Merida faces the same foe as any princess her age; a mother who doesn’t care what she wants for her life, a national and family duty to marry on her birthday, and a highland witch who promises to change everything for her. You know the old fairy tale adage; Be careful what you wish for when speaking to a witch.
The first time I saw this movie I couldn’t believe I wasn’t hearing more praise for it. Then when “Frozen” came out, I couldn’t believe that everyone was talking about what a breath of fresh air it was. Female led. Pass the Bechdel Test. More Progressive views of Female Empowerment. Oh I’m sorry. I was thinking of “Brave.”
I guess only a year later people couldn’t remember “Brave.” For I while, I thought it was because it was too focused on the experiences of a teenage girl and her mother. Not for me; I loved it. I did think however that maybe with its wild adventuring spirit in a young woman might not resonate as much with a young boy who saw the film.
Of course my theories have changed over time since “Frozen” certainly proved wrong many of my theories about what “Brave” might have been missing but for now let’s get into the positives that “Brave” has in its win column.
Hitting the Mark
The first reason I love the movie “Brave” is that it is Scottish. Well, ok. Not really it isn’t but you know what I mean. It evokes the spirit of what we as American think of when we imagine we know what Scotland is like. This is how I imagined most fairy kingdoms when I was a child. For some they imagined the French or Bavarian castle and high court but, for me, stories about the Celtic Islands and Highlands has always been a mystical in-between place.
Another reason “Brave” is great is that it centers on a family. Many times we human beings think bigger is better (sometimes it is, not always). In movies this comes across through ‘scope creep.’ This is where the goals of the main character seem to swing wildly out of control. For example, some people were turned off from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” because they saw the movies progressing down a bigger and bigger Death Star, Death Star 2, Star Killer Base slippy slide.
“Brave” centers entirely on a single family and while the stakes are large (potentially a war between clans) the conflict with the clans is more of a symptom of the real conflict which is between mother and daughter. This sort of tight story telling is especially good in small childrens films but also for adults as they mature and simplify. I would much rather watch a film about a little girl who is afraid of the monster in their closet than another movie about stopping a glowing space beam that shoots into the sky, again.
Missing the Mark?
So why did “Brave” turn off so many viewers. Like I said, I have theories, but they are just theories so feel free to argue with me.
My first theory is that “Brave” is too dark. I know Disney movies don’t shy away from killing off main characters like Mufasa in “The Lion King” but the way that Elinor (Emma Thompson, “Love Actually”) slips between being a conscious human in a bear body and her being an animal which is sort of aware of what is happening to her, is pretty disturbing. The magic in this movie doesn’t feel fun but dangerous and wild. For me, that is a positive but I totally understand that if you thought you were taking your kid to see a light hearted movie a la’ “Toy Story” then this might be a tad upsetting and more than you planned on trying to distract them through.
Some have said that the reason they don’t like “Brave” is because of its similarities to “Brother Bear.” I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy that one. These same people have no problem with the fact that every MARVEL movie feels essentially the same. No one complains that the new Bond movie has the same tired plots over and over again. Why? Because they like those films. They would have no problem with “Brave” being a “Brother Bear” ripoff if it was a film that they felt did something superior to the other. All of this is on top of the fact that, other than a character turning into a bear, there is nothing about “Brother Bear” that I would call similar to “Brave.”
No. I think that the reason that most people didn’t like “Brave” is because they just expected something more. Maybe they wanted something more akin to “How to Train Your Dragon.” Maybe they wanted a more standard girl becoming a knight story. I don’t know.
I do know that the film is far more internal than most animated films. As a result it is a slower watch, it is a bit dark, and it’s not as funny as most Pixar fare. Perhaps people just didn’t realize what they were about to see. Perhaps the ball was just dropped on the marketing to let people know what kind of movie this was. Perhaps Pixar wasn’t ready for the expectations that would be on a ‘princess movie’ that wasn’t on a movie about toys or silly monsters in the closet.
Whatever it was, I hope that in time, people will revisit it without the brother-bear-tinted-sunglasses or expectation of singing candlesticks.
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