Brave: The Newest Addition to the Disney/Pixar Family

WARNING: This post contains spoilers, so please do NOT read it if you have not yet seen “Brave.”

Considering the way the economy is right now, I’m not too keen to fork over $10.00 to see a movie. In fact, when I went to see “Brave” the other day with a friend of mine, I found out we’d missed the matinee shows–should’ve gone to the 2:45 pm and not the 4:10 pm show. *facepalm* I’m not quite sure whether “Brave” was worth the $20.00. It’s not that “Brave” is a bad movie. There just didn’t seem to be anything particularly special about it, nothing that “wowed” me, so to speak. There were certain aspects I DID like about it, however, and a different movie with the same themes I might’ve liked much better.

The film chronicles the story of Merida, a teenage tomboy and Scottish princess who’s been shooting a bow and arrow since she was five. She is finally of marriageable age; so, to keep peace among the four clans of the kingdom, she is to wed the firstborn son of one of the clans’ leaders. Her mother, Queen Eleanor, has attempted to make Merida more of a traditional princess, while attempting to instill in her principles and values that are necessary for anyone, traditional or otherwise–I can’t remember the whole list, but I know compassion was one of those things, and that is definitely important. The problem comes at the end of her lecturing montage: she says that a princess basically has to be perfect. Besides the fact that Merida has a natural tendency to rebel against what is traditional for her as a princess, it was a very bad idea for her mother to say she needed to be ‘perfect’. That would set anyone off, either into despair or further rebellion. Also, Elinor did not always listen to her daughter as she should have, being too much queen and not enough mother. She somehow couldn’t bring herself to say to Merida what she really wanted to (i.e., the things she said to her husband, when he pretended, humorously, to be Merida).

That doesn’t mean Merida is absolved from blame. It simply means not everything was her fault. For her part, she was being selfish. While her mother may not have been thinking enough about Merida as an individual, Merida was thinking too much about herself. Instead of recalling the responsibilities that came with her position as princess–and no she didn’t ask for them, but when do any of us ask for the things thrust upon us?–and thinking of the people in the kingdom, she thought only of her own wants. She objected to getting married–specifically and in general–saying she wasn’t ready and might never be. In a sense, I partially agree with her, as everyone has a different vocation in life. However, as I said before, her position comes loaded with responsibilities–and a marriage to a man that she doesn’t go googly-eyed over all the time is really not all that big a deal. I agree with C. S. Lewis who said, I believe somewhere in The Four Loves, Mere Christianity, or The Screwtape Letters, that many marriages in history have been entered into not on the grounds of being “in love” but simply out of “fear of God” or because that was the way things were done. And marriages begun that way do not necessarily turn out badly, especially if both spouses are prepared to truly learn to love one another. Here is what Lewis says in Mere Christianity:

“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling… Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go… But, of course, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense – love as distinct from “being in love” – is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriage) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God… “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”

And:

The idea that ‘being in love’ is the only reason for remaining married really leaves no room for marriage as a contract or promise at all. If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing; and if it adds nothing, then it should not be made.”

So, basically, Merida’s protests that she’s not ready may have some merit, but I believe that many people in the history of the world have been married when they were “not ready” and turned out just fine. So the princess’ reservations are simply on self-ish grounds.

What I was getting to before I got a bit off track is that Elinor was not the only one who wasn’t listening, Merida wasn’t either. She didn’t pay attention to what her mother was trying to tell her using the story of the four clans. From the behavior of the clans it’s obvious that they’re not on the best of terms with each other, and that something must be done to keep them reconciled. Traditionally, alliances have been made through marriages. Perhaps that is not the best way, but it is way, and not necessarily a bad one either. When Queen Elinor says “It’s marriage, not the end of the world,” although the comment may be a propos for her daughter, it trivializes marriages somewhat, whereas marriage as an alliance underscores its importance. That is, marriage allies kingdoms in an irrevocable way–the families will always be connected by blood and continued in children–permanence and continuity. That’s what makes it such a powerful thing as an alliance. Marriage is not only personal, it’s social, especially in Merida’s case. Thus, besides having a duty to obey her parents, Merida has a duty to her kingdom, and if nothing but her marriage will secure peace, then so be it.

The problem has been presented: Mamma wants her daughter to get married to help keep peace in the kingdom, and rebellious daughter refuses–and runs off.

Now what happens? Merida looks for a way to “change her fate” by changing her mother. She follows some will ‘o’ the wisps to a witch’s cottage. Said witch agrees to help her (for a fee, and not a modest one at that) and gives the princess a pastry. Skeptical but eager for a change, Merida returns to the castle, presents her mother with the cake as a peace offering, and waits for her mother to have a sudden change of heart. The queen has a sudden change in physiology instead, transforming into a bear. Such a development surely changes Merida’s fate–her mother is no longer human, her father would kill any bear he sees, especially as he lost his leg to a bear, and she’ll surely be grounded for life. Marriage is now the least of her worries.

At first our princess attempts to deflect the blame onto the witch. She hunts the cottage down but finds it empty, except for a message left by the witch, saying that if she’s unhappy with the spell, Merida should remember these words: “Fate be changed, / look inside. / Mend the bond / torn by pride.” All Merida thinks of is the tapestry that she sliced before running away from home. After several obstacles this is managed, but this alone does not return her mother to a human being. The minutes ticking fast until her mother becomes a real bear, and the tapestry already having been flung over the queen’s back, Merida begins to despair, and finally says to her mother, “I’m sorry.” That does the trick. The bond torn by pride (as you’ve probably already noted) was the failure of each party to truly listen to the other, and Merida’s pride in thinking that the world revolved around her (as teenagers often do).

The thing I liked best about this movie was that Merida’s pride was NOT vindicated. She acknowledges her mistake and even plans to accept marriage. It is Queen Elinor who tells her she doesn’t need to. Ideally, what Merida does at the end of the movie–exhorting the clans to remember that they are all, in a sense, family, and that they ought to build up and support each other, not tear each other down–is what I would like to see happen. However, in this situation I feel it was a bit contrived and unrealistic. Are the warrior leaders of 3 different clans really going to listen to a teenage girl who has publicly been acting like a brat? I don’t really think so.

But the fact that both Elinor and Merida learned a lesson and became closer because of it was a joy to see. Often enough the story in film is how the poor, misunderstood teenager is mistreated by his overly restrictive, uptight parents, and the denouement sees the parents realizing their mistake (I may be exaggerating a bit, but not too much). Take Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” for instance. In it, Ariel defies King Triton and gets rewarded for it, remaining a human and marrying Eric. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that particular Disney movie, so if I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but I don’t recall her apologizing to her father at all. He remains the bad guy until he sees the light at the end of the movie. So, unlike Merida, Ariel doesn’t see the error of her own ways, though her father sees that not all humans are bad. She thinks she did right in running away from her father and making a deal with Ursula, although it was ultimately her deal with Ursula that threatens her world and everyone she loves.

Time for pros and cons:

Cons: no particular “wow” moment, nothing spectacularly touching. The animation was good, as Pixar’s usually is. The music was good. The story lacks a little something–I think it moved too fast, and Merida caught on too quickly to her problems. I think she needed a different event than the visit to the castle to change her. Also the unrealistic scene where a bunch of old men immediately agree with a teenager.

Pros: Merida is not just a rebellious teenager who’s always right, she has to realize her mistakes. She’s also willing to put them right. She recognizes the truth of her mother’s words and her responsibility to others. Also, the animation for her dress (the light blue one for the presentation of the suitors) is very well done: you could recognize the material as something real, recognizing it as something you’d see on a real dress, with it’s shiny gleam but slightly rough feel.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

* I’ll probably refine this review later, so that it’s a little more coherent, it being so long.

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