As time progressed, Pixar received criticism for not having any films with female lead characters. Pixar had strong female characters, such as Helen Parr/Elastigirl and Violet in “The Incredibles,” Sally in “Cars,” EVE in “WALL-E” and Colette in “Ratatouille,” but none of the lead characters had been women. Pixar decided to fix this by making the lead character of “Brave,” the studio’s thirteenth feature, a woman.
The main premise of “Brave” is that Merida (Kelly Macdonald) does not want to get married. Her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), is a little more willing to allow her to be her natural tomboyish self, but her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), is concerned about the future of the kingdom and has been preparing her daughter for marriage since she was little. The lords of the land arrive to present their sons and Merida isn’t impressed and challenges them to an archery match. Through this, Merida shows she can do archery better than any of the potential suitors, humiliating her family and the lords. She then runs off and meets a witch (Julie Walters), who prepares a spell to change Merida’s fate. Merida feeds the spell-laden treat to her mother, turning her into a bear. They then run off to try to figure out how to reverse the spell while tensions brew because Merida needs a suitor.
The movie would be much better if Merida wasn’t so annoying. Even at the end it’s difficult to care about Merida and her problems since she brings most of the upon herself by being confrontational and not willing to understand her mother. Additionally it isn’t until the end that Merida really realizes that she brought her problems upon herself. For most of the film Merida feels like her problems are the result of her mother wanting for her to get married. I would be a little more sympathetic if this wasn’t set in Scotland during the same period the Vikings existed and a girl who wasn’t even in her teens getting engaged wasn’t common place. After all, we’ve already seen a Disney movie during this blog post series that featured a woman being engaged to a prince at the announcement of her birth.
What’s troubling about the movie is the use of anachronistic humor in the film. Humor that uses anachronisms can work, as seen with “Hercules,” but because of the tone of the film it seems very out of place. The two examples seen in the film both come from the witch when Merida and her mother visit the witch. The witch has left an away message in her cauldron that has options where you dump a vial to get a different message. This is reminiscent of menus anyone gets when calling a customer service number. When Merida dumps the vial for the message left for her, the Witch mentions going to the Wicker Man fest, which is either the Dark Age version of Burning Man or a festival where people yell “Not the bees!” at each other. Why either of those things would be mentioned in a children’s movie is beyond me. Wicker men were also part of Druid rituals, but even for a film studio that is prone to make obscure references in their movies, Druid rituals is pretty obscure. Also, most adults watching this movie would hear “Wicker man” and either think of the British horror film or the Nicholas Cage film. No matter how you slice this, I don’t know why the “Wicker Man festival” comment is made.
Some of the jokes made in the film also tend to be a bit lazy. In the film we get a joke about haggis being gross and one of the lords lifts his kilt to insult the other lords. These jokes feel lazy because they’re jokes that have been seen in every movie and TV show that has ever had Scottish characters.
But this is not the biggest problem with “Brave.” What ultimately makes this film problematic is the pacing. The big event in the film–the transformation of Elinor into a bear–doesn’t happen until halfway through the film. Everything before the film just leads up to that event. If you think about it, that’s 45 minutes of events that lead up the transformation which isn’t the slowest I’ve seen in a movie released by Disney, but that ends up feeling very slow. As a result, the quest to reverse the curse feels a bit rushed.
But since this is a Pixar film we have excellent animation, particularly with the animation for Elinor. We have wonderful hair designs, especially with Merida’s red locks that bounce up and down as she rides on her horse. The Scottish landscape is wonderful to look at, such as whenever the characters are near water. The attention to detail is also very evident, such as the fabric in Elinor’s dress at the end of the film or the hairs on the chin of the witch.
But is Merida a Good Role Model for Children?: No.
I can see where some people would argue that because Merida is tomboyish and rides horses and shoots a bow and arrow that she’s a good role model. That doesn’t excuse her behavior in the film. Her behavior is in many ways similar to that of Ariel. In this situation, rather than being told by her father that she can’t marry a human, she’s told by her mother that she has to marry. This results in the same solution of going to a witch and asking for help. A difference is that all Merida knows is that she’ll change her fate with the spell given to her by the witch while Ariel is well aware of what she’s getting herself into with Ursula.
That said, there is a clear transformation the character undergoes during the film. All of the stronger princesses I have examined or will examine feature this characteristic. I will give the filmmakers credit for this, but for most of the film Merida feels a bit annoying and also not a very compelling character. What’s even worse is that the conflict of not wanting to be in an arranged marriage feels better handled in “Mulan 2,” and I should not be able to say that I think a plot is handled better in a direct-to-DVD Disney sequel.
As both a Pixar film and a princess movie, “Brave” fails to live up to previous standards. But you could do much worse with Pixar films and it never manages to fall to the level of “Cars 2.”