeous. I mean just stunning to look at. Pixar has really outdone themselves visually this time. In fact, I would argue that the look and sound of the music (by which I mean the score and soundtrack), add depth to the movie where the script is perhaps a little weaker.

The characters are pretty solid, with what little time they’re really given. Like I said, I would have liked to see another day or two in there. I envision a film where Merida and her mother are off on their quest for a couple days getting into crazy hijinks and dangerous situations, and the men-folk realize they’re gone, and set off to find them, getting into problems of their own. We could have flashed between the two, thereby showing us more personality for the suitors – who were painfully one-note – and their parents, who were better. The triplets could still have run some interference and been sort of obnoxious/adorable depending on your point of view. Ultimately I think this would have been a stronger, but longer movie. But then I’m not a film maker so who cares what I think anyway.

So, in conclusion, I definitely liked it. It wasn’t an UP/The Incredibles/Wall-E/Toy Story 3, but it definitely wasn’t a Cars/Cars 2/Toy Story 2 either. It was like a Ratatouille. If you have a daughter, take her to see it for sure, because Merida is a strong female character. She’s also a bit of a brat at times, but then I believe characters should be flawed. I think boys will enjoy it just as much as girls too. I don’t think it’ll reach the college crowd the same way as those first four Pixar movies I just listed did, but if you go in expecting a fairy tale, you won’t be disappointed.

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