Brave (2012)

Rated PG. Our ratings: V- 3; L- 1; S/N -1. Running time: 1 hour 40 min.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this
is right. Honour your father and mother–this is
the first commandment with a promise: so that it
may be well with you and you may live long on the
earth. And, fathers, do not provoke your children
to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and
instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:1-4.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

Merida sees a willo-the-wisp in the forest.

© 2012 Disney/Pixar

The Pixar/Disney studio has again given us a top-notch tale with superb animation that adults and children will en joy (though not quite reaching the heights of WALL-E or UP). Set in mythical Scotland at a time that seems to be at the twilight of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Norse sea raiders, the story revolves around Queen Elinor’s (voiced by Emma Thompson) attempt to mold her feisty daughter Merida ( Kelly Macdonald) into a proper young lady who will attract a suitable prince. However, Merida would rather shoot the bow and arrows given to her by her father Lord Fergus (Billy Connolly) when she was a child. Eschewing the lessons in ladyhood that her mother would give her, Merida has grown up practicing her archery skills until she’s become as skilled as Katniss Everdeenmaybe more so because our Scottish Amazon is able to hit bulls eyes while riding at breakneck speed on her war horse.

Matters come to a head when Queen Elinor and King Fergus set in motion plans to select a suitable husband from the sons of three neighboring clans. They arrive, with all three first-born sons proving to be jerks, but nonetheless Elinor is determined that the three compete in a sporting contest for the hand of her daughter. She has told the resentful girl that a marriage is necessary to bring harmony to the three war-like clans.

Because Merida is allowed to decide on the sport, she chooses archery, a sport that it quickly becomes evident none of the three suitors are good at, though one does make a lucky shot close to a bulls eye. Merida shocks everyone by declaring that she is a first-born child, so she will vie for her own hand. Of course, she wins the contest, which leads to an angry conflict between mother and daughter, as well as upsetting the three visiting clans.

The princess flees into the forest where the glowing will-o-the-wisps that she had encountered years earlier lead her to the house of an old woman ( Julie Walters) selling her woodcarvings. She turns out to be a witch who reluctantly promises to provide her with a pastry that will change her mother.

And does it! But not as the girl had intended, Elinor growing sick, and then turning into a large black bear. Panicked because Merida knows that her father, who had lost a leg to a bear while defending her and her mother years before, will attack and kill the bear. She secures the help of her three little brothers to divert their father while she and Elinor flee to the forest. Returning to the the cottage, they find that the witch is gone for the season, and that they have just three days to discover how to break the spell before it becomes permanent.

There follows a delightful interlude in the forest as Merida and her bear-mother fish in the river for food, bonding more closely in the process. Of course, King Fergus will indeed mistake the bear for a fierce enemy, and Merida will…well go and find out for yourself.

The film is a cautionary tale with daughter and mother growing wiser, and more tolerant, in the process. It’s been widely pointed out that this 13th Pixar feature is the first to have a heroine as the central character. Not only that, she does not dream that someday gmy prince will comeh—indeed, for Merida, the three that have come constitute a nightmare, not a dream. I suspect that having a woman, Brenda Chapman, as co-director and co-writer, had a lot to do with this developmentI would love to have sat in on the story conferences when the plot was being worked out! Being a teenager Merida learns that she has a lot to learn about unintended consequences of one’s wishes, even as her mother learns to respect more her daughter’s desires. However, the film leaves the question of Merida’s future very much uncertain. In an age when women were regarded as baby machines and, if Scottish high born, pawns in inter-clan diplomacy, what choices does an independent-minded young woman like Merida actually have? It seems that Christianity has not yet penetrated her area of Scotland, so the communal life of a nun, someone like Hildegard von Bingen, was not open to her. I know, the small viewers, the main audience for this film, couldn’t care less about speculating on her future, but still…

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