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Pixar ‘Brave’ for tackling mother-daughter themes

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Reel Mama: Pixar ‘Brave’ for tackling mother-daughter themes

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pixar ‘Brave’ for tackling mother-daughter themes

Merida is the thoroughly modern princess 
in Pixar's latest film 'Brave.'
Photo credit: Disney Pixar

Pixar’s latest movie to hit theaters -- ‘Brave’ -- is bound to strike a chord with mothers and daughters and may remind them of the conflicts they often face, particularly when daughters are navigating the difficult teen years.  
Fans of the Disney princess franchise will find Merida unconventional, and the most outspoken princess to date.  She is not merely free spirited.  She is rebellious, particularly against her mother, which is at the heart of the film’s conflict.  She has flaws, and this makes her a believable, dimensional character, the polar opposite of the goody two-shoes portrayal of a princess like Snow White in the classic Disney film.  

Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is Disney's most unconventional princess to date. Photo credit: Disney Pixar

The Disney princess that comes closest to Merida’s free spirit is Repunzel of “Tangled.”  Both princesses share the desire to explore the world, but it would seem their mothers are standing in their way.  Due to Merida’s attitude and belligerence against her mother, some viewers may not find her as likable as Repunzel, and some mothers in the audience might cringe at the back talk and disobedience, either because it is all too familiar, or because they fear it as their own daughters mature.  Nevertheless, Merida is unique and memorable.  She’s a firecracker, hot tempered, and she wants to take control of her destiny.

Merida finds a way to change her fate in 'Brave'
Photo credit: Disney Pixar

What distinguishes Merida is that she resents her status, whereas many Disney princesses, such as Repunzel, are unaware of it, or like Snow White live in substandard conditions and are certainly not being groomed for the role of queen (though Merida does clean the stables by choice).  “I’m the princess.  I’m the example.  I have duties, expectations.  Every day of my life is planned,” complains Merida.  “A princess strives for perfection,” insists Elinor her mother, the queen, who is bossy, rigid about adhering to the rules, and set in her ways, but this is what makes her a flawed, dimensional, believable parent.

Emma Thompson and Bill Connolly are the voices
of Merida's parents Elinor and Fergus,
who struggle to help her realize her destiny as princess.
Photo credit: Disney Pixar
Elinor truly does have Merida’s best interests at heart: “What I do, I do out of love,” she says. Yet Merida finds the many rules constricting and will do anything to escape them, including seeking out a witch to cast a spell intended to make Elinor see the light and cancel the plans for Merida’s arranged marriage.  Unfortunately, the spell backfires terribly.
What makes “Brave” so remarkable is that it explores mother-daughter conflict in the first place.  “Brave” is the first Pixar movie to feature a female heroine, and the only one in a long line of princess movies that doesn’t focus on the princess dreaming of a Prince Charming, or at the very least falling in love.  Merida’s suiters are clearly unsuitable, with too many shortcomings to mention here.  
Merida expresses strong reservations about marrying in the first place, making her thoroughly modern. The anachronistic nature of Merida’s independent spirit does not detract from the story.  Here is a princess conflicted with teen angst, and that is thoroughly refreshing.  Moreover, a mother-daughter relationship is hardly ever explored on film, much less in a major Hollywood animated kids’ release.

Merida's family struggles with some contemporary issues
facing families today
Photo credit: Disney Pixar

The film takes an odd turn and seems to lose momentum temporarily once the spell is cast.  Nevertheless, the story manages to recover its pacing when Elinor’s plight becomes more serious and she seemingly will never be returned to her former state.
Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald voices Merida to perfection.  The entire cast is outstanding.  Emma Thompson is ideal as the voice of Elinor.  Seasoned performer of animated films Billy Connolly plays Fergus, Merida’s boisterous, hot-tempered yet soft-hearted father.  
Possibly Pixar’s most visually stunning movie to date, “Brave” is one of the first animated movies that truly does justice to the 3D format.  The studio’s rendering of fine detail -- Merida’s glorious unruly tresses, shimmering fabrics, the sheen of animal’s fur -- is exquisite.  The majestic Scottish landscapes are a feast for the eyes.  Merida’s horse Angus is so lifelike he could almost be mistaken for a real horse superimposed on the screen.
Ultimately, “Brave” has a beautiful message about bonding, patience, trust, and most of all, love.  The end is quite touching and will be sure to cause more than a few misty eyes.  “Fate lives within us,” says Merida.  “We only have to be brave enough to see it.”

Merida discovers magic on her journey.
Photo credit: Disney Pixar

“Brave” is sure to be a crowd pleaser that will likely encourage more studios to tackle  projects with brave young heroines and to explore mother-daughter issues.
Reel Mama’s recommendation: The film is appropriate for ages six and up.  Merida challenges authority at every turn, which should generate some valuable family conversations.  Children old enough to understand and ask questions about Merida’s rebellion will best appreciate the film.
Parents should be aware of the violence, with plenty of head bonking and hitting with objects blunt and sharp between the Scottish clansmen.  There are several intense scenes of fighting between human and beast that may be too scary for the youngest viewers.  There is also a brief instance of nudity (male buttocks being shown in the context of a joke about kilts), an instance of an item being dropped into a woman’s cleavage, and mild rude humor, including a reference to mooning (a cultural nod to Scotland's boisterous and bawdy humor).  

Scottish clansmen provide comic relief in 'Brave.'
Photo credit: Disney Pixar


At June 23, 2012 at 4:27 PM , Blogger Kandi said...

Great review! I can not wait to see this. I have always loved Disney movies. I think they capture everyone hearts because it isn't just cheesy kid humor they also through in the adult jokes (that many get later on in life lol) for the parents. Thanks for sharing!

At June 24, 2012 at 8:49 AM , Anonymous Dan O. said...

The first 30 minutes or so had me pumped up like no other but once that big twist in the story happens, it all goes downhill from there. However, kids will love the heck out of this film and you can’t go wrong with them. Nice review Lauren.

At June 24, 2012 at 3:40 PM , Anonymous RJ said...

Great review! I cannot wait to see this movie. It looks REALLY good.

At June 26, 2012 at 6:54 AM , Blogger Gina said...

Great review, honestly though this is probably one of the first Disney movies we won't be running out to see, your review of it was great, but the storyline itself just doesn't appeal to us, even my kids.

At June 26, 2012 at 5:54 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Loved your review on Brave! I thought you'd appreciate the girl power spirit (just like in Brave) in Moey's Music Party's new CD, Princess Revolution! Princess Revolution is a rocking celebration that encourages girls to see themselves as helpful heros - not helpless maidens ; ) The New York Post calls Moey, "The Pied Piper in Pink!" Bloomingdale's just threw a Moey princess ball! We'd love to send you a CD to review!

Here's a fun video so you can see what we're all about!

At June 27, 2012 at 2:12 AM , Blogger Nicole Robinson @MyCollegeBaby said...

Loved your thorough review. I think everyone but me went to see this movie this weekend. I am waiting until my daughter gets a little older (18 months) to catch up on all the Disney/Pixar flicks. Brave is going on my list.

At June 27, 2012 at 7:06 AM , Blogger Kimberly Gould said...

I'd forgotten until you mentioned it. Another way Brave is VERY different from other Disney princess movies is that it HAS a mother and she is an integral part of the story! Almost all the classic princesses were raised as foundlings or had step-mothers, or no mother figure at all. Kudos to Pixar for bringing the mother-daughter relationship to the front.

At June 27, 2012 at 9:46 PM , Blogger Lauren Ivy Chiong said...

Thank you for the fantastic comments and for checking out the review!

At June 27, 2012 at 9:53 PM , Blogger Lauren Ivy Chiong said...

This is a fascinating topic, Kimberly. We could probably write several books about it! I was reading about the Grimm stories over time and how it was changed from the evil mother to the "evil" stepmother to somehow make the stories less threatening (the idea of a mother being wicked was perceived as too disturbing for kids over the last century apparently). It's not very fair for stepmothers, who tend to be wonderful and warm human beings. Mother or stepmother, it's nice that Pixar portrayed a maternal figure who is warm with good intentions, and that they explored that relationship so deeply.

At July 9, 2012 at 6:44 AM , Blogger Marianna said...

We saw this yesterday and I completely agree with Dan here. I loved the beginning but once the twist happens, I lost interest. I like the mother-daughter conflict theme, I just think they could have done something better with it. I left feeling disappointed.


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