Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Movie Review: Brave

The kids and I went to see Pixar's "Brave" last weekend. 

Of course, we had a great time.  We laughed, we cried...
The animation was gorgeous, and the voice work was great as well.

It had a bit of a darker, more mystical aesthetic than some other princess movies, due to its celtic setting.  The colors used were greens, greys, and browns, with a mop of bright orange curly hair standing out against the scenery.  There were also some blues used as accent colors.  Contrasted with the bright, sparkling pinks and purples of "Tangled," the visual choices conjured a tone and a definite sense of place that was unique to this film.

"Change your fate," states not only the film's propaganda, but also the concluding voiceover.  My strongest reaction to "Brave," however, is that this story doesn't actually convey that theme.  It didn't show Merida changing her fate.  She wanted to change her fate, but her attempts to do so were dangerous, ill-conceived, and rash, and she quickly realized that she needed to undo her actions and return things to they way they once were.

It is true that at the beginning of the film, she was facing arranged marriage, while by the end, she had persuaded those in power to change the tradition and allow the young people to marry for love.  But it was not actually Merida who orchestrated that change.

I wonder, without the concluding voiceover, would the moviegoer think that the movie's theme is "change your fate?"  I hope not, because it would seem to be "change your fate by endangering your mother."


To me, what "Brave" was actually about was the mother-daughter relationship.  It took me by surprise, but as clear as day, that's what it was about!  Pixar really knows how to tug at my tear ducts:  the passing of childhood from one generation to the next in "Toy Story 3" and now the mother-daughter relationship in "Brave!"

Teenage girls and their mothers are often at odds.  They often have trouble really hearing each other's side of the situation.  Conflicts escalate quickly and bubble over.  Teenage girls wish that their mothers were different in some way (or many ways).

"Brave" explores all this, and pushes it further.  What would happen if the teenage girl's wish came true: what if she changed her mother?  Merida does, and quickly learns to regret it!  The rest of the movie is about how they learn to communicate so they can work together and bring the mother "back."

Once they learn to empathize with one another, then the so-called "change your fate" part happens (Merida's mother makes it happen).

This is the biggest example of how "Brave" was quite different from what it seemed in the trailer.  It seemed like the story of a strong girl using her athleticism (horsemanship and archery) to make her own way in the world.  It did not convey the sense that it was the story of a princess. 

Linda Holmes of NPR's Monkey See blog wrote a post three years ago that called for Pixar to make a movie with a female heroine, going on to ask that she be a rough-and-tumble girl with "skinned knees."  It is disappointing that "Brave" did not turn out to be that movie.  In many ways, Pixar instead gave us another Disney Princess.

I do feel that disappointment, but want to point out something about the "Brave" story that actually is rare in princess movies:  Merida has two parents!  Both her mother and her father are alive, present, and loving.  She also has three (hilarious!) little brothers.  Not only that, but as I posited, the story is entirely about the mother-daughter relationship.  Think about the princesses we've seen in other movies... they all grew up without their mothers!  So in a way, this movie was a bold (dare I say, brave?) departure, a rare gem of a princess story!

A powerful story, one that brought out a deep emotional response in at least this former-teenage-girl-who-wishes-she-had-treated-her-mother-better-during-those-years (because mom definitely deserved better).
Beautiful visuals, terrific voice acting.  Pixar's "Brave."

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