I’m a Pixar fangirl. I’ve seen every movie they’ve done except for two (Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, because I know you’re wondering). I stopped doubting them after Finding Nemo, which sounded so utterly ridiculous in its tagline that I didn’t believe for a second it would actually be good. Instead, it was an amazing, funny, warm-hearted movie that put me firmly in the “Pixar can do no wrong” camp.
So I might be just a little bit biased toward Brave, which is, as has been much touted, the first Pixar movie to feature a female protagonist.
Merida is a princess who prefers riding horses and shooting arrows to living the rigid, regimented life her mother tries to force on her. Their battle of wills comes to a head when Merida’s mother, by tradition, brings the clans together so the firstborn sons may compete for Merida’s hand in marriage.
Furious, Merida flouts traditions and runs off, looking for a spell that will change her fate. What she gets is a curse that will bring her entire land to ruin if she can’t find a way to break it.
This movie isn’t quite what you’d expect from a story involving a Disney princess. There’s no romantic subplot. Both Merida’s parents are alive. This story is about a mother and a daughter struggling to understand one another, which is amazing, because seriously, show me the last Disney movie that did that.
She and her mother, Elinor, are both sympathetic, which is difficult to do. Merida’s not opposed to marriage; she’s just not ready and she doesn’t want to be handed off to someone she doesn’t know just because they happened to win a contest. Elinor, meanwhile, is trying to ensure that her daughter is ready to take her place as a ruler someday, and that the traditions are part of keeping the peace between their warring clans.
There’s a great scene where Elinor is talking to her husband about Merida and Merida is talking to her horse about her mother. It cuts back and forth as each explains her point of view to the stand-in, but ends with the inevitable “she’ll never understand.” And that’s the most important part of the adventure, perhaps: both Merida and Elinor gaining new respect for each other’s strengths and viewpoints.
Merida is also an extremely proactive character, which is a breath of fresh air. The entire story moves because of her actions and decisions. Bringing the clans together for the marriage contest may be her mother’s doing, but Merida’s the one who chooses the contest, Merida’s the one who goes looking for a spell and decides to use it, and Merida’s the one who must put everything back to rights after she screws it up. I liked her and I liked that so much depended on her. It forced her into a role of responsibility, which helped her not only grow, but also understand her mother that much better.
Of course, not all is so serious. Merida’s three little brothers are amazing troublemakers, and even better, they’re completely silent characters. Their antics garnered some of the biggest laughs in the theater. (The bear chase in the castle is hilarious.)
I did have some minor quibbles: for example, the will o’ wisps that showed up throughout the movie might as well have said, “Hi! We’re here to point you on the way to story point #2!” However, they were minor, and the rest of the movie was good enough that I could overlook it.
Brave hasn’t supplanted The Incredibles as my favorite of Pixar’s movies, but it’s a fun, beautiful film that you should see the moment you get a chance. (And you should take your mother and/or daughter when you do.)