It’s ages since I’ve done a rave review, and usually I reserve them for books, but Brave was such a brilliant, brilliant film that I just have to, well, rave about it.
To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting much. Pixar releases often coincide with no 2’s birthday, and the last two we’ve seen at the cinema, Wall-E and Up, were only partly brilliant. The review I’d read in the Guardian suggested the film was bland and didn’t have much of a feminist message. I’ve been beginning to wonder whether the glory days of A Bug’s Life, Toy Story, Finding Nemo etc were well behind them. But no 2 was determined to see it, so that was that.
I needn’t have worried. Within ten minutes, I knew a) they hadn’t lost their magic touch and b) this was a REAL women’s movie and one that passes the Bechdel Test triumphantly. I didn’t need the credits to tell me that it was written by women (though with male involvement), and was pleased to see it was also directed and produced by women, which is not something you see very often.
Anyway, back to the movie. The story follows the travails of Princess Merida, daughter of the King Fergus and Queen Elinor. The film starts with Merida being given a bow and arrow by her father when she is small. She loves it, but her mother instantly disapproves. A bear attacks them, and whilst King Fergus defends them, Queen Elinor and Merida flee. Ten years later, Merida is a lively and opinionated teenager, her father has lost his leg to the bear and regales the tale incessantly. Her mother, casts Merida into the role of perfect princess, whilst her naughty triplet brothers infuriate her because they get away with everything. All Merida wants to do is shoot arrows and climb mountains, but the Queen wants her to sew, wear pretty dresses, and get ready for marriage. Much to Merida’s disgust, the Queen organises the other three Lords of Scotland to bring their sons to compete for her hand. When Merida manages to outwit her mother chaos ensues, and the pair have a terrible argument. Merida flees to the forest where she meets a witch who provides her with the chance of a spell to change her mother. Like all good fairy stories, we know this is going to end badly and sure enough her mother does change, but into a bear. (How’s that for a metaphor for what being a mother sometimes feels like!) Not only is this a terrible humiliation for such a feminine and delicate woman, but she is now in danger from her husband who has sworn to kill all bears in revenge for his injury. And like all good fairy tales, in order to save her mother, Merida must revert the spell before sun down in two days time, or the Queen will be a bear for ever.
It’s a brilliant reworking of traditional fairy stories. We’ve had brave princesses before, of course, but miraculously on this occasion, the story DOESN’T end with Merida finding a prince she likes and getting married. Hallelujah. Instead, the narrative concentrates on the relationship she has with her mother – and they do it very well. The teenage strops and yearning for the simplicity of childhood will be familiar with mothers and daughters everywhere. The complexity of the relationship is enhanced by the fact that Merida isn’t always right, Elinor isn’t always wrong. We sympathise with Merida for the way her mother unintentionally smothers her and cheer when she literally breaks free of the overtight and hideously girly dress to outshoot her suitors. Yet we also love Elinor when she realises to her horror that she is naked, a bear and in big trouble. We love her even more when still manages to control her unruly triplets when escaping from the castle.
The story rattles along at breakneck speed, with Elinor and Merida racing to and from the castle in an attempt to break the spell, pursued by the King and his fellow Lords who think they’re chasing a real bear. There’s not as much humour as in previous Pixar movies, but is still funny enough. My only quibble is that the comedy element is mainly provided by the men, which is a bit of a shame. I don’t mind the men being funny, but apart from King Fergus, they are all fighting buffoons, who need a good woman to keep them in hand. It would have enhanced the film a little, if they were a bit more rounded than that. That aside, the drinking, fighting, bear chasing scenes are fun, and whenever the naughty triplets appear they steal the show. Still Elinor and Merida’s relationship is both the heart and resolution to this film and rightly so. Both mother and daughter have to be incredibly brave if they are going to put things right, and both have to be prepared to change to make that happen. I happened to be sitting next to my thirteen year old, at the climax and, well, let’s just say, my face was more than a little wet.
So well done Pixar. Another excellent movie, with excellent role models for daughters AND their mothers. So much so that when I had a heart to heart with no 1 two days later, she asked if I’d been taking parenting lessons from Brave. I hadn’t, but I’m humble enough to admit, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if I did.