July 2, 2012


WARNING! This  is more of an analysis than a review, so there are LOTS of SPOILERS!

I find “Brave” to be a subversive and kind of shocking movie.

First, what I LIKE about the film: the artistry/special effects are, of course, amazing. I laughed my head off at ALL the Scotsmen fighting scenes (with mandatory bagpipers accompanying each time), BUT, side note: name a man that is NOT a buffoon in this film.

I love that the protagonist is a spunky and talented young woman who doesn’t want to be married off in an arranged, political marriage in order to keep the peace. The three young men in question are certainly not her equal, either.

I love that it’s a mother/daughter film—so rare! We are very aware of the tenor of father/child problems and there are plenty of these stories. Mother/child problems are more subtle and complex, especially between mothers and daughters. Bad Mommy, “Mommy Dearest” type FILMS are anything but subtle, but rather over the top. I just did a Masters project on the history of women in film, and there is a whole tradition of “Evil Woman,” “Momism,” films spawned in part by a popular collection of essays by Philip Wylie in 1942 called “A Generation of Vipers.” Although Queen Elinor (voiced elegantly by Emma Thomas) isn’t portrayed as the epitome of evil, she is very harshly “punished” as though she were.

THE PLOT: Merida’s parents (we see more of her mother training her to be a princess than her father’s influence—the father seems to defer to the mother in what concerns Merida) are trying to arrange her betrothal to one of the sons of three other clans’ chieftans. This must be done to keep peace among the formerly-at-odds clans. The young man will win her hand in marriage through “games” of physical prowess.

I was totally buying into “Brave” until Merida visits a witch and asks her to cast a spell to: “Change my mother.” Not “change my mother’s mind,” but “change my mother.”  I think all of us can relate to some kind of rebellion or at least extreme “wishes” regarding our parents when we were teens, but wouldja go to a witch? If we are going to chock all of Merida’s extreme actions up to her simply being a teen, then maybe we shouldn’t have teens as main characters in stories because they are not capable of mature, responsible actions—something utterly germane to filmic storytelling (Hollywood does not do  Aesop’s Fables, or short, cautionary tales for children). Do other child/teen main characters in films get this pass (“Harry Potter,” “Twilight,” “Hunger Games,” even “Wimpy Kid”)? No, they don’t. And while Merida’s impetuous actions may actually be truer-to-life than our sober young characters in these other films, all she is doing is making a bigger and bigger mess (from which she seems to learn very little except that her Mom always loved her).


When the spell goes awry and Queen Elinor becomes a BEAR on the outside (with the threat of turning into a real bear forever on the outside and “inside”—which we see her slipping into once in a while), I spent the rest of the movie HORRIFIED. Queen Elinor, of course, shared my horror. Merida? Meh. With repeated “it’s not my faults,” she barely seems to even care. But even before her mother becomes a bear, Queen Elinor eats a bit of cake with the witch’s potion in it and becomes extremely ill. Merida—that selfish, spoiled brat of a bad daughter*—shows exactly zero concern for her mother’s welfare and asks her insistently: “Do you feel any different about the marriage NOW?” At this point, Merida might as well be a demon-child.


I am NO expert at this type of literature, but from what I’ve read shape-shifters can either be in charge of their OWN shape-shifting or their shape-shifting is “controlled” by others. Speaking of which, didn’t Merida do to her mother EXACTLY (but much WORSE) what she didn’t want done to herself? Someone else controlling her destiny?

I used to read this kind of fairytale when I was a kid. I remember something about a princess turning into a swan or something, but it was only during the day and then at night she was a princess again. These animal-shape-shifting seemed to be of shorter duration (for Mother Bear it was a huge portion of the film).

There is something fundamentally horrifying about humans morphing into animals. I remember being traumatized as a child watching Pinocchio grow donkey ears! Others have shared with me the same take-home terror they felt at this, too! So, parents, if you’re thinking of taking your kids, you may wanna process this with them afterwards AND, certainly, process how Merida treated her mother (D-I-S-R-E-S-P-E-C-T). Me? If I was screening it beforehand for my kids? Wouldn’t take ‘em.

Native Americans, who live so close to nature and whose native religions were animist religions, tried to imitate the various gifts and strengths of various animals. This is something quite different.


Queen Elinor—you can imagine, even if you haven’t seen the film—is thoroughly HUMILIATED. I felt horribly humiliated FOR her. Of course, she feels like she’s naked and keeps trying to cover herself, but Daughter Dearest tells her in an exasperated voice: “Mother, you’re not naked, you’re covered in fur.” As a matter of fact, Daughter Dearest is exasperated with her mother the whole time. (Her mother can no longer talk, but only make bear noises.) She has to teach her stupid mother how to fish for her meal. We are supposed to feel this is a wonderful bonding section of the movie where the outdoorsy Merida introduces her refined mother to HER world. But it’s gross! It’s hideous! Her mother is wolfing down LIVE fish! Her mother is awkwardly bumbling and stumbling about in her new, huge, bulbous body. But in spite of her utter humiliation, she does not become angry at Merida or even berate her.

“Brave” smacks of revenge fantasy. Merida’s mother “never listened” to her daughter,” and now she is mute. This poised and ladylike royal now has to live quite literally like a wild beast.

Although Merida had to undergo intense princess training from her mother, she wasn’t exactly “tamable” or “containable” as she races off on her horse, Angus, to practice her archery and frolic in the forest. Merida’s parents never actually curtail her athletic pursuits. They are GOOD, NOT UNREASONABLE, loving parents who are simply following the status quo—for very good reasons. And Merida’s father—a wild man himself—is rather indulgent towards his chip-off-the-old-block daughter.


Is Merida really “brave”? How? She’s energetic, she has a zest for life, but she’s self-indulgent, not brave. Is bravery and being strong-willed the same thing? Sure, she undertakes getting her mother changed back to a human. Um, that’s the LEAST she could do! But is she brave in doing it? Not really. She continues her brazen, reckless actions and even blows up the witch’s workshop in the process. She is not the one who kills the ferocious bear who is about to kill her mother.

Young people CAN change things. When they get older. When THEY wear the crown. Don’t we need to earn that right? Don’t we need some life experience? Don’t we need to actually test out what our parents say to see if it isn’t a better, wiser way? I sarcastically tweeted: “BRAVE—We might as well let young people rule the world because they’re always right.” Isn’t this the message in too many films these days?

It’s hard to exactly place a theme for the film, but it seems to be: being in control of one’s own “fate” or “destiny,” no matter what the will-o-the-wisps, witches, legends, traditions, or one’s own family says. (But of course, you can resort to magic when you really, really want something.) Speaking of magic, the quasi-evil witch actually cast a PERFECT spell that worked out PERFECTLY for our main character.

“Brave” is not so much a feminist tale (or even imposing today’s feminism on the past, because I’m sure there were plenty of Meridas who refused marriage in the Middle Ages!) as it is a tradition vs. change tale. Or rather, not being afraid to find a new way of doing things. Merida doesn’t really compromise on anything though. The ending is left vague. Yeah, she’ll probably get married someday and become queen, and her mother helps her articulate this to the chieftans as “letting people decide their own fate,” or rather, the young men will have to try to “win her heart” rather than “winning her hand” via athletic challenges. (Yeah, right—that’s going to happen!) :]


A “rule”** of filmmaking is that the main character should change, go through a journey of change. What they WANT should not be exactly what they GET. They should get what they NEED, not what they WANT, or what they WANT should undergo a transformation also. Not so with our heroine: she gets EXACTLY what she asked for: “Change my mother.” Her MOTHER undergoes the major transformation. At the end, Queen Elinor no longer wears her ever-present crown (bye-bye, authority!), literally lets her tightly-bound hair down, and is suddenly the “buddy Mom,” acting like a teenager with her daughter.

True, the witch tells Merida she must “mend the bond broken by [her] pride.” Merida simply sews up a tapestry depicting her family that she slashed in her anger. And finally, finally, at the very end, when it looks like Mom will be a berry and honey gobbling ursus for all eternity, she sheds some tears and says: “I’m sorry.”

Oh yeah, Merida has a set of triplet brothers with her same flaming, curly red hair. They look to be about five years old, max, but they are hardly ever interacting with or anywhere near their mother or father and seem to lead their own little parallel lives. No one even seems to be terribly concerned about their doings, whereabouts, or safety.


Despite its pervasive “feel good,” barrel-of-laughs ambience, “Brave” fails to inspire, teach, elevate, etc. It’s the same hackneyed: “Folllow your heart!” inspirational-Facebook-quote-of-the-day-happy-talk. Bend the world to your will. Get what you want. The world is your oyster. Look out for #1. Whatever it takes. And others? Well, I’m sure they can look out for themselves.

Merida’s treatment of her mother is just awful. That’s mostly what I’m left with.


Here are some links (haven’t read ‘em!) sent to me by friends, further examining the depiction of Moms in Disney films (“Brave” is Disney/Pixar).

Here’s the WSJ review (don’t know that I agree with everything, but it gives some making-of details):

“For the first time, in "Brave," Pixar has made an animated feature with a female protagonist—a young Scottish princess, Merida, with incendiary red hair, a sweetly independent swagger, a talent for archery and a thirst for adventure. That's a good first, and long overdue, but there's another one that isn't good at all. "Brave" is the first film under Pixar's banner that teaches life lessons through insistent preachments, instead of letting dramatic events speak for themselves. The most obvious lesson for Merida is to be careful what you wish for, since one of her wishes goes horribly wrong and turns her kingdom upside down, forcing her to find the bravery that will put things right. The most important lesson for the audience is to be clear about what you expect. This is less a film in the lustrous Pixar tradition than a Disney fairy tale told with Pixar's virtuosity. As such, it's enjoyable, consistently beautiful, fairly conventional, occasionally surprising and ultimately disappointing.
The issue of expectations is unavoidable since the film's marketing campaign, like the early passages of the film itself, suggests a feminist fable of a young warrior going off to fight her own battles—thus the iconic poster image of the heroine alone in a forest, bow and arrow at the ready. For a while Merida (voiced superbly by Kelly Macdonald) does indeed struggle against constraints that threaten her freedom: tight dresses, boobish suitors, arbitrary dictates of etiquette and, worst of all, a strict mother who insists that a princess should always strive for perfection. And Merida does make a break for it, on an escape route that takes her through spectacular settings—one memorable shot finds her standing tall atop a towering rock pedestal—then plunges her into a shady green glade, where blue will o' the wisps shimmer seductively.

Suddenly, however, the saga takes a sharp turn into witchery, wishes and a magical spell—a notably confusing spell prompted by vague plotting—and "Brave" becomes a story not of a rebellious daughter but of the bonds between daughter and mother in magical circumstances. The only thing I'll note of those circumstances is that they lead to encounters of genuine tenderness, humor and complexity, as well as affecting role-reversals in which the child takes care of the parent. So what's to be said against the familiar theme of a mother and daughter establishing a new relationship on the basis of new understandings? First off, the theme is at odds with what precedes it. And the familiarity breeds dismay, for the last thing we've come to expect from a Pixar film is tried-and-true, family-friendly formulations. (The voice cast includes Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters and Robbie Coltrane.)

"Brave" was a notoriously troubled production, with a change of directors that clearly led to a change of narrative direction. (The complexity of the final credits reflects the tortuous history: directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman and co-directed by Steve Purcell, from a script written by Messrs. Andrews and Purcell, Ms. Chapman and Irene Mecchi.) That raises the question of how much this Disney-esque fable was influenced by Disney, which used to be Pixar's distributor and is now the studio's owner. There's no way to know, and it's certainly premature to panic about Pixar's fate. The studio that has given us such animated masterpieces as the "Toy Story" trilogy, "Finding Nemo" and "WALL•E" may well have a host of untold wonders in its pipeline. At the same time, though, there is reason to be concerned—not because of the failings of "Brave," which is a pleasant entertainment on its own terms, but because of the singular promise that Pixar represents in a dimming firmament of entertainment conglomerates.
*Maybe this could be classified as an “Evil Daughter” movie!
**But who needs rules? Merida doesn’t, so why should the filmmakers?


  1. Awesome Blog...and I concur.

  2. Alana1:59 PM

    I came away from this movie horribly dissatisfied, and you put my exact thoughts into words. Thank you for this!

  3. Anonymous4:26 AM

    I agree!!!! a spirited selfish brat

  4. Jeff Anderson10:49 AM

    I liked Brave, not for who Merida was but rather for who she learned to become.