One of the more annoying things about Disney films is that while they have plenty of female protagonists they always have one method of story-telling. They’re beautiful, charming, face off against some sort of older evil mother figure and need a man to rescue them and save the day. It’s fairly annoying after a while, especially in an era where woman can do anything a man can do. From Sigourney Weaver battling aliens to Angelina Jolie stepping in for action icon Tom Cruise, and all points between, the one standard in animated films is that women always need a man somehow to save the day with or for them.
Enter Merida (Kelly MacDonald), Pixar’s entry into the Disney Princess realm and it’s about time there’s a female role model that doesn’t need anyone but herself to save the day.
Merida, a Princess of Scotland, is a teenage girl with a fierce independent streak that her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) is trying to work around. She’s grooming her daughter for her eventual marriage and ascension to the throne of the country, currently occupied by her father King Fergus (Billy Connolly). With her triplet brothers (Harris, Hubert, and Hamish who aren’t voiced) causing all sorts of mischief, and getting away with it Merida has the weight of the kingdom on her shoulders. And her day of reckoning with her mother has come as the three rival clans with whom the peace is maintained have all placed their firstborn sons in a competition for Merida’s hand in marriage. It leads to two main events that shape the film.
When Merida defies her mother again by one upping the suitors in archery, something that’s her passion, her choice sends shockwaves through the proceedings.
When she tries to have a witch change her mother’s mind, and ends up turning her into a bear, it’s time for some mother/daughter bonding time as they discover truths about themselves and work on their relationship as she tries to keep her bear-killing father from making a rug out of his wife/
The key to this film is that it takes the Disney Princess Formula and upends it by making Merida a truly independent woman. She doesn’t need a husband for the sake of and it mainly comes from teenage defiance; she’s a true romantic and doesn’t want to marry someone just because it’s the proper thing to do. But she’s also young and doesn’t have the sort of wisdom her mother does; her mother isn’t evil like a wicked stepmother but instead is trying to guide her rebellious daughter to being the sort of proper lady a Queen should be. It’s such a refreshing dynamic in a Disney film because Merida gets into trouble by herself and gets out of it on her own as well; she’s not waiting for a prince to sweep her off her feet either. She wants to be her own person in a world that demands of her nothing of the sort, which her mother understands from experience but can’t quite get through to her.
It’s a remarkable dynamic because it looks at the nature of the mother/daughter relationship in a way that isn’t the clichéd animation style of the mother is evil and the daughter is this poor, tortured innocent. Merida screws up, and screws up badly, because of the nature of youth. It’s reckless what she does in both cases and it’s only through the exploration of her relationship with her mother can she repair the damage. It’s a more nuanced look and as such it ought to resonate with women that much more effectively. It would be simple to paint Elinor as a shrew who hates her daughter. It takes some complexity to turn that relationship into an even-sided affair where we can empathize and understand both parties.
Brave is also Pixar’s best looking film to date. Considering the beautiful films they’ve already crafted it would seem like an overstatement but the Scottish highlands come through beautifully. This is a tremendous film on a purely visual level; crafting Scotland in a way that isn’t insulting or stereotypical is a bit tough and they’ve nailed it wonderfully. This is a love letter to that country on a visual level.
Brave may not hit the heights of a film like The Incredibles but it has a dynamic that works as effectively as that film. Pixar may have had a subpar film in Cars 2 a year ago but they’ve released another classic in Brave.
Directors: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman Writers: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi based off a story by Chapman Notable Voice Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.