What sets this princess fairy tale apart from any others I can recall is the centrality of the mother-daughter relationship, as opposed to the usual princess-gets-her-true-love-in-the-end theme. In fact, in this story Queen Elinor, the young heroine Merida's mother, is as prominent a character as her daughter. Elinor is a loving mother and only wants what is best for her daughter, but in typical fashion, Merida has her own ideas for her future. While in America most young women don't have arranged marriages, the choosing of potentials suitors, and the timing of the marriage, is still the status quo in many cultures. So while this tale takes place in ancient Ireland or Scotland (the men wear kilts), it is not really an antiquated theme. And still prevalent even in America today are the pressures on young people by their parents in their choice of college major, career, lifestyle, family size, etc... Elinor's tendency to be harsh, critical, and demanding of her daughter, and her neglect to really listen to Merida, is a familiar issue. Of course, Merida doesn't listen very well to her mother, either!
One thing I liked about this film is that Merida is homeschooled; however, she is not so fond of her mother's choice of subjects--how to be a lady, how to speak properly, how to carry herself, what is expected of a princess, and the like. Merida wants to be off riding her horse, following will-o-the-wisps and having adventures. She is not interested in choosing a husband from among the eldest sons of neighboring tribes. She just isn't ready yet. And if there is one thing common to most children today, it is the state of being hurried.
Merida has no respect for tradition or her mother's wisdom. Elinor has no interest in hearing about Merida's explorations and discoveries and finds no use in her talent with the bow and arrow. They do not see eye to eye, and neither accepts the other as she is. Each is bent on changing the other; each is stubborn in her own way. Unfortunately, Merida's willfulness leads her to a witch, and she asks for a spell that will change her destiny. She thinks changing her mother will produce that result, but horrifyingly, the consequence is that her mother is changed into a bear, the one creature Merida's father, King Fergus, is determined to kill in revenge for his lost leg. Well, I won't spoil the whole movie!
While Brave is not the best Pixar movie ever (that would be the Toy Story trilogy), it is outstanding for its focus on the healing of a mother-daughter relationship, where each learns to bend and honor the other's uniqueness and gifts. There is no betrothal to a prince, no adolescent kissing, no wicked stepmother jealous of the princess' youth and beauty; and miraculously, neither parent has died, and they are happily married! Queen Elinor even has a wonderful streak of grey (I mean silver) in her hair. Yes, I want to be Queen Elinor more than I want to be the young princess! When Elinor walks through a room, the dignity of her presence brings all male misbehavior to a halt. There was truly a time when men did not swear, get drunk, make dirty jokes, or brawl in the presence of women. They stood up when a woman entered the room. They removed their hats. They showed some respect. But we threw that all away for some twisted "equality" in which women get to act like men, a bizarre world where being a "lady" is obscene. But that's another topic for another time! Still, Elinor reminds us of something precious that has been lost, something of real value.
Brave is solidly a very good family movie. I give it four stars. Younger children might be afraid of the scary bear (also a product of the witch's spell to change someone's destiny) but otherwise there is very little rude humor and nothing objectionable in my opinion. It is a film worth seeing and even worth contemplating a little deeper. What can we mothers learn from our daughters, not just what can they learn from us.