Jun 22 2012 12:00pm

Mothers, Daughters and Mis-titles: Brave

Mothers, Daughters and Mis-titles: A somewhat spoilery review of Pixar’s Brave

Brave should have had a different name.

I’m not saying that the film was an utter disaster... merely that they may have employed a misnomer in service of their title. The film is not really about bravery at all. A better title might have been “Changing Fate” or “Mother’s Love.” But then people probably wouldn’t have wanted to see it, so Brave was likely the right way to go.


Brave joins a fine legacy of Pixar films, and has the distinction of being their first go with a female protagonist. This was long overdue, and as a result, fans have been holding their breath a bit over this one. So how did it fare? Well, it was beautiful at moments, that’s for sure.

The animation continues to go leaps and bounds beyond anyone’s imagination. The level detail in Brave, the broad sweeping landscape shots of the Scottish Highlands and the texture of fur, hair and fabric are dazzling. For that alone, the film is worth note, but its portrayal of the Scottish people leaves a lot to be desired in its wake: according to Brave, Scottish people are very opinionated and boisterous. They spend most of their time bickering, brawling, or drinking. Considering how well Up handled Russell’s Asian heritage (by not ladening the character with cultural stereotypes), this rather rote take on Scottish culture seemed hamfisted at the best of times, even when it was funny. The soundtrack was gorgeous, except when songs came into play. The English songs overlaid onto the action were chock full of lame lyrics about heart, freedom and wind, or whatever. Pixar proved that they understood the value of silence in Wall-E. It’s too bad they neglected it this time around.

The crux of the film is simple—Princess Merida is a free sort of spirit who wants to spend her time riding, shooting arrows, and generally having adventures. She has some fantastic ginger curls and a hard time listening to her mother, who wants her to be a perfect princess. Things get worse when its time for Merida to be betrothed to a lord’s son from the kingdom. Merida and her mother are suffering from the thing that mothers and daughters often suffer from when girls grow up: they don’t listen to each other. As a result, the princess consults a witch who gives her a spell to change her fate. It will change her fate by changing her mother...

...into a bear.

This particular aspect of the film is pure, varnished genius. Merida is not expecting this little side effect, of course, and the result leaves her and her mother on the run. An adventure between a mother and daughter? And mom is a giant freaking bear? Beauty and Beast just got 107% more interesting. And meaningful.

But there are problems surrounding the conceit—the overall betrothal arc takes far too long to set up, and could really be done away with entirely. In fact, the fight between Merida and her mother being due to a required marriage makes the story awfully dated and serves no real function in the telling; Merida is clearly too young to be married, and the misunderstandings she constantly faces with her mother could have easily been caused by her ignoring her upcoming responsibilities as a ruler of the kingdom instead. When the queen finally concedes that her daughter should marry for love, it’s wonderful...  because it means that Merida won’t have to get married. But if this journey was created to build understanding between them, then it makes little sense, since Merida was never complaining that she didn’t get to marry for love in the first place. She simply doesn’t want to be married. (Novel idea, right?)

Other missteps seem to be the result of the filmmakers inserting their brand of “guy humor” into the plotline, but the tale doesn’t need that sort of pandering. Merida’s brothers don’t actually make the movie any better; they’re silly and cute, but they they lack individual characters, and serve primarily to push the plot when it needs pushing. All the drinking and fighting sends a bad sort of “boys will be boys” message, and suggests that it’s up to women to rise above that sort of behavior. In a story about a girl who wants freedom to do what she wishes, what we receive is a stifling response.

The actual adventure Merida and her mother face together has practically no time to develop. They quickly figure out what problems they’ll run into if Merida can’t reverse the spell, and they work to do it. It would have been nice if there had been a little more magic involved, a lot more learning to work together, to talk to each other. But the film gives them less that two days to work all this out, and what could have been a whole film of one awesome princess and her big mother bear telling the world what’s what becomes a quick educational outing before it’s back to the palace, stat!

Some other problems lie in age reconciliation, it seems. Brave does what most Pixar films have avoided thus far: slip in adult jokes to amuse while the kiddies are focused elsewhere. One could easily assume that their confusion this time around lay with their protagonist—Merida is a teenager, and the movie is dealing with teenage issues. As a result, the film’s messages are far from universal, and story flip-flops a few times before it smacks the audience with its emotional core.

The story does succeed, and remarkably so, on an emotionally level for one uncomplicated reason: if you have a mother (and especially if you’re a daughter) then this movie was created for you. It’s a tribute to you and your mother, the trials you have overcome together, and will always have to overcome because you’re different from each other. For that, Brave will make you laugh. And cry. And wish you had your mother there to cry on.

It practically is Beauty and the Beast, ultimately, but if the beast is your mom then where does that leave you when the mob comes knocking? Instead of Belle crying out to Gaston to stop, we have a redheaded spitfire with a bow, arrows, and a broadsword, ready to cleave anyone in two who tries to hurt to mother.

Which is a beautiful symmetry. Because it’s exactly what your mother would do for you.

So despite a few misfires (and an awkward title), Brave will still pack the punch you expect from a Pixar film. More than anything, it proves something important—we need more stories about mothers. About mothers and daughters. About mothers and daughters having adventures together.

Or, maybe, we all just need to have more adventures with our mothers.

Emily Asher-Perrin sadly did not have three wicked little brothers to help her scheme when she was younger. She did have red hair, though. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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1. Herb555
"he fight between Merida and her mother being due to a required marriage makes the story awfully dated and serves no real function in the telling."

So your complaint is that a story set in Ye Olde Scotland doesn't reflect...modern sensibilities?
2. Chris L
Herb555, I could not have put that better myself!
3. StrongDreams
I'm having a hard time getting on board with the nitpicks as well. They certainly seem to reflect a very modern sensibility. Too young to get married to anyone? She is a teenager so probably not. I haven't looked at the statistics, but I suspect Game of Thrones is pretty close to the mark that marriageable age for dark age/medieval princesses is whenever they pass a particular biological threshold, and betrothal as a political move (with deferred consumation) doesn't even require biology.

Scotsmen too stereotypical? Maybe, I haven't seen the film yet. But remember Russel was on screen for the entire film and had plenty of time for characterization. The function of the Scots nobles is to drive Merida into the woods with her mother. You want to do that fairly quickly so you take shortcuts in characterization and motivation. It sounds more like the stereotypes served their purpose but the movie spent too much time with them and not enough time with Merida and her mum in the woods.
Seth Ellis
4. seth_e
Herb555, Chris L, StrongDreams, the movie isn't set in medieval Scotland, it's set in an animated Fairytaleland designed to resemble medieval Scotland in some ways. The movie does have a modern sensibility; it has modern humor, uses modern fairy-tale tropes, and according to this review, gives the heroine a modern happy ending. If the filmmakers can include witches and enchanted bears--if, in fact, they can include the conclusion that it's okay to marry for love--then they could just have well not included that particular tension in the first place.
5. Alan Morlock
Young princesses being betrothed is a fairy tale trope and didn't seem at all out of place. In fact it is held as a tradition, one that Merida actively breaks from.

When the decision is made to let their offspring "marry for love" it is also "in their own time" no longer to be forced upon them for political reasons. The point is that if Merida doesn't want to get married, she doesn't have to.
7. PM229
I loved the review, but geez, could we get a spoiler warning before the cut?!
6. wcarter4
Mamma turns into a bear...mama bear...heh.
So it seems from this review that the movie is fair to middling with some flaws. Oh well, I'll still probably go see it, at least its another step in making females leads in "action" roles commercially sucessful (and therefore eventually more commonplace).
Emily Asher-Perrin
8. EmilyAP
@1, 2, 3 & 5 - What seth_e said was exactly my issue with it. The movie is not a period piece. It's set in a fantasy world that resembles our own (one lord with his skin painted blue like a Pict does not historical accuracy make). So why bother making the entire world conform to historical laws? The betrothal story is a pretty tired one, and I'm used to seeing a little more creativity on the part of Pixar, especially when the arguments between Merida and her mother become so much stronger if its about her taking responsibility as an adult and ruler rather than a wife and princess. That's my beef.

(Also, when I made mention of her being too young to marry, I wasn't speaking of her actual age, but of her maturity level.)

@PM229 - I'm so sorry the spoiler warning didn't reach you - it is in the piece! Right after the cut, which apparently didn't do the trick. Apologies!

@wcarter4 - Exactly! Mama bear. That's definitely a purposeful parallel. And it's the best part of the film! But you're right, it's definitely another step, and an important one.
Seth Ellis
9. seth_e
seth_e @4: "could just as well not have". Sheesh.
Jenny Kristine
10. jennygadget
I may be wrong, but I did not read the complaint about the betrothal plotline being dated as referring to the fact that betrothal came up, full stop. But about the fact that it was the focus of so much of the movie. In other words, the issue is not so much that Merida is being betrothed, but that Pixar didn't seem to think that there could be interesting conflict between a mother and a daughter without boys being at the center of it all. That's dated in a 1950's sort of way, not a medieval sort of way.

"I haven't looked at the statistics, but I suspect Game of Thrones is pretty close to the mark that marriageable age for dark age/medieval princesses is whenever they pass a particular biological threshold,"

If that is what Game of Thrones shows, then no it's really not, as far as I know. Puberty often wasn't as much of a factor for the ruling classes as it was for everyone else, as marriages for them were about political alliances. Furthermore, the demonstration of the alliance could be more immediately seen in political support or exchange of goods; babies from the marriage were still important for the ruling classes, but sometimes only in the long term. It was not unusual for girls - or boys! - of the upper classes to be betrothed or married while still very small - and the consumation would simply wait until they had gone through puberty.

Edit: and I see that Emily has commented while I was tying up mine :)
11. StrongDreams
@Emily, I understand the desire that the story take a less well-trod path, but I'm having trouble envisioning your preferred route.

Mom: You have to stay at home in the castle and take care of the household while the men run the kingdom and make the important decisions.
Merida: But I can run and hunt just as well as the men, why can't I rule the kingdom too?

Mom: You need to grow up and take responsibility as a ruler of the kingdom.
Merida: But I want run in the woods and climb trees and shoot things, why do I have to be responsible?

The first is just as much of a cliche as "Tradition says you have to marry the man we pick." The second makes Merida an unsympathetic brat. She might grow into her role as a responsible princess, but I think it's hard to market a movie where the heroine is a spoiled brat. (Cars anyone? Maybe Lady and the Tramp. Sword in the Stone? 'Nuff said.)

Plus, it could be argued that the mother-daughter conflict is already centered around responsibilty. "It is your royal duty to marry the man we choose because his family is powerful and the marriage will stabilize the kingdom and thereby improve the lives of all your subjects." Only in the end, mom chooses heart over responsibility.

It would be interesting to see a fantasy movie where the parent/authority figure says in the end, "all right, you can marry for love" and then we flash-forward to the royal family with their heads on the chopping block because they were overrun by the kingdom to the north, while the kingdom to the east failed to come to their aid because the prince in the eastern kingdom had married a different princess.
Emily Asher-Perrin
12. EmilyAP
@jennygadget - Yes! Precisely. It is very dated in a 1950s sort of way. :)

@StrongDreams - I actually wanted Option #2 that you listed there. Let me explain: I don't think that Merida wanting freedom and a lack of responsibility would be bratty at all. I think it would be her being a teenager, something that the movie is pretty intent on doing as is. The whole tapestry fiasco is evidence enough of that. Teenagers do things that are selfish - it's not because they're horrible people, it's because they're growing up and that's really hard. And that would have been a delightful story to give focus to, particularly since media is traditionally against showing female characters as particularly selfish (unless they're evil).
Jenny Kristine
13. jennygadget
"Mom: You need to grow up and take responsibility as a ruler of the kingdom. Merida: But I want run in the woods and climb trees and shoot things, why do I have to be responsible? .... The second makes Merida an unsympathetic brat."

Really? Because I was pretty sure that was a good chunk of the plot of Iron Man.
Seth Ellis
14. seth_e
"I haven't looked at the statistics, but I suspect Game of Thrones is pretty close to the mark that marriageable age for dark age/medieval princesses is whenever they pass a particular biological threshold,"

Seconding jennygadget that this is inaccurate. History, including the history that inspired Game of Thrones, is full of royal marriages that were later annulled because one of the spouses died before puberty. Marriage was a contract, not romantic or biological.
Jenny Kristine
15. jennygadget
To expand on my point - both the options you list are cliches. The difference is that the second is a very universal one that isn't ever really going to grow old. And yet, as Emily points out, it is also not one that is often applied to teen girls. So...a movie that did so would be harking back to traditional tales while also being unique and memorable.

I thought that's what Pixar did, generally.
Scott Silver
16. hihosilver28
I just saw Brave at midnight, and I loved the movie. I thought the marriage plot made a certain amount of sense for the "historical" setting as well as the theme of trying to unify the clans. I also loved how Merida was an agent for herself. There was no Prince Charming to come in to save the day, she does seize hold of her own fate through her bravery; physical and emotional. That was one aspect of Tangled that bothered me, she couldn't have complete agency for herself. Anyway, my two cents. I loved the movie and have been a little surprised at the backlash against it.
Emily Asher-Perrin
17. EmilyAP
@jennygadget - Thank you the point about Iron Man. Just, yes. And this is why I love Iron Man. And lots of people love Iron Man. So many people.

@hihosilver28 - I'm glad you enjoyed it! The movie isn't a bad movie, in my opinion - it just wasn't a great movie, for me. I agree with your points about agency entirely, I just wanted a little extra from them. (It still made me cry!)
18. StrongDreams
OK, I surrender on all fronts.

I still want to see a movie where the princess chooses to marry for love instead of duty and the kingdom gets overrun by invaders as a result...
19. John R. Ellis
It's no secret that the film was originally announced as The Bear and the Bow and earlier had the working title of Queen of Scotland. The switch to Brave was brought about because Disney's now skittish about fairy tale films with titles that actually sound fairy tale-ish.

(Hence Rapunzel became Tangled)
Scott Silver
20. hihosilver28
Oh, forgot to add one more point. I loved that the crux of the movie was a mother-daughter relationship. I feel that we see that so rarely in movies. If strong female protagonists are in short supply, strong mother-daughter stories even more so. So, that aspect of the movie really delighted me, especially since both characters were so well written. Hooray for having at least one blockbuster this summer passing the Bechdel test. I also loved that the La Luna short provided a counter-point of a Grandfather-Father-Son relationship. Fortuitous timing I guess. :)

@18. StrongDreams- HAHA! Yeah, I would love to see something like that as well. Just to see the "Love Conquers All" trope take a flying faceplant. Hmm...there should be some stories like that out there. Anyone know of any? Off the top of my head, all I can think of is the musical Urinetown. Well, that and The Iliad.

@19 John R. Ellis- I actually like the change of the name from The Bear and the Bow to Brave. It fits the themes better. The first name is just naming objects in the movie. Kind of like how the creators of The Great Mouse Detective were irritated when Disney forced that name on them. It's just bland and doesn't show any of the spice that's in the film.
21. John R. Ellis
I didn't say I disliked the name change. I'm just pointing out that there was one.
Scott Silver
22. hihosilver28
@John R. Ellis- Didn't mean to imply that you disliked the new name. Sorry if it came across like that. I was just addressing the name in general as well since it was mentioned in the post and comments.
lake sidey
23. lakesidey
I liked it. Not Pixar's best, but not their worst either (and their worst is still pretty good*). The title was indeed well-nigh irrelevant, but that's not the most important bit of a movie for me anyway...from the wisps to the witch to the clansmen to the queen dressed in the, ah, bear minimum, all were adequately enjoyable. I know this sounds like damning with faint praise, but that's more a reflection of how high Pixar has set its standards...

Also someone ought to tell Merida - "One does not simply....walk up to Morddu!"


*Disclaimer: I haven't seen either of the Cars movies. So I might yet change my mind on this :)
24. jandore
@StrongDreams at 18: how about the Red Wedding? Or does it not count if it's gender flipped?
25. JasonD
It seems like relations between the lords and the king are pretty strained at the point of the movie, so maybe the marriage idea was put into place at the time it was to be some sort of political glue, and Merida's age had nothing to do with it?

I was very pleased with the film, not only because it was so well-executed, and the (non-vocal) music was superb, but it defied one major tradition of these sorts of stories that has always truly annoyed me: None of the female characters get their hair cut as a way to show their assertiveness. It is such a HUGE trope in movies and video games that the girl with long hair can't assert herself in a man's world until she gets a damn buzz cut. Tangled was the last one that did this, and I get that the plot required the princess to lose her hair, but couldn't they have kept it past the shoulders at least? Why is it badass for a girl to get a haircut like Justin Bieber?
Bill Capossere
26. Billcap
I would say it’s in the second tier of Pixar, which makes it an 8 for me (not everything gets to be an Up or Incredibles). I have to say, I’m also a bit lost on some of the criticism.

The conflict being about her being responsible as a ruler doesn’t make much sense to me as her parents are hale and hearty and relatively young. I’m not sure there’s a lot of ruling for her to do either now or anytime in the near future. On the other hand, she is absolutely of marrying age, and as the film makes clear, there are tensions amongst a very recent and somewhat tenuous clan alliance and setting up a betrothal to cement alliances makes sense. This seems a much more urgent and intense personal and inter-personal conflict then simply “be more responsible because in 10 or 20 years you might have to have some responsibility.” The maturity point would seem to apply equally to both—if she’s too young too marry because she’s too immature, she’s way too young to do any ruling (but maybe I misunderstood what was meant by that). If her mom dies, and she has to be queen, that would work, but it kinda defeats the mother-daughter thing.

The Iron Man analogy isn’t a true one because Tony Stark is the ruler. She is not.

I’m also confused—isn’t the movie showing her as selfish? She confesses to it, apologizes for it, and atones for it. But again, maybe I misunderstood.

The idea that this is dated or the Scots are portrayed in a demeaning sense because this isn’t “historical” but “historical-like” seems a bit overly technical to me and makes that criticism a bit forced.

I actually love the Bear and the Bow. I think it does more than name the objects—it gives a sense of the dichotomy at play—she is between two worlds. I also like the play as one could also read Bow with both long and short o’s

Anyway, I found it simply beautiful visually. Really stunning to be honest—in large and little ways (watch the horse hair ‘round the fetlocks for instance). Not very surprising—could pretty much see it all coming, but it was still effective. Laugh out loud in lots of places. Moving in others (lots of wet eyes in the cinema, I guarantee it). Absolutely agree on the soundtrack.
Emily Asher-Perrin
27. EmilyAP
@Billcap - The point being made about Iron Man was not the ruling issue, it was the fact that people seem perfectly fine with selfish characters learning responsibility as their heroes, and that being selfish does not necessarily cut an audience off from a main character.

I'm sorry if the criticism seems a bit forced to you in terms of dated storytelling and historical depiction. It's simply odd to me that a film that goes through the trouble of creating a fantasy tale feels the need to abide by awkward "historical" rules that aren't entirely accurate in the first place. As was pointed out in the comments above, if this film were really pushing for historical realism, Merida would already be married and this wouldn't be a thing to compete for, it would be a contract. She would have probably been aware about it for most of her life, it wouldn't come as a surprise. The marriage subplot seems crammed in to me at best, given attention at odd moments and sending conflicting messages about what we're meant to take away from Merida's conflict with her mother.

I think she is selfish in the film, but the responses given there were actually addressing the other comment that the audience wouldn't like her if she came off as a brat. In regards to wanting to prepare her as a ruler, I don't think that preparing that far ahead of time would have seemed odd at all. It's a big job, and her mother would probably expect her to start taking it more seriously as she approached adulthood. A perfect time for the conflict to boil over, and then it would be a conflict that doesn't rest solely on the threat of lots of angry men fighting. In the end, it was just sort of sad to me that a film about a sharp female hero couldn't address the idea of her as a ruler rather than a princess. Girls really don't need more princesses... they could use some female kings, though.
Bill Capossere
28. Billcap
Thanks for the response. I guess the Iron Man still doesn't make a lot of sense to me as an analogy or a criticism because the movie does portray her as a selfish teen learning responsibility--she comes out and directly says so. So I'm lost on why one would point to Iron Man as something Brave should have done with Merida since it did do it with her. Her responsibility was to think of the alliance and get married. It wasn't to rule responsibly because she wasn't in the position to do so (which is why she couldn't dovetail exactly with Iron Man who was in ruling position)

If this were purely a fantasy tale, set in an otherland in an an othertime I could see the other point. But it isn't simply a fantasy tale, it's a fantasy tale set in a particular time and place (no matter the level of obsessive adherence they choose to have to that time or place). I agree they could have done the former, and that seems a far better and more valid criticism (and maybe that was your point), but it seemed an odd criticism in the context of the film that did get made. Just as it seems odd to say it has "modern" humor or sensibility as I'm not sure what other choices the makers had. They can't have centuries-old humor and have Merida forced to marry someone in the end and probably get severely beaten along the way (I suppose they could, but it'd be the last movie they ever made).

I get the point on the Merida would have known--they do seem to live in somewhat of a vacuum and one would think in all those lessons mom would have said why "a lady needs to know . . ."

Your last part I completely get and am in total agreement on. But I think that is a different movie than the mother-daughter one at this age for this audience. That said, I'd love, love to see a Brave II that has already done the mother deal and has Merida now dealing with the loss of her parents and the responsibilty of rule (on her own since I'm assuming she's still held off on the marrying thing)
29. Galadriel
What everyone seems to be forgetting is: for us, the forced marriage idea is dated... but for thousands of very young girls around the world, it is a terrifying reality. Little girls are sold, raped, tortured, forced into prostitution, locked away.... IMHO, when the forced-marriage quandary is used as a plot device in our "modern" stories, it doesn't work unless the betrothal is to a horrible, violent man. If the girl in the story simply doesn't want to get married to anyone, she appears to many to be a selfish brat -- which is indeed a dated assumption! I'm writing a YA fantasy novel which includes an escape from a forced marriage -- the groom is an abusive, sick, frightening man -- and I certainly hope readers will see the plight of countless real women today in it, instead of just a weak, dated trope.
René Walling
30. cybernetic_nomad
@Emily: I'd like to see a new review where the title is Rebel, and how that title fits (or not) the movie.

Why? Because some nitwit thought the best translation of Brave into French would be Rebelle (not minding the fact that "brave" is a perfectly fine French word).
31. StacieH
I don't think it's mistitled. I think the title is a deliberate reference to the lyrics of "Scotland the Brave."
Emily Asher-Perrin
32. EmilyAP

The Iron Man thing is sort of getting misunderstood in the context in was intended: I wasn't making the comment that the story should have done anything that Iron Man did. It was in response to one commenter saying that they thought if Merida had been tied up in a plot where she had wanted to shirk her ruling responsibilities, she would have come off as a selfish brat (and thus wouldn't have been likeable). Another commenter then pointed out that that was basically the plot of Iron Man. We weren't discussing IM as it relates to the movie that was made, we were discussing it to point out that the potential story of her wanting to avoid ruling responsibilities would not have made her an unlikeable character, since it had been sucessfully employed elsewhere.

You're right, part of my criticism is wrapped up in the fact that I think setting it in a pure fantasy world (even one that resembled Scotland) was more the way to go in this case. I wouldn't say "modern" humor is a problem here so much as "dated modern humor". Arranged marriage plots, as jennygadget said above, aren't really a modern concern in the U.K., nor is it an appropriate one to the time period their discussing, since girls didn't get married off as late as 16 or 17 in those days either. It's as though they were tacking on a 19th century sensibility to make it seem "different" enough from our time. Or conversely, being lazy and tacking on the same plotline we see in so many princess/noble born lady stories.

And I appreciate the mother-daughter elements of the movie very much. It just seems as though, if they were intending to make a movie for mothers and daughters of today, they couldn't have made the conflict between them one that even more mothers and daughters could relate to, since that's usually how Pixar tackles themes like that (Finding Nemo, Toy Story 3, and The Incredibles being perfect examples there). That's where it missed the mark for me. (I think Brave II would be great, too.)

@Galadriel - Absolutely, today those marriages are nothing to laugh about. It would be good to see more stories that took the theme seriously.

@cybernetic_nomad - That's funny! I guess they just thought "brave" wouldn't play over there? Interesting choice.
Jenny Kristine
33. jennygadget
"The Iron Man analogy isn’t a true one because Tony Stark is the ruler. She is not."

Not at first, not exactly, not in truth. That's part of his growth and why the movie works so well. It's not just that he realizes the consequences of his decisions, it's also that he thinks he's in charge, but learns that he wasn't really making the important decisions after all - other people were able to go behind his back because he didn't take his responsibilities to people other than himself seriously enough.

"The conflict being about her being responsible as a ruler doesn’t make much sense to me as her parents are hale and hearty and relatively young. I’m not sure there’s a lot of ruling for her to do either now or anytime in the near future."

Well, then, why choose the story that they did? If there are no consequences to her not being responsible, what is the conflict? Because if she is not needed to rule (and even as a wife you'd better believe she would be ruling the hosuehold in many ways) then what does it matter if she gets betrothed * right now * or not?

(is there some pressing reason I missed?)
lake sidey
34. lakesidey
@26 Billcap: Yes, and you could play on words with bear too. The queen has to bear with an unruly daughter who will not bow to her wishes...

And if you change the spelling too, the queen ends up bare as well. OK, except for the tapestry.

As for the mystifying name, that's what they should have called Pocahontas. Scotland doesn't have braves...nor squaws...

And folks - arranged marriages? Very much a part of life in a large portion of the world (at least 30% of the world's population, estimating very conservatively, lives in areas where arranged is more the norm). And very much a reason for parent-child conflict too. And I'm talking today's world, not a millennium ago...
Bill Capossere
35. Billcap
JennyG (and Emily to some extent)
Ackowledging what Emily said above, making this somewhat moot :) my point re Stark is because his father died he is in charge in that it's his company, his face on it, whether nominally or fully in charge doesn't really matter much to that context. Whereas Merida is not in a position of power nor seemingly will be for some time, either fully or as a figurehead (they could have gone the Lion King route, but that would hamper the parental storyline).

In the grow-into-one's-responsibilities comparison, my point was the movies aren't disimilar because both show characters who at first refuse responsible action because it interferes with the life they want to lead, both accept it, and neither is unlikable to the audience.

there are consequences for her being irresponsible, as she enunciates in her big speech at the end--the fracturing of the tenuous alliance of the four clans, something emphasized by the analogy of the legend. In some regards, it's a false consequence, as gets shown (which is the part her mother learns), but until that point nobody really thinks it's a false consequence.

In that speech, I'd also agree that the "marry for love muddies things--the most on-point line in there with regard to Merida is the "follow your heart"--which is much closer in spirit to the story than the marry someone you love line

As far as why choose the basic story? I think Emily is right in that's it's the "classic" (from one view, "trite" or "cliche" from another), the one most easily plucked off the shelf. As is the Scottish historical setting (not cliche but easier than a wholly new fantasy world). I don't have an issue with "relatability" as to me that comes in the abstract (mother-daughter disagree) not in details (since that would seem to preclude any fantasy or history to some degree--who can relate to dragons, queens, Hunger Games, etc). But I do agree with Emily that it weakens the movie--why I put it in the second tier was it was somewhat been there-done that, and predictable as to where the story was going, etc. The problem is Pixar has set itself its own really, really tough standards.

Maybe they could have gone a quest route--save the kingdom, guys compete to who goes on the quest, Merida wins, Mom forbids, Mom gets changed, the two quest together and learn to see each other's views along the way to saving both kingdom and mom. No forced marriage, no needs to rule even though her parents are ruling. I'm sure Pixar will be calling for my advice any time :)
36. wingracer
Emily, just because many women were betrothed practically at birth does NOT mean ALL were. If I'm a king and just had a daughter, I have many options. If my rule is on shaky footing, I might start looking immediately for some powerful noble or foreign ruler to promise her too in order to secure my throne. But if I don't feel particularly threatened by anyone or anything, why bother? I would rather wait and see if better opportunities present themselves later.
37. Sean C.
It's pretty much a straight mix of fairy tale elements out of the Disney playbook (mainly The Little Mermaid, Mulan, and Brother Bear). Taken as that, it's good, but we've pretty much seen this movie before, from Pixar's parent studio, and they've done it better. It's probably B+ work, but I can see a lot of the negative comments from people who are either:

1) used to Pixar completely rearranging the gameboard when they make a movie, like they did for most of the 00s, but really haven't done at all here (this is their smallest, most generic film, of the ten I've seen).
2) enjoying kicking the studio now that it's down after Cars 2.
Anna BaptistChurch
38. AnnaBaptistChurch
As a father of a young woman... I'm beginning to see the wisdom in arranged marriages. Why should I let her "follow her heart" with the first hairy legged hormone that knocks on our door?

Also, being of Scotch-Irish-Dutch descent (read that as Viking)... I don't necessarily mind the characterizations. None were mean spirited, or inaccurate.

Was it the best movie ever? No. The story really wasn't all that strong (IMHO). But it was entertaining and a good experience for my daughter. That's what matters.
René Walling
39. cybernetic_nomad
@38: As the father of a young woman, I think the answer to your question is "because you raised her properly".
Ursula L
40. Ursula
Either: Mom: You have to stay at home in the castle and take care of the household while the men run the kingdom and make the important decisions. Merida: But I can run and hunt just as well as the men, why can't I rule the kingdom too?

Or: Mom: You need to grow up and take responsibility as a ruler of the kingdom. Merida: But I want run in the woods and climb trees and shoot things, why do I have to be responsible?


There should be a third way to tell the story. A young woman raised in a society where marriages are arragned for political reasons is going to be part of that culture. But it doesn't have to mean just accepting any arranged marriage.

She has her own interests, rather than just the interests of her family and kingdom. What is the young man's character? Will he be kind and respectful? Will she have real political power of her own in her new home? Is she going to be the only wife, or will she have to compete with other wives of concubines? If there are other wives and concubines, do their children have a chance to inherit, or will the young woman in question be assured that her child/children will inherit power?

The bit about the young men competing for her hand is just stupid for a culture with politically arranged marriages. The guy who is the best archer may not have the best political connections, or other politically attractive factors.

What is the geography of his kingdom? Is he the heir? Is his character such that you judge the marriage will provide long-term political cooperation, or will he be the kind of person to ignore his wife and his in-laws? What are the inheritance laws in his kingdom? If the couple doesn't have children, or only has girls, will the wife's birth family loose benefits of the arrangement?

I'm reminded, again, of Bujold, and how she wrote Iselle in "Curse of Challion." A young woman who knew she would have a politically arranged marriage. But who also had her own agenda, personal and political, when it came to who she would marry. She didn't marry for love, but she did arrange her own political marriage, and try to resist an arranged marrage tht went against her interests.
41. Sean C.
That sort of stuff is far too dry to be the main focus of a kids' movie.
42. MannieJo
My kids and I loved Brave - and remember, these are for kids, or at least families. My kids loved the triplets, the crazy in-fighting of the clans - these are the broad strokes that appeal to children.

Brave is an apt title - Merida is Brave for trying to change her fate instead of succumbing, her mother is Brave for admitting she was wrong and changing her mind.

The struggle between mother and daughter is a tough one - this child that once needed you constantly now distances herself from you and all of your ideas - though she still needs you constantly. The take on that here is beautiful - you've turned your MOTHER into a BEAR. And now your father and allies are going to kill her. Worse, sometimes your mother is now more bear than mother - is there anything scarier than the thought that your own mother will turn on you and eat you?

As for the comments on this storyline not being modern enough, I think that too falls to the child focus - children understand fairytales and the fairytale tropes. But it's also obvious that the two women of this story are the strongest characters - Elinor, as Queen, commands a respect of the Clans that even her husband does not. They want her advice, her decision, not Fergus'. Merida wants her own life, but Elinor wants her to choose a life of service that protects a country she loves. Not service to a husband, but service to a country. Very different things.
Stephanie Treanor
43. Streanor
Are we forgetting that this is infact a disney princess movie? Think back for a moment, all these movies are centered around falling in love. BUT Pixar broke this tradition purposely.

The fact that Merida recongizes this tradition is old and dated brings us to a new level of expectations. Women are more than just hopeless romantics. They have strong relationships with their family, able to rule a kingdom equally, and have interests in phsyical activies.

Also, Instead of the men/princes who are tradionally displayed as this doting, handsom and gallant we get an underiable bunch of misfits competing for her hand in marriage. Not every young man is or should be desirable and not every girl needs to fall in love with the first man (besides her father) she sees.

Like i said before, if you are looking at this purely from the disney perspective it is completely revolutionary. As a big fan of all the princess movies, i truly appreciated the revisit of familiar themes but by carefully breaking tradition it brings us to the new level of Disney Princess Movies.
44. Lsana
Having seen it yesterday, I think I agree with the criticism of the arranged marriage plot. It's not the idea of an arranged marriage causing conflict that's the issue, but the rather generic and lazy way that it was handled in this movie. First, we're never really given a reason why Merida has to get married now. Yeah, there's some conflict with the various clans, but it seems to be more fun than deadly, and it isn't clear how Merida marrying one of them is going to solve any of that. We're also given some chatter about "tradition," but later Merida implies that her father is the first king of this particular kingdom, so it can't be a tradition with a lot of force behind it.

Second, it isn't clear why Merida objects so much. She doesn't have someone else in mind. She doesn't have any romantic ideas about marrying for love. None of her prospective suitors are all that loathsome. There's no suggestion that she's going to have to give up riding and shooting after she marries. She just objects because she does. Which would be reasonable for someone from our culture, but seems out of place from someone who's been raised for this. Overall, the whole conflict just feels forced from both Merida and Mom's perspective. I'd have gotten rid of it, especially since it wasn't really the issue between them. At the end where Mom gives in and says Merida should marry for love, yeah that's nice, but the real heartwarming moment was when she acknowledged Merida's skills and knowledge and that maybe a princess OUGHT to have weapons. The lesson was being able to accept Merida for who she was; the arranged marriage was incidental at best.

Overall, I think I'd put the movie at a B. I saw it, and I'm glad I did, but I don't think I need to see it again.
45. esmereldes
I don't think this was a perfect movie, and I think some of the criticism raised by the article is fair. When I first saw it, I did feel that the resolution to put off her betrothal and 'let the kids decide' felt like a silly resolution in favor of True Love - and since no one is even remotely in love in the movie (except Merida's parents) it seems forced. But as I think about it more, I'm not sure Merida was ever rebelling against getting married. She was rebelling against becoming her mom. Being a wife means being her mom, and her mom doesn't shoot arrows or run in the woods. When the parents agree to 'let the kids decide' they are not saying "we think true love is better than arranged marriages", it is a standin for saying "our child has grown up enough to have reached the point where we reluctantly have to allow them to make their own decisions". And her mom goes it one further, because her experience as a bear lets her realize that not only is her way not the only way for Merida to be a good ruler, she seems to pick up some of Merida's ideas for herself - letting her hair loose and riding her horse at gallop. So not only is Merida acknowledged as being grown up enough to have her own opinions, she's grown up enough to be able to influence her mom in turn. And Merida, of course, realizes that her mom isn't trying to hem her in, she was trying to help her see what is important in life and to be a good person. And when I think about it that way, the resolution of the story is just right. Merida doesn't completely know what sort of ruler she will be, and she's not ready to get married and pick up that mantle. But she's ready to think about it, and her mom is willing to let her do so.
Thomas Simeroth
46. a smart guy
When I saw this movie this Thursday, I got halfway through it before the power died. I got a free voucher for any movie at any time. My question is "Should I finish Brave or see The Amazing Spiderman?"
47. John C. Bunnell
As a mother/daughter bonding movie, Brave is gorgeous. But nothing about the plot makes even the slightest bit of sense if you attempt to apply logic. The thing is, the plot rests entirely on the presumption that Mom's predicament is entirely Merida's fault -- when in fact, her parents have set Merida up to rebel and have failed to train her effectively.

The problem with the marriage plot has nothing to do with Merida's age. The problem is that as the scenes play out, the betrothal takes her utterly by surprise. Merida has been taught martial skills by her father and domestic arts by her mother -- but no one's taught her statecraft (though her mother appears to have at least some skill in that area) and such history as she knows hasn't been tied to the current political climate. Indeed, Ellanor and Merida don't listen to each other -- and that's as much Ellanor's failure as Merida's. When we finally hear about "the bond torn by pride", a decent case can be made that Ellanor's pride as well as Merida's must be addressed. (Indeed, Mom learns that lesson pretty quickly post-transformation, and rather more gracefully than Merida does.)

Nor does the betrothal protocol make much sense given the minimal political structure we're given. While Merida is a princess, she doesn't seem to be the heir to the throne (certainly she hasn't been trained for it) -- but if she isn't the heir, and the eldest of the triplets isn't the heir (Heaven forfend!), then Merida's eventual spouse evidently gets to be King...and it's awfully hard to see Fergus giving that throne away so easily.

Well, unless maybe "the bond torn by pride" is construed to refer to the bond between the four clans of old that were sundered when Mor'du the Bear enchanted himself -- but that's not the movie we actually saw. (It was, briefly, the movie I thought we might be aiming for, but no such luck. Pity, that.)
48. Virginia
In the end, it was just sort of sad to me that a film about a sharp female hero couldn't address the idea of her as a ruler rather than a princess.

Just want to say I completely agree with you. I liked the movie that I saw, but I think I would have liked the movie with a different conflict -- one about Merida's desires conflicting with her responsibilities totally apart from marriage -- even better.

I think the comparison several commenters have made with "Tangled" (which I liked a lot) is an interesting one. "Tangled" is my favorite kind of romance, the kind where each of the main characters discovers her/his inner strength through their love for the other person. In that context, I think it made sense Rapunzel and what's-his-name defeated the witch together -- neither one could have done it alone.

"Brave," on the other hand, isn't a romance. Merida doesn't need to fall in love, and she doesn't need a guy to help solve her problem (although she does find her inner strength through her love for her mother). So why is the main conflict about her not wanting to marry? It just seems kind of lazy to me. Perhaps it's a result of the last-minute change in director.

But, you know, it was still a good movie. I love that Merida got to keep both her mother and her awesome hair!
49. GarrettC
As for the "cliche" or "generic" polotlines, I would parrot a point made elsewhere in this thread and add to it:

It was pointed out that this was a Disney Princess movie. That's sort of true. It's a Pixar Princess movie, responding to the tradition of the mega- company that Pixar became a part of. It's using classic Disney Princess tropes because it's thinking about classic Disney Princess tropes. The use isn't convenient or lazy. It's necessary to the intellectual work the film is trying to do.

And while I'm not quite sure any Disney Princess was literally in an arranged marriage, the structure of the films themselves has always been a symbolic one. The Princess has always had to be in a relationship with the Prince at the end. The eventual marriages were arranged by the mere facts of the Princesses being in Disney movies.

Pixar is subverting that crap. Not falling back on it.

There's a lot more challenging stuff there. Merida has two living parents who are both present and active in her life. This is not something that happens in adventure stories about youths.

I think an underappreciated aspect of the film is the relationship she has with her father. In many ways, the relative freedom that he gives her is an effect of the fact that he doesn't understand his implicit role in limiting her. He can give her freedom because he controls her fate despite it. Her mother works so hard to limit her freedom because she doesn't want her to feel the inevitable pain of losing it--the pain that she once felt herself. There's a beautiful moment of epiphany the king has when the queen mentions in her frustration that she didn't want to marry him at first. It's a tiny moment. He has this little double-take that does all the narrative work necessary. It says, "Oh, I'm part of the problem, too."

The story has no real villain, which is a little disorienting because it kind of pretends that it does (the evil bear is more of a MacGuffin than a villain... and don't think one of the families being named MacGuffin was accidental), and also because we're not used to this. But it has no villain because the heart of the conflict is that nobody is actually the bad guy here. Only good guys misunderstanding each other.

And I think the bravado and violence of the men is more than "boys will be boys." When the critical moment arises, the bravado and the theatrical male shows of violence fail, and the men somber up pretty respectably. They understand clearly that a battle is being waged that they can't fight, because at heart it's a conflict about mothers and daughters and they are neither, and so they stop fighting. They, in fact, step away from the fight, and stop inflicting their shows of masculinity on the ultimately feminine narrative.

Etc, etc.
50. VanDrew
My family loves Brave. I think it was really a lovely movie with some truths that have got missed in our world today. Both mother AND daughter were wrong on their views. By the time the movie was over BOTH were changed and had learned to work, listen, respect, and love eachother for what eachother were. The mother wasn't left in the dust as the old one who dosen't know any better because she is "dated". The daughter comes to respect her mother for who she is, and learns it is best to talk things out rather than making rash dscisions based on fickle feelings of the moment. The mother learns to respect and accept her daughter as well as how promt the best out of her young one without deminishing the respect and position of her title. I think it is a well rounded story, though they did hurry it up too much....Brave 2 anyone?

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