This is Pixar’s latest film, Brave! I finally watched it!
Brave tells the story of Merida, a teenage Princess with long and curly red hair who’s more interested in archery instead of following the typical feminine and elegant Princess image, much to the disappointment of her mother Elinor. Things get much worse when she’s told that she will have to get married as part of their old-customs. Merida has had enough of this and seeks to change her fate.
With all the mixed reviews, with arguments that this was Pixar’s weakest film, although most people enjoying it a lot, I wasn’t sure exactly how I was gonna react. As far as I can tell now, I really enjoyed it, but I do understand where people are going with when they say it’s weak.
Firs thing’s first. I mentioned in my “Writing Strong Women in Film” article about my concerns on what they might or might not do with Merida: were they gonna depict her as “strong” just because she held a bow and arrow (ending up with a bland or boring character), or were they going to add something different or new to this character? Thankfully, they pulled her off very well, and it was very easy to like this character! They did include the “girl going against the girly stereotype” story and rebelling against her parents, which is a traditional set up. But it’s not just that: she’s being held back by her culture. She wants to have the freedom in her identity no matter what her parents tell her, which is something anyone can relate to. Actually, it’s really similar to Bend it Like Beckham in that respect. I loved the symbolism in one scene: where the dress was so tight that she couldn’t throw her arrow, so she ripped out of her dress, like she was literally breaking out of the “typical princess” role in order to show off who she was in front of everyone. LOVED THAT. I really like Merida.
The other best element of the film is the mother-daughter relationship. It has the typical “Mom! You aren’t listening to me!” edge, but what I love is that we understand both sides of the story: neither of them are really listening to each other. The mother loves her daughter, but she’s upset that Merida isn’t princess-y. Merida’s not meeting up to the mother’s expectations nor to their customs. Even if Merida’s an amazing archer, that means almost nothing to the mother because it isn’t lady-like. Kinda like how a doctor wants his son to get out of law and become a doctor like him. On the other hand, Merida wants to have her freedom and wants to rebel against her mother’s expectations, but she also ignores the importance of the traditions in her land because in her mind that’s also what it means to be rebellious. Sure, we can understand when she doesn’t want to get married, but if she doesn’t want to follow one custom or responsibility, she might as well stop being Scottish or stop being a princess as well.
Both learn something from each other: the mother realises even more how great and lucky she is to have a daughter like Merida, even though it isn’t what she expected out of her daughter, and Merida learns the importance of her kingdom, their traditions and how they’re part of their culture. Neither of them really had much in common, or much to bond with, and it’s in the end when they realise how much of an influence they are to each other. The mother truly loves her and believes that what she’s doing is the best for her. She isn’t evil or even narrow minded; she just thinks she’s doing what’s right for her. The father is probably more understanding about it, since he probably shares a lot more in common with her that she might do with her mother.
Oh, and there’s this scene: After Merida breaks a tapestry made by the mother, Elinor throws her bow into the fire… that really broke my heart. I almost cried right there. They were breaking something important from each other: the mother’s tradition, and Merida’s identity. Almost like they rejected each other entirely. It also felt very genuine. This is would be an argument any girl would have with their mother, or even a son and father or whatever. Although they do care for each other, they will do something to hurt the other, whether they realise it or not. And after Merida leaves the room crying, Elinor realises what she’s done, and tries to take the bow out of the fire, but it’s too late as the bow’s already burnt. OUCH. Very good scene.
I also liked the witch, who was a funny take on the typical witch (she isn’t evil, but she’s just doing her job or just getting paid).
As an animation sucker, I couldn’t ignore the backgrounds and textures of the film. Pixar had changed their animation system for the first time in order to make the visuals more complex. And Brave looks stunning! I especially love what they’ve done with Mor’du’s eyes, like it’s glowing in the dark! The way they animated Mor’du: DANG!!!
Now getting to the complaints about the film. You don’t want any spoilers, read no further.
People complained a lot about the mother turning into a bear and that “it fell half-way through the film”. For me, it’s more that it almost became an entirely different film, which was a bit distracting. When they showed the trailers, they were pretty much showing the plot of the first 30 minutes of the film. The bear thing did feel a bit out of place and the story became a bit predictable afterwards. Personally, what kept me watching the film was the relationship between the mother and the daughter. It shows how much they care for each other despite their differences. Real emotion there. Although I did actually expect something BIG and GRAND, like an epic or something. I was like, “Really? She turned into a bear? Is this the so called ‘fate-be-changed’ spell that would happen?” In my opinion, they could have taken a different approach in the story. They could still have the mother and daughter bonding, but without the bear angle. I’m not saying it’s a horrible approach. It’s just that it didn’t connect to the main themes of the film: identity, culture, etc. They tried to link this to the themes, but not to a great extent. The conflict of the mother turning into a bear like Mor’du (the prince who transformed into a bear) and her chance of losing her humanity didn’t make a whole lot of sense with the first half of the film. It’s like it got lost in its set-up half-way through.
And there’s something that made me question the film: why didn’t Merida tell the father that his wife was turned into a bear? Sure, when she eventually does and they address that the father doesn’t believe her, but why doesn’t he believe her? It’s not like magic doesn’t exist in their world. That didn’t make sense. And if I were in Merida’s place, I’d tell the mother to hide, then get the father, EXPLAIN to him what happened, and THEN show the mother before the father can react? That was something that I felt was just done for the sake of the plot.
Also, the film didn’t need to be called Brave. I really didn’t get it, even if they did try to hammer it in at the end of the movie. Then again, it’s like the title change of Rapunzel to Tangled, so it has no real effect on the film itself.
All in all, I think it’s a good movie. Not one of Pixar’s best, but really enjoyable nonetheless. The first act was definitely the strongest part, even though I still liked the rest of it. I can say that the film felt smaller than I expected. At least they tried to keep focus on Merida and her mother. It’s hard for me to review this film, because I understand where people’s criticisms are going, but I personally really liked the film. I think I liked it more than other people did. The characters are great, the voice acting is great, the music is also great, and I just have a thing for Scottish accents!
Now I’m in a mood to watch Trainspotting. Hehe…