I had long been anticipating BRAVE, ever since my husband visited Pixar several years ago and came home with the rumors that his friend there was working on a top secret project of the same name featuring a female lead character (!!). Even with such little information, my curiosity was peaked. Could it be that Pixar was finally breaking with ‘tradition’ and branching out in to uncharted gender territory?
When I first saw the sweeping previews, zooming in and out of the Highlands of Scotland (where my ancestors hail from) and I saw that Pixar’s first female lead character was a fiery young woman with curly hair (me too! as a young girl, I was eternally disappointed to see that if a female character had curls, it was either straightened to make her “prettier,” or she was revealed to be an evil character), I was transfixed. And when I finally saw the movie, it lived up to much of the expectations that I had been holding close to my heart.
Taking place in the glens, forests and lochs of medieval Scotland, BRAVE tells the story of Merida, a princess (yes, it’s a shame we couldn’t escape this trope) who would rather follow the whims of her independent heart instead of listen to her mother’s instructions on how to become just like her, the perfect model of decorum and queenliness. Of course Merida, has other plans, and she leads her family down a magical path that results in a dangerous curse, that makes her learn the hard way, that you should be careful what you wish for.
I was really moved by the complex mother-daughter relationship that was at the heart of this story. Merida’s mother, Queen Elinor, was neither wholly evil, nor purely good; she was a complicated character who essentially wanted the best for her daughter but hadn’t learned to respect her individuality yet. Merida, too, was more multi-dimensional than many past Disney princesses; strong willed and self reliant, emotional, yet proud, she must learn to listen to her mother before challenging her intentions. While there are suitors waiting on the sidelines to win Merida’s heart, and Merida’s father and brothers add color and humor to the fabric of this story, the male characters hover at the edges of this film. 10th century Scotland may have been a man’s world but this is a story about its brave women who bind the threads of their community together, and what happens when those bonds are damaged.
BRAVE also featured wonderful references to Scottish folklore, and Norse myth, witches, an archery contest, celtic ruins, magic, demon bears, enchantments and a dark undertone that brought to mind the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels. I hope we will see more unique heroines like Merida in the future.