Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thoughts on Brave

We took our kids this past weekend to see the movie Brave.

How many ways do I love this movie?  So many that I want to write about it here at length with spoilers so I will put any of that after the jump so as not to ruin anything for anyone.

Also, believe it or not, I may have to rewrite/amend part of my first novel because of this movie.  I may include an excerpt in an upcoming post to get some opinions on that if anyone is willing to offer them.  (Hell, I may just put the whole damn novel up here at some point just to get it out into the world finally.  I'm up to 120-plus rejections and may soon turn to plan B.  The B may stand for Blog.)

So here are some general thoughts on our experience seeing Brave without giving anything away:

My girls loved it.  They are ten and eight and were appropriately nervous during the suspenseful parts, but not scared.  There was nothing about it they could think of they didn't like.  I'd read that there were some scary parts involving bears and warned them all ahead of time and that seemed to help.  Mona hugged my arm at one point, but otherwise did great.

Quinn, however, was quietly weeping toward the end of the movie.  The scene was not a scary one, it was a section with a lot of talking, and I'm not sure if he'd been crying for a while and I just missed it or if something in that particular scene actually set him off.  When I realized he was crying I offered my lap and tried to comfort him but he would have none of it.  He kept quietly choking out something along the lines of he wasn't scared and that wasn't the problem.  So I left him alone.  By the end he was fine and echoed his sisters that he liked all of it.  I wish he would talk to me about what happened, but my curiosity does not trump his dignity so that topic is closed.  He's only five, so I don't know how deep his understanding was of certain plot elements, but part of me suspects he was a little freaked out that something troubling was happening to the mom.  The boy loves his mom, and that may have been too intense.  (Most likely that's me projecting my sense of self-importance since I am his beloved mom, but I really can't pinpoint anything else that matters enough to him that might have made him upset since he was fine during parts with scary bears.  I have no idea.)

I find it interesting that all the less than completely glowing reviews I've seen are all written by men.  The complaint from some that the male characters are not written as well as the female leads is laughable to me.  Welcome to my world, boys.  The film was still primarily populated by men.  Most movies I'm lucky to have one female character to relate to, and she tends to be situated as an object of desire, a comic foil (who is physically atypical and therefore not to be considered desirable), or a pal who must be everything good (i.e. thin, capable, spunky, smart) because she's carrying the weight of all who are female in the film.  (The cartoon equivalent of the everything pal that springs to mind would be Jessie the cowgirl in the Toy Story movies.  She feels like she's there so when people say there are no female characters everyone can say, "There's Jessie!" and we are supposed to be satisfied.)  The male characters in Brave were not complex, but there was a large variety of them, and by the end I thought they were all left in a good light.  That is far better than female characters fare in most movies, so I have no patience for the complaints about the portrayals of men in Brave.  If it irks you, go watch, I don't know, every other movie in the world.

Visually, the movie is gorgeous.  We watched it in 2D because none of us particularly enjoy 3D so it's not worth the extra money.  I'm sure if you like 3D it would be great that way.  The music and sound design were wonderful, and personally I'm glad it wasn't a musical and nobody burst into song. (That always pulls me out of the story and leaves it all feeling less believable to me.)

Overall it was exciting, funny, moving, and I'm already looking forward to seeing it again.  I am glad this movie exists for my kids.

Now for spoilers:

The true beauty of this film is in its portrayal of the relationship between a mother and a daughter.  In most adventure stories the mother is dead or removed from the picture.  This makes sense from a story telling standpoint much of the time because the whole point of a mother has to do with protecting and keeping a child safe, so a decent mother would kill the chance for any adventure and there's no story to tell.  Pixar proved that formula to be outdated in The Incredibles, and manages to turn it on its head in Brave.

This was a love story without a romance, and tackles the kind of complex relationship that exists between mothers and daughters that I believe there is a large audience for, but that is seldom addressed on screen.

The basic plot of the film is essentially that Merida, a Scottish princess, is expected to marry the firstborn son of a neighboring clan in order to keep the peace.  Her mother has tried to raise her to fill that role because she believes it's important, and Merida rejects the whole idea, preferring to remain independent and pursue her own interests.  Since neither mother nor daughter feels listened to by the other, Merida attempts to change her fate by having a witch cast a spell on the unsuspecting queen.  Her intention is to simply make her mother agree with her, but instead the poor woman is turned into bear, and the two must work together to reverse the spell.

No one is evil in this film.  Even the scary bear is really the trapped soul of a misguided man whom you have some sympathy for upon his final death and release from this world.  The witch made me laugh out loud.  There isn't even a clear right or wrong between the mother and the daughter, their priorities are just different.

The heart of the film is really the conflict that comes of mothers and daughters experiencing the push and pull of the unique form of love in that relationship.  Daughters love and admire their mothers, and are simultaneously terrified of becoming them.  Mothers want to protect and guide, and want to see some of themselves in this person whom they love more than anything.  It's wonderful and intense and difficult all at the same time.  I think many woman can say that at one point in their life hearing the phrase, "You are just like your mother!" would have made them recoil in horror, and at another phase been taken as the highest possible compliment.  In a lot of ways mom is just a physical manifestation of childhood.  Breaking away from mom is like breaking away from part of ourselves, which is why it's so painful.  But for many of us, mom is also the standard by which we measure ourselves.  We want to be as good as her, but original.  We want to please her without being her.  Therein lies the struggle.

In Brave there are some wonderful scenes of the mother and daughter needing to connect and not being able to.  Toward the beginning of the film there is even a discussion they should be having face to face, but they are having it by proxy with other parties and it's edited together as the back and forth they should be doing.  And one of my favorite points in the movie is when Merida tries to explain to her mother, who is now a bear, that she cast the spell on her because she wanted her to be different, and the mother--despite being a bear--casts her the perfect look of indignation, scolding, and hurt that it made me laugh and feel sad all at once.

And of course there is the metaphor made literal of the mother bear rising up to protect her child.  (Which, frankly, made me cry, but everything makes me cry, so that's not saying much.)  How wonderful is that to see after years of watching Bambi's mom get shot and Dumbo's mom being locked up, and the whole police crime blotter that is the role of mothers in children's films?  Pretty freakin' great.

I love that the mom when forced to rely upon her daughter was able to appreciate her in a new light and accept her in a way she wouldn't allow herself to do before.  And I like that Merida came to understand that the things her mother had tried to teach had value.  Early in the film the queen strides into a room of fighting men and they part like the red sea and she quells the chaos.  Her ladylike demeanor has its own kind of power.  Merida has to emulate that same stride later in the movie, and the mother (again, still as a bear, but somehow remarkably expressive) looks so proud and touched to realize that her daughter had been listening and absorbing her lessons all along.

And just as a general heap of praise:  As far as protagonists go, I adore Merida.  The action figure for this princess comes with a bow and arrow.  A bow and arrow!  She's smart and funny and interesting....  There was just nothing I didn't like.

Which I suppose is how I can wrap up my feelings about the whole movie.  Go Pixar!  More like this, please.  (Except, maybe, just maybe, can the next female lead not be a princess?  Not that this one wasn't a vast improvement, but just for variety's sake, there have to be other people out there worth writing stories about.  A teacher?  An athlete?  A musician?  Just sayin'.)


  1. I LOVED Brave. I've seen it twice, it is so wonderful.

    Beautiful and lush, the dialogue one that is believable.

    And my heart broke with the mother/bear transition scene.

  2. I have one more week with my daughter before she goes off an an amazing trip with her grandparents - I think this movie is a must! She's ten so I've been wondering if it would be too young for her but from your description I know she will love it.

  3. I agree with every word of this. Especially the part in which you mention you're glad this movie exists for kids.

    The more I think about it, the more complex (in a good way) I realize it is and truly, I'm looking forward to seeing it a second time. Fortunately, my girls have been begging for that chance since the moment we left the theater.