The best review I’ve seen of Brave is by Frederica Mathewes-Green, so I won’t attempt to add much to her excellent comments. I read her review months before buying the DVD (as usual, we skipped seeing it in the theater), and I had by then forgotten what she had said about it except that it has more depth than she had expected based on the trailer. I wondered how I could have forgotten the surprising twist that is central to the story – and then I reread her review and saw that she had complied with a request not to give away the plot.
So, for the benefit of anyone who hasn’t yet seen Brave or heard much about it, I will likewise limit myself to generalities. What is disappointing about the movie is that it could have been much better. We expect a lot out of a Pixar movie because most of their movies have been so good. From what I have read in other reviews, Brave‘s shortcomings have a lot to do with a change in directors during production, and with Disney involvement. Unfortunately, we’ll never know what the movie would have been like if it had been completed by the director whose vision formed its core.
There are a lot of movies that deal with conflicts between parents and teenagers. I’m not sure how many focus on the mother-daughter relationship – perhaps there is a fear that they will be seen as “girls” stories if they do. Though, as Mathewes-Green points out, there’s not a whole lot that is distinctively “girl” about Merida – the whole point is that she is such a tomboy and doesn’t want to act like a girl. What is perhaps distinctive is the character of her mother, Elinor. As some reviews I read point out, Elinor is the true heroine of the movie, not Merida.
The movie ends with Merida saying, “Some say fate is beyond our command, but I know better. Our destiny is within us. You just have to be brave enough to see it.” But it’s unclear just what Merida has done that is brave, other than apologize for making such a mess of trying to change her destiny. While Elinor tells Merida that they have both changed, the changes in Elinor are more evident than those in Merida. Merida does learn to see and follow wisdom in her mother’s words, which is certainly good – but I’m not sure how brave it is.
I am disappointed also by the fact that all the men seem to be such buffoons. (The three younger brothers, meanwhile, seem to play the role often taken by cute animal characters in Disney movies.) I suppose it may be effective for Elinor’s strength and wisdom to be seen against a backdrop of men acting like overgrown children, but I thought that was carried a bit too far.
The biggest problem, I think, as Mathewes-Green and other reviews point out, is that neither Elinor nor Merida is really developed well as a character. Elinor emphasizes the values of duty and responsibility, while Merida displays unrestrained desire to “do her own thing.” Those are ways to sum up their characters – yet that is all they are, a summing up with nothing much else underneath.
Still, as Mathewes-Green concludes, “If Brave has flaws, it’s still better than almost any non-Pixar kids’ movie you can name.” While Brave may fall far short of what it could have accomplished, if it gets people thinking about the importance of responsibility, the meaning of destiny, or even what a really good tomboy character would be like, it has accomplished something worthwhile.