As a child, Princess Merida grew up wild, free to do pretty much what she liked. Her father taught her archery, and it became one of her strongest skills. As she grew older, her mother put more restrictions on her behavior, determined to turn her into a lady. Merida doesn't really consider what that might mean for her, until her parents finally tell her that she will be expected to marry the first-born son of the leader of one of the three neighboring clans.
Merida attempts to win the right to decide her own fate, but the results are disastrous, putting a rift between her and her mother and leaving the clans at each others' throats. In despair, Merida runs off and eventually comes across a witch who promises to give her a spell that will change her mother and thereby change her fate.
Unfortunately, the spell does things that Merida never intended, and if she doesn't figure out how to set things right soon, the effects will be permanent.
I think seeing Snow White and the Huntsman so recently made me appreciate this movie more. Brave was clearly written by someone (according to IMDb, Brenda Chapman) who knew what kind of story they were telling and stuck to it. There was no romance shoe-horned in at the last second. This was, pure and simple, a story about a mother-daughter relationship.
The characters weren't anything I hadn't seen before. Merida's father was indulgent and preferred to let Merida's mother be the family's disciplinarian. Merida's mother, Elinor, was strict with her, but everything she said and did was intended to ensure the Merida could have a good life – she just had no idea how stifling her instructions and criticisms felt to her daughter. Merida was a bit of a tomboy. She preferred riding her horse, Angus, and practicing her archery to marriage and learning how to be a lady. Merida's younger brothers, triplets, were all mischievous and, as far as I could tell, completely interchangeable.
The movie's greatest strength, I think, was in how well-depicted the relationship between Merida and her mother was. In the beginning, they both had problems explaining their motivations, thoughts, and feelings. I suppose I can understand why the movie trailers revealed so little about what actually happens in the movie (which is why I have also been deliberately vague), because I gasped aloud when I realized what Merida had done to her mother in her desire to be able to live her life her own way. Actually, at first I wondered if the spell would kill Elinor – if I had been watching the movie at home, rather than in a movie theater, I probably would have been shouting at Merida for being so stupid as to give her mother something when she had no idea what its effects would be. Then again, at that point in the movie, all she was thinking about was herself. It wasn't until later that she started to think about the effects her actions could have on others.
Later, after the spell had taken effect, I teared up pretty much every time Merida's mother started to forget herself. The moments when she was still a mother, no matter what else had changed, only made those moments when she forgot herself more horrifying and poignant.
The main complaint I have about this movie is that the ending seemed a bit too perfect. Merida gets time to figure out what she wants in life, she and her mother get along again, and all the clans are fine with the way everything turns out. I don't imagine that kids would have a problem with how things ended, but my adult mind was not quite satisfied with how easily the clans adjusted to Merida and Elinor's decision. I couldn't help but wonder how things would go for Merida a few years down the line.
Appearance-wise, this movie was fabulous. I loved the forest, the wisps, Merida's hair, and Merida's horse.
I don't know that this is my favorite Pixar film. Then again, choosing my favorite Pixar movie is never an easy task. The rat lover in me will always have a soft spot for Ratatouille, but Up is one of my favorites too. Anyway, getting back on track: I don't know how I'd rate Brave in comparison to Pixar's other films, but it's still a good movie. As much as I like a good romantic subplot, I'm incredibly impressed that Brave's writer managed to keep the story focused on a theme that had absolutely nothing to do with romantic relationships.
The short "La Luna" plays just before Brave. Whereas Brave's focus is on a mother-daughter relationship, "La Luna"'s focus is on the relationship between three generations of males. A young boy is taught how to do the...family business?...by his father and grandfather, both of whom have their own way of doing things and would like the boy to follow in their particular footsteps.
Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
- Princess Mononoke (anime movie) - If you were a little disappointed that Brave didn't turn out to have some kind of nature-related message and/or you loved the forest and the little blue wisps, you may want to try this movie.
- Alice 19th (manga) by Yuu Watase - Another story in which friction between family members sets everything into motion. In this case, the friction is between two sisters. Alice has always felt overshadowed by her older sister, but those feelings are most painful when it comes to her older sister's boyfriend, on whom Alice has a secret crush. Shortly after Alice finds a rabbit who gives her the powers of a "Lotis Master," she has an argument with her sister. As a Lotis Master, Alice's words have power, and she inadvertently makes her sister disappear. Somehow, Alice has to set things right.
- Hanasaku Iroha (anime TV series) - Those who enjoyed Brave's focus on the relationship between Merida and her mother may enjoy the complex relationship between the three generations of women in this series. Ohana is an adaptable 16-year-old girl whose mother suddenly sends her to live with the grandmother she has never met. I have written about this series.
- The 10th Kingdom (live action miniseries); The 10th Kingdom (book) by Kathryn Wesley - If you'd like another fantasy story that at least in part involves a quest to undo a spell that has changed someone into something else, you might want to try this. The main characters are a father and daughter who travel to a world in which fairy tales are real. One of the people they meet is a prince who has been turned into a dog by his evil stepmother. I have written about the book, which is a novelization of the original TV miniseries.
- The Joy Luck Club (book) by Amy Tan; The Joy Luck Club (live action movie) - I spent some time trying to think of movies or books in which relationships between mothers and daughters play a strong part, and this was one of the few things I could think of.