Brave Review

poster from the Disney Pixar film Brave

Pixar has an annoying habit of not releasing any story details in their trailers, making it seem like their movies aren’t really about anything. With Brave, I knew I was going to like it because it was Pixar, but I had no idea what it was about other than that there was a wild haired Scottish princess with a bow and arrow who didn’t want to get married. Except for the Scottish thing, that’s ho-hum, so standard. What they should have said was this:

A Scottish princess about to be given away in marriage buys a magical spell to change her fate and accidentally turns her mother into a bear.

Before I saw Brave, I assumed it was going to be an early Scottish version of the Princess Diaries. Now that I’ve seen it, I can tell you that it’s actually like Freaky Friday, but with bears (and kilts). How awesome is that? I’ve always thought that Freaky Friday could use more bears (and kilts).

The core conflict in the movie is that Merida (Kelly MacDonald) wants to shoot arrows and climb rocks and ride horses and her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) wants her to respect tradition, behave herself, and learn to govern the kingdom.

Merida and her mom glare at each other from the Disney Pixar film Brave

BOTH: Grr! Why don’t you understand me?!

When tradition dictates that the heads of the clans: Lord MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd), Lord Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane), and Lord MacIntosh (Craig Ferguson), must present their oldest sons to compete in an archery contest for her hand in marriage, Merida defies her mother, shoots for her own hand, and wins.

the three lords from the Disney Pixar film Brave

So, ye’ll be marryin’ yerself now, will ye?

This throws the kingdom into turmoil, with the lords beating on each other over every imagined slight. King Fergus (Billy Connolly) understands his daughter’s impulses (after all, he did give them to her) and so do the triplet princes Harris, Hubert and Hamish (nobody – they don’t talk) because they’re always stealing cakes and getting in trouble, but her mother is a fun killer, because she’s the one with common sense.

Merida and her family at the table from the Disney Pixar film Brave

It’s always that way in stories it seems: idiot dad, bitchy mom.

Merida runs away to the forest to get away from her mom and her mom’s expectations and some wil-o-the-wisps – creepy blue things that look like the jellyfish from Avatar and sound like the ghosts from Donkey Kong Country 2, lead her to witch (Julie Walters) who gives her a spell that’s guaranteed to “change her fate” by “changing” her mother.

Merida sees a wil o the wisp from the Disney Pixar film Brave

WISP: Follow meeee to the plooooooot of this mooooovie.

Merida assumes this means changing her mother’s mind about the marriage, but in the tradition of wishes in movies, the spell backfires and turns her mom into a bear. This is bad because a) if Merida doesn’t fix the rift her pride has caused by the second sunrise her mom will be a bear forever and b) everyone in her kingdom hates bears because a big mean one ate her father’s leg. So they have to escape the spear-slinging hoardes and escape into the forest.

Merida protects her mother from the Disney Pixar film Brave

MERIDA: You see officer, my father didn’t mean to murder my mother,
it’s just that she was a bear at the time. And he hates bears.
OFFICER: Uh huh.

This is when Merida and Elinor are finally forced to understand and appreciate each other, because Elinor has no idea how to survive in the woods and Merida has no idea how to get the hordes to stop fighting each other long enough to get a word in edgewise. Elinor is hilarious and adorable as a human in a bear’s body and the Celtic music combined with their Scottish accents really sets a different (and totally cool) tone than anything we’ve seen from Pixar so far.

Merida with her bow from the Disney Pixar film Brave

I’m really glad Reese Witherspoon didn’t end up voicing Merida. Then she would have sounded all whiny.

Though the issue between Merida and her mother came to a head over her arranged marriage, no love interest crops up for Merida during the movie. The young lords are all obvious lugheads and even though you might get the impression that there’s someone out there Merida could save and maybe fall for, they don’t go there. Instead, the movie is all about Merida’s issues with mom, which makes it a great movie for mothers and daughters. They can save the boyfriend thing for a sequel, I guess.

Merida shoots for her own hand from the Disney Pixar film Brave

It’s just as well. There’s no one in this movie who’s an equal to Merida anyway.

It’s a mom and daughter centric movie, but that’s not to say that boys won’t like it too – there’s lots of arrow shooting, mysterious ghostly presences, triplet princes who are always into trouble, and a huge vicious bear (who is not Elinor) trying to eat everyone. Pixar even kicked the original director off the project to make sure the movie didn’t lose their old audience.

Merida leaps for her moms paw from the Disney Pixar film Brave

Because everyone knows women can’t make anything a boy would like *coughHarryPotter*

So who should see this movie? Everyone! Because it is a) pretty awesome and b) the first Pixar movie starring a girl and (partly) written, directed, and produced by women. We want Brave to do well so Pixar isn’t tempted to abandon their experiment completely and go back to their boy-centric ways.

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