by Jennifer

“Brave” (2012)
Starring Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson
Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell (Buy soundtrack)

Brave is going to have a special place in my heart because it’s the first feature film my son watched all the way through in the theater. (I don’t count Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull because he was only a few months old at the time, and slept through the whole movie.) He and his father went to see Cars 2 last summer, but only made it through about 30 minutes before they had to leave. So, in order to be sure that we got to see the whole movie, we resorted to bribery (if he sat through the whole movie he got to go to Barnes and Noble afterwards) and chocolate raisins. And that worked. I’m not sure how much he really got out of the movie, but he did sit and watch the whole thing, only asking interminably if it was over yet during the credits. And I think he even liked it.

Brave is a fairy tale, but not an insipid or sexist one. It is the story of a young girl trying to find her place in the world, which was not the same place her mother wanted her to enter. This is a common theme for both girls and boys — their choices might not be the same as their parents’ and they have to figure out a way to reconcile it.

I particularly liked that this was a story about a girl. Pixar has been fairly boy-focused up until now, and I admit I wasn’t confident that they would be able to pull off a female main character, without going the Disney route of “reading” to prove she’s smart (Beauty and the Beast), annoyingly jealous and bitchy to prove she’s tough (Tinkerbell), or dependent on a big strong man (Snow White, Cinderella, Jasmine, etc.). So I went in expecting a standard girl-wants-to-be-boy type plot.

But I was pleasantly surprised.

For one thing, Merida doesn’t necessarily want to be a boy, she just wants more choices then her role as princess of the realm afford her. As the first born, her father dotes on her, and teaches her archery and how to ride and she uses this to her advantage when the other clans come trying to win her hand in marriage.

If you are familiar with the record Free to Be You & Me you might remember the story of Atalanta. In it, Atalanta, the daughter of the king, is to be married off to the man who wins a footrace. She trains for the race as well, and on the day, is able to beat all but one of the contenders — coming in first place tied with Young John. She asks to be given the chance to choose her own fate and Young John asks to be given the chance to get to know her and become her friend, possibly winning her hand in marriage, or possibly not.

The plot to Brave is similar to that of Atalanta, and Merida would like to change her fate the way that Atalanta changed hers.

But in order to change her fate, Merida must come to grips with her relationship with her mother. She hopes that if she can change her mother, that will change her fate. But changing her mom into a bear is not exactly what she had in mind, especially as her father is the “bear king” who kills every bear he finds.

I enjoyed the scenes of her mother trying to act like a proper woman while a bear. The flouncing walk and attempts to use silverware made from tree branches are particularly funny. But there are other humorous touches. The triplets are hilarious whether they are three ginger boys making trouble or as three bear cubs, as is Billy Connolly playing her father.

There are some scary scenes in Brave. Mor’do, the evil bear, was scary, but Merida and then her mother are both willing to stand up to him, and it’s not surprising that a bear would attack. But overall, it’s not any scarier than the other Pixar films and in many ways is less scary than Charles Muntz (“Up”) and much less disturbing than Lotso (“Toy Story 3”).

If you’ve read any other reviews, you know how beautiful this movie is. There are scenes that look almost photo realistic. Merida’s hair is wiry and wild and amazing on screen. And even her riding looks realistic (although I don’t know anyone who could stay on his back through some of the jumps he does). Scotland got some great PR in this movie.

I loved Brave, and I look forward to when it comes out on BluRay, so that I can watch it with my son over and over again. It was a fun story and a great message about choosing your own fate, not blindly going along with what other people want for you. And this message is true for girls and boys.