Being independent and free-spirited is a wonderful thing…but one must always remember that there is no magic spell that will make everything better. Everything comes at a cost.
Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald) is princess on DunBroch; daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). At a young age she shows spritely spirit, and is encouraged by her father when he gives her the gift of a bow and arrow for her birthday. While Elinor would rather her daughter was raised to be a proper lady, she begrudgingly endures her daughter’s boisterousness.
Years later, Merida has become even more independent-minded. During any free moment, she peels off from the castle on her horse. She rides deep into the woods, climbs cliffs, stands in the spray of waterfalls and lives life to its fullest…well, as much as she can during these rare days off. One fateful day, she learns that her parents have offered her hand in marriage to three suitors that will come calling. As she learns this, Merida pushes back. Not only does she have no interest in getting married at the moment, but she sure as heck doesn’t want to be handed off with no say in the matter.
As the suitors from the three other clans arrive on the shores of DunBroch, Merida’s defiance reaches a fever pitch. She makes a scene during one of the courting events, showing up all three suitors thanks to her prowess with a bow. Enraged, her mother scolds her harshly, causing Merida to run off. It’s during this venture of anger and self-pity that she decides to change her fate. What Merida doesn’t realize, is that no change comes without consequences.
Were I a betting man, I would wager that a lot of adults will get midway into BRAVE and find themselves with an antsy feeling…as if they were part of something they hadn’t signed on for. That doesn’t mean that what they’ve been signed on for isn’t something special.
We’ve arrived in an age where children aren’t being told faery tales anymore. Children are getting cinematic tripe piled on their plate with the side of celebrity voices…fleets of parrots and magical garden gnomes are put in front of them not to spark their imagination, but merely to distract them. I can’t help but feel that they are getting short-changed. Where a generation or two ago, we still raised our children on the adventures of Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan, it’s as if we don’t think this generation of children deserve the same sorts of grand ideas. Essentially, children aren’t being told faery tales anymore because we have stopped writing them.
Then along comes Pixar.
What the people at Pixar have done with BRAVE is create something with great vision. They could have taken the low road, filled the script with winking references to modern pop culture and stacked it with ‘A-List’ celebrities. It would have been gobbled up by the mass market, but likely forgotten in the growing pile of like-products…a pile that’s growing so fast that WALL-E can’t cube it up fast enough. Instead, Pixar took the high road: they dared to tell a story with a moral, they created a lush beautiful world where magic still exists. We usually take the low road, and Pixar takes the high road, yet they get to Scotland before us.
Merida’s tale is one that has a lot of lessons to be learned. The easy take-a-way is that daughters shouldn’t be afraid to speak up. There’s long been the stigma attached to faery tales that so many of them send the curious message of princesses who sit back and wait for a prince to come along and rescue them (some literally needing to be awaken by a kiss). Merida would never be caught dead in such a story. She wants to run, she wants to climb, she wants to shoot her arrows and enjoy what her splendid country has to offer. One can’t help but admire a story that teaches little girls to seize the day instead of waiting for the day to be handed to them.
Where the story really earns its stripes, is in a detail I don’t fully want to give away (because the marketing never did). While I won’t reveal the detail, I will note that the lesson it teaches Merida (and the audience), is that it is all well and good for our daughters and sons to want…but a whole other thing for them to take without regard for consequences. For ages, children have believed that they knew better than their parents, that they weren’t understood. If their mothers and fathers weren’t going to give in to their wants, then a kid would just shrug and do it anyway. The sad truth is this cuts deep for a parent, and sometimes can have a wider ripple effect than the child realizes.
What Pixar wants kids to understand, is that while it is important to be free-spirited, one must also be respectful to those that love them. Basically, that there is a very fine line between empowered and entitled.
Watching this lesson unfurl in this fable would have been enough. Pixar wraps it in a lush, green, rolling countryside, dots it with a plucky celtic score, and serves it up with that boisterous shock of red hair that continually draws your eye to Merida. They might be forsaking the grown-ups wanting pop culture fodder, but are placing their bets on the children who will cling tight to the film and pass it on to their children. It might not be what mass audiences wanted, but Pixar has made a bold play with BRAVE.
They have chosen to evoke the spirit of Walt Disney himself and bring a faery tale to life: In choosing to write a faery tale of their own, they might have even one-upped Walt himself.