|Merida, star of the Disney/Pixar film "Brave," released June, 2012|
Meet Merida, a Celtic princess fighting for the right to choose her own fate. She's handy with a bow and arrow. She's got a mane of flaming red hair that matches her fiery temperament. The tradition of her land states that she'll marry the man who wins the skill challenge.
Only problem is, Merida doesn't want to get married - at least not yet. And she wants to be in control of her own fate. She's not inclined to marry someone just because they won the challenge.
In Brave, Disney has created a princess story unlike any other that they've made before. First, the mother is alive. Snow White? Dead mother. Cinderella? Dead mother. Beauty and the Beast? Dead mother. Finding Nemo? Okay it's not a princess story, but still, dead mother.
Merida's mother is alive and well and trying her best to forge Merida into queen material. While her mother coaches her on the the ways of a princess, Merida is more interested in riding her horse, shooting her arrows at targets, and generally doing the opposite of what her mother wishes her to do.
While Brave is about a Celtic princess in ancient times, the relationship between Merida and her mother is timeless. I think Disney got this just right. I could almost hear the shadows of my own arguments with my mother when I was a teen, and I could almost hear the foreshadowing of arguments I'll have with my own daughter in just a few years. It's rare to see a movie, animated or live-action, that portrays a mother-daughter relationship in any depth and without pandering to emotional manipulation tactics. I truly enjoyed this aspect of Brave and applaud Disney/Pixar for making a female centered movie that got it right.
The second thing that Disney did here - that they haven't done before - is to create a story that draws heavily on the magic and mysticism of a Celtic tradition. The story is set in the Scottish Highlands and the story prominently features a circle of stones in the plot as well as wisps and other features of Scottish myth and legend.
Given that I have read a lot about Celtic myth and legend as research for my book Emily's House (much of which takes place in Ireland), I really enjoyed seeing this take on Celtic myth on the big screen.
|Merida being led by a wisp|
And the movie is BEAUTIFUL. Merida's fiery, red hair is the perfect contrast to the lush greens used to paint the Scottish countryside. The rendering is lush and just plain gorgeous.
I've seen some reviews saying that this movie rates up there with Finding Nemo. As much as I loved Brave and applaud Disney for stepping out of their comfort zone with this story, I disagree that this movie will have the wide appeal of Finding Nemo.
Why? Mainly because this movie will not appeal to the youngest viewers. In fact, I think this movie is probably an 8 and up movie. It does not have the fast-paced feel of Finding Nemo, nor is it full of jokes and goofiness. While it has plenty of laughs, overall it is a more serious, relationship centered story. It reminds me more of Up, but without the ridiculous dog stuff that, in my opinion, was a let down in that movie to the opening scenes, but that added the goofy humor that smaller kids might appreciate.
As much as I liked this movie, I also think it is not as tight in the storytelling as it could have been - should have been. Without giving away the surprise in the plot, the story borrowed heavily from a prior Disney film, Brother Bear (which, in turn, "borrowed" heavily from native myths and legends). There is a "been there, seen that" quality to the film which is not present in some of Disney's most popular films.
Additionally, there are moments when the story builds to a dramatic moment, making a big point, but a point which was never returned to later - just dumped out and left hanging. Now this is not likely something that a young viewer will notice, but it bothered me.
For example, there is a scene early on when the clans are meeting in the great hall and a fight erupts. The queen is exasperated. Her husband, the King, cannot seem to wrest control and ends up (joyfully) joining the brawl. The queen clears her throat and merely walks into the throng, standing tall and with poise, and the men stop their fight and listen to her.
The point of this scene is that before it, the queen was trying to teach Merida how to be a queen - how to exude her female power. And then the queen has an opportunity to demonstrate all of the skills she was trying to teach Merida. The scene shows Merida's face and she is in awe of her mother's power in that moment. It is the queen who takes control of the scene, not her king.
This is a great scene. It creates the idea, that you assume will connect up later, that Merida may have a thing or two to learn from her mother after all. That maybe a woman, though not armed with sword or a bow, can exude great power too, through her poise and intelligence. Wouldn't it be great if later in the story, Merida is able to recognize this lesson and see that her mother has a thing or two to teach her?
The problem is, even after all that Merida goes through and lessons she learns, they storytellers never connect up this scene in any way. In fact, it ends up feeling that it is her mother, more than Merida, who learns that Merida has something to teach. Now that's not a bad thing, and it fits with the storyline. But they created this wonderful scene so rich with promise - but the promise was never delivered.
This movie has such great potential with the storytelling - much greater potential than probably any other Disney movie before it. But as a storyteller myself, I felt that they did not deliver on the story's promise. It was like there was no editor telling them to tighten it up and leave no dangling threads.
|Isn't this just beautiful? Merida led to the ring of stones by the wisps.|
But this is a nit-picky complaint. Overall, the movie is fun, beautiful and tells an engaging story. The backside shot of the men without their kilts is probably worth the price of admission. ;-)
Bottom line: Go see it. It is lush, beautiful and almost perfect. Leave your tiny ones at home - they'll be bored and detract from your enjoyment of the art of this movie. Do take your daughters because it's about time we had a Disney movie with a princess that can actually serve as a role model for strong, capable girls.