Disney Pixar’s Brave was everything I’d hoped it would be with its beautiful rendering of the Scottish Highlands, accents that are music to my ears and actual music that is powerful and grand when it needs to be and soft and sprightly when that’s what’s called for, as well.
Brave is the story of Merida, a Scottish princess, much beloved by her parents, Queen Elinor and King Fergus (although she is clearly Daddy’s girl at the outset. Scottish comic/actor Billy Connolly gives voice to the King). She has grown up being groomed by her mother to one day marry a son of an allied clan; to uphold tradition, continue the line and keep the peace.
Merida for her part (voiced by the wonderful Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald – who can currently be seen in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”), wants nothing to do with this plan and has been fighting against the constraints of “Princesshood” from the time her doting father gifted her with her first bow (the kind that comes with arrows, not the kind that might be used to tame her unruly hair.).
Queen Elinor (the nearly perfect in all things Emma Thompson), believes in the adage, “to whom much is given, much is expected”. Elinor, though she loves her daughter and believes in her heart she’s doing what is best for her, cannot see that Merida wants something more for herself than her mother had, but most of all is not ready to be given away in marriage. With all of her insistence that her daughter behave like “a lady” at all times, conflict was inevitable.
There are those that take issue with what happens next and consider that it weakens Pixar’s vision by taking the easy road. Those are the types of people who would never be able to see a ‘will-o-the-wisp’ should they ever encounter one. As cynical as I consider myself to be, I do think I’m capable of appreciating a wee bit of magic when done right. Brave is at its heart a fairy tale, a fable. It is not meant to be realism.
Merida, for all of her skill, athletic prowess, intelligence, strength and ambition, does not see that she is also being selfish. The movie takes us on Merida’s journey, as well as Elinor’s, as she grows up and matures into the person she was meant to be. To this end, a wacky woodcarving witch and a spell that gives true meaning to the term “Mama Grizzly” are needed.
I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone, but all of that is window dressing anyway. The heart of the movie, which is both soft and tender and incredibly strong, is about the power of the bond between a mother and a daughter. It’s about the things that both generations do to hurt the other; about the importance of listening with our hearts as well as our ears and about how love with a healthy dose of compromise and compassion can heal the wounds.
Perhaps it’s because I was once a wee lass with a strong and willful mother that the movie held such emotional resonance for me and reduced me to tears. That was something I did not expect.
ps: If you go to see the film in a theater, do stay for the credits. Not only are you rewarded with a wee bit of a scene at the end, but do it as a show of respect to the hundreds of people involved in creating a movie like Brave. It took four years to complete and when you see the meticulous attention to detail, epitomized by the vibrant color and buoyant curl to every hair on Merida’s head, it is easy to understand why. Most of the names won’t mean anything to you but glance at them anyway. They’ve earned it.