In Brave, Pixar introduces audiences to a movie that will have fans wishing there were an Oscar for Best Animated Hair.
Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is a princess with pluck, a daredevil outdoorswoman who is more interested in combing the wide, gorgeous expanse of the ancient Scottish highlands than staying at home and learning to follow the more ladylike pursuits of her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). And who could blame her? The land that Pixar has created is stunningly beautiful and perfect for exploration. Drawn in dark blues and greens, the forest is veiled in fog and dotted with craggy waterfalls and glimmering hints of magic.
With her untamed red hair, Merida stands out against this misty backdrop like a flame. Her father is King Fergus (Billy Connolly), a warrior who must protect his kingdom from the evil, possessed Mor’Du, a giant bear who has an untold history of his own. Merida’s little brothers — the triplets Harris, Hubert and Hamish — bop around the castle like red rubber balls, stealing sweets from the cook and contributing mightily to the 100-minute smorgasbord of cuteness that defines this film.
It is Merida’s mother, Queen Elinor, who interrupts this rapturous life with talk of marriage. In an age-old custom, a tournament is held in which the first-born son of each clan competes for the hand of the king’s daughter. Here, however, each of the three hilariously-defined suitors is — shall we say, more “realistic” — than Disney princes of the past. There is Young MacIntosh, the handsome show-off with fine, flowing locks and an unsavory temper. Next is Wee Dingwall, a bit of a dolt, and seemingly just as disinterested in romance as is Merida. The last and most delightful of the three is the tubby Lord MacGuffin, who speaks a Scottish dialect that no one can understand.
But Merida is not the type of girl to lounge around the hearth singing “Someday My Prince Will Come.” To Merida, her mother’s queenly life seems dull and cold. When the headstrong princess uses her superior archery skills to shoot for her own hand, her action threatens the kingdom itself, not to mention causing a rift between mother and daughter. The resulting fight between Merida and Elinor is one of the most intense moments of the film.
Yet one of the most refreshing facets of this tale is that Queen Elinor is no stodgy, villainous caricature. She has purpose and nuances of her own. Her reasons for training her daughter in the fine art of diplomacy are deadly serious. Haunted by a legend of a time long ago when the four clans were at war, Elinor worries for the stability of her realm. Only King Fergus’ rule and a system of tradition have kept the kingdom in a precarious peace. As she reminds her daughter, they live in a world of alliances, and one false step could cause utter collapse. Elinor is the undisturbed force of order and sanity in this wild world — a serene and responsible counter to Merida’s expressive smartass.
When Merida goes looking for a way to “change her fate” by following a trail of ghostly will-o’-the-wisps through the darkened glen, the result is catastrophic. It is this search for a change in her fate that ends up showing Merida how very entwined one person’s fate is to that of another. Both she and her mother have lessons to learn.
Although Merida and Elinor are fighting about the marriage, their true conflict is a deeper one between themselves – a conflict of pride. Instead of a typical fairy tale romance, Brave is really a love story between mother and daughter and a look at how the individual negotiates community responsibility. While so many films that provide role models for girls portray romance as the be-all and end-all of life, Bravegives viewers an exhilarating exploration of other relationships and other aspects of existence.
Final Verdict: Though Brave would seem to celebrate individualism, it does not do so blindly. Its lessons are that no person’s fate is uncoupled from that of her community, and that altering one’s place in a delicate system involves a calm head, careful negotiation, and a cellar full of ale.