03 March 2013


Twelve Things about Brave

12. Earlier this week, Brave received an Academy Award for something. I believe it was the Oscar for Best Hair. A well-deserved win!

11. The whole canvas of this movie is beautiful--and I use the word "canvas" because what the animators did can't be anything less than painting. The world they brought to our screens is so beautiful and lush that for the first few minutes I contemplated turning off the sound and just drinking in the visuals.

But then I heard Merida speak . . .

10. Let's get this out of the way now. I have the HUGEST girl-crush on Merida. It's not even funny. If I could enter the movie, I would fight to be part of the tournament to compete for her hair hand, because I just love her That Damn Much. Her accent and tone only seal the deal, thanks. My heart is lost.

In other words, I love Merida and that is that. But don't worry that this undying love and affection will in any way bias the rest of my review of this movie. =P 

9. Although Brave is an original and obviously modern story, it follows the old faerie tale conventions very closely. Maybe even more closely than it thinks! It starts by turning its back on the Disney tradition of hating mothers more than Sigmund Freud did.

Mother-Daughter Staring Contest

Well, to be fair, the source materials started it. The faerie tales and children's books which have been Disney diamond mines since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in1937 are all about dead or absent mothers. And it's not just coincidence. As I learned when my brothers were in nursery school, few things grab the interest and emotional engagement of small children as effectively as the words, "Once upon a time, there was a little boy/girl who had no mama . . ."

But now here is Brave daring to be different. Yet it isn't as original as it may think it is . . . 

8. Faerie tales actually have loads of mothers. They're just all in significant disguise. Cinderella may not have her own mother around, but the active involvement of a stepmother and a fairy godmother (or if you prefer, the tree over her mother's grave) mean that she is not without any maternal influence. Something similar goes for Jack of the giant beanstalk: he may not have a father at home--but he has a giant to outwit and to vanquish, and that's paternal enough! 

Parents are just too archetypal to be taken out of children's stories. So they remain, if only in transmuted, dream-imagery form. Brave may seem to be twisting the formula by keeping both our princess's parents in the story, but it also stays true to the convention of giving them--well, one of them--another form.

7. It may have taken over seven decades for a Disney feature to get a "real" mother who is also active, involved and "strong," but that doesn't mean Queen Elinor is a pinnacle of anything. I'm afraid that she's as bland as an anticlimax . . . or weak tea . . . whichever you're more familiar with.

On the other hand, King Fergus manages to steal every scene he is in. Reminiscent of King Stefan and King Hubert of Disney's Sleeping Beauty . . .

. . . he sees their drinking song and raises them a brawl and a bear hunt!
(And for the record, it's a brawl with bagpipes.)

Do we thank replacement director (and screenwriter) Mark Andrews for King Fergus even as we try not to hold Queen Elinor too much against original director (and "story maker") Brenda Chapman? (If so, that would be as funny as it is sad.) 

6. And despite the fact that this is a mother-daughter movie, the father-daughter dynamic also manages to be more interesting. Take my favourite Fergus moment from the entire film (while you await a proper Top 5 List) . . .

That eager look he gives Elinor at the end is simply Made of Win. (ROFL!!!)

Children often do great impressions of their parents, but I'm starting to think that parents could give their children a run for their money in that department, too. =P

5. So I don't really mind that all--yes, ALL--the males in this movie are mainly used for comic relief. It may not respect the fact that they are as round and three-dimensional in their own settings as Merida and Queen Elinor are in this story, but it reflects the way Merida sees them. And Merida's perception, be it as limited as all adolescent perspectives are, is what is driving the story.

They're actually much more dignified than Anastasia and Drucilla
before the Prince in Disney's Cinderella

Young Macintosh, Young MacGuffin, and Wee Dingwall (*chortle*) could actually look like David Tennant, John Barrowman, and Jonny Lee Miller with his Trainspotting accent--and it would still make no difference because Merida isn't in a marrying mood.

4. Oh, speaking of macguffins . . . The real problem with the tournament of suitors is that it is incredibly contrived. As if the writers (Chapman? Andrews?) couldn't think of another way to trigger Merida's rebellion against her mother. (That is probably exactly what happened . . .)

One more thing about that: I really don't mind when feminist messages trip up over their own hooved feet, but I want to be nice, too. So I'll helpfully point out that if your idea of "Girl Power" is still hugely dependent on there being boys around--and showing them up in some form--then you're hardly as "progressive" as you think you are.

3. Now what about the other women in the story? We have our princess-daughter and our benign-but-transmuted mother, which leaves one more spot to fill . . . and if your guess was Evil Fairy or Wicked Witch, then you know your conventions, my friend! Of course, Brave tries to twist this trope, too--and again, it doesn't do a very good job.

Without giving anything away, I'll say that I was feeling tolerant until the "Sistine Bears" moment. It seems as if every movie I've seen recently feels the need to declare to all and sundry that it's a movie. =/ But let me say about the witch that she would have actually broken more ground if her character had been a man. (You hear me, feminist filmmakers???) But I personally wouldn't change her and be edgy for the sake of being edgy, because she serves the story well as someone else's transmuted self!

Tell me in the combox if you know who I mean! ;-)

2. The magic of faerie tales is that they often "work" without needing an explicit moral. So it should be no surprise that Brave gives us two of those and spells them out slowly. And as if that weren't bad enough, no one seemed to catch that the two morals actually oppose each other. If you need me to spell that out for you, here you go . . . Coming out as pro-motherhood and anti-tradition at the same time is like kissing the hand that feeds you while complaining about the food.

Or like telling your little girls to emulate princess heroines even as you insist on raising them in a democratic republic. (Oh, wait . . .)

1. But it must be said that the motherhood theme has a lot of potential--and Brave barely scratches the surface of it. I really think that the last movie in what is transparently trying to be a trilogy should probably involve Merida becoming a mother herself. 

Image Sources: a) Brave poster, b) Merida and Elinor


mrsdarwin said...

Skumps: maybe the finest moment in movie history.

Brave was definitely about the hair. At last, a Disney heroine after my own head (though I only wish my hair were that red, or at least a bit less gray than it is). Whenever it got too silly, one could at least look at those curls. Bravo to the animators!

I think Merida and Queen Elinor would have been more interesting with a Laura-Ma Ingalls dynamic.

Jenny said...

This whole movie fell flat for me. Sure I laughed at some things but, yeah. After reading your thoughts I'm starting to see why it fell so flat.

Enbrethiliel said...


Mrs. Darwin -- I don't think I ever took my eyes off Merida's curls! Someone else described them to me as "hypnotic"--and I can't think of a better adjective!

Jenny -- Brave had a lot of potential that wasn't realised. My hope (because I want to see some more of Merida's hair!) is that any sequels build on the work that was already done to fulfill what could have been. And they really should, because even Merida's splendiferousness won't be able to carry an entire trilogy!

Sheila said...

I share your girl-crush on Merida. I mean, climbing giant cliffs ... in a dress? Brogue? Hair? She has it all!

But I kind of feel like a rube when I read even slightly negative reviews of Brave. I can't make myself see a flaw in that movie. For what it is, it just rings so PERFECT to me. I liked the mother; she felt badass in her own way. I mean, imagine how much behind-the-scenes work she has done and is doing to keep the peace. And I liked the contest for Merida's hand; it seemed appropriate to me.

But when I say these things, I feel like I must have no taste because everyone tells me these are flaws! And I love every minute like an eight-year-old girl. What can I say. This is the kind of princess movie I've always wanted.

Enbrethiliel said...


I also like Queen Elinor very much. I just feel that something about the storytelling shortchanges her. It's really for her character that I will pay hard-earned money to see a full Brave trilogy in which Merida becomes a mother herself.

Now you should dig up my review of The Expendables 2 so that you know what kind of movie I can't bring myself to find a flaw in. ;-) It'll make you feel better about my not loving Brave so much.