The Ties That Bind

A Review of Pixar's 'Brave'


The latest Disney/Pixar project, Brave, begins in DunBroch, a kingdom in 10th-century Scotland ruled by the brawny King Fergus and his wife, Elinor, who is the picture of decorum and grace. By contrast, Merida, their daughter, is as feisty and spontaneous as her unruly red locks.

Ever since her father gave her a bow and arrow when she was a little girl, Merida has prided herself on her skill as an archer and would much rather gallivant through the Highlands on her trusty horse, Angus, than learn the duties expected of a princess. Indeed, with her penchant for stuffing her face, shooting straight and fast, following will o’ the wisps and climbing enchanted waterfalls, the last thing on Merida’s mind is her future as queen.

Nonetheless, and as per tradition, her mother invites notable Lords of the kingdom to present their sons to Merida. The lucky man who excels at feats of strength will win Merida’s coveted hand . . . but not if Merida has anything to do with it. Taking her fate in her own hands, breaking years of tradition, and begging a spell from an elusive witch woman, Merida sets in motion a course of events that could change her family forever. But then, learning that impetuous actions have drastic consequences, Merida must sacrifice her independence to do what is right to restore her family.

While Merida contains a strength and originality pleasing to viewers, she is also realistically flawed. When she fails to get her way, and feels that she has exhausted any chance of making headway with her mother, she looks for an instant answer to her problems—with grave results.

Acting out of love, Queen Elinor often dictates that Merida conform to the standards to which she herself was held as a young woman. Wanting a secure future for her daughter, Queen Elinor schools Merida against her natural propensity to run and gallop and romp, steering her toward lessons in diction, dancing, and fine manners. Friction ensues as Merida and the queen butt heads again and again until Merida seeks her own answers.

What teenager hasn’t found themselves at odds with his or her parents? Perhaps not in instances of arranged marriage, but certainly when it comes to clashing opinions on behavior and clothing. The characters and the conflict are thus both relatable. The heart of the story rests in Merida’s relationship with her mother and in symbolically, and literally, mending a bond ripped by Merida’s thoughtless actions.

Brave champions the traditional nuclear family through Fergus and Elinor, Merida, and Merida’s incorrigible brothers, Harris, Hamish, and Hubert. Merida reflects both her mother’s inner strength and her father’s courage and boisterous spirit. There are numerous examples of ramshackle love and devotion apparent even when the Castle goes up in arms. This element of the film provides children with a glimpse into families where tradition and parental influence work and succeed through moments of chaos. The balance both Fergus and Elinor hold when it comes to influence over their children and over the kingdom at large, is equally impressive. When an impromptu brawl breaks out between the rambunctious clans visiting DunBroch Castle, Queen Elinor need only walk gracefully through the center of the room to halt the insanity. Merida has the opportunity to follow in her mother’s footsteps, literally, at a later moment in the film.

Communication, compassion, and compromise also exist as three strong themes in the film. One telling scene switches from Elinor in a moment of role-play (her comical husband acting the part of their teenage daughter) to Merida, using her horse as a stand-in for her mother, arguing that she can never get the queen to listen. But as travails and challenges disrupt the kingdom, Merida and her mother learn the merits of familial communication.

Compassion is apparent when Merida is unexpectedly forced to take care of her mother in a way her mother has always cared for her. Drawing on her inner goodness, and the lessons she has learned from her loving parents, Merida is able to atone for past mistakes by risking her happiness for another.

And one of the most moving scenes in the film involves compromise. While Merida rebels against the long-standing tradition of a groom being chosen through feats of accomplishment, her mother proves to her that tradition can be changed and that what Merida has long dreaded can be happily altered through a negotiation that will benefit all parties.

Parents of young children should be advised that there is magic-related violence and a few scary scenes with a bear. Due to this violence and the maturity of the themes involved (including a few moments of bawdy humor amongst the bantering clans), I would recommend this film for children ages eight and up. Christians should be advised of the presence of the aforementioned witch who, though comical and instrumental in mending a bond, restoring a relationship, and teaching the error of Merida’s ways, uses a cauldron and spells to change Merida’s fate. The idea of fate is further emphasized through Merida’s following of the will o’ the wisps to her destiny, and her belief that that destiny lies in her own hands.

Brave is, at its heart, a moving love story: a story about a mother and daughter who come to common understanding through calamity, resolve to restore a severed bond, and reap the reward of a stronger relationship.

Image copyright Pixar.

Rachel McMillan is a writer in Toronto. She blogs at A Fair Substitute for Heaven.

Articles on the BreakPoint website are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BreakPoint. Outside links are for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply endorsement of their content.


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Ooops. The point in my story wasn't that my character lived in a society where it would have been enforced by a hit team; that phrase was to point out that that would be the stereotypical plot.
In point of fact I am looking forward to the movie and the flaws I point out are simply ones that are apparent from the trailer. It will be nice to have a movie set in Bonnie Scotland.
I am looking forward to it. What I am afraid of is another "rebellious princess doesn't want an arranged marriage" movie. That kind of thing necessarily shows lack of empathy toward strange cultures, and to an institution rejected without consideration. It also begs the question "You're a princess, do you expect to spend all your life being pampered while everyone else works?" The idea behind the whole idea sounds like it expects that personal desire should come before duty-even in a princess which is not a good message to repeat.

Furthermore, though arranged marriage has a lot of cruelties, notably in countries in which it is commonly coerced self-arranged relationships have their flaws too. Most notably that it only happens like the movies in a few circumstances, and the expectation that it will causes sexual dysfunction(no one resents a sibling for not being an ideal sibling with the same venom that people resent spouses for not being ideal spouses for instance). And self-arranged marriage induced a vulgar sexual competitiveness into society that added to the worries of modern life.

Finally the plot device is overused. It would be nice a few times to have movies about arranged marriages that are more favorable. There is "A Stranger Among Us" and "Young Victoria" but to often it is about rejecting the institution and more important, rejecting it without thinking.

I once wrote a sci-fi story to partially subvert that. A young nobleman wishes to marry a teenage playmate. Instead of running off and being pursued by a hit team, I had him ponderously write a letter to the clan consigliere who was the chief's wife and also the heroes grandmother telling that it would build a new alliance, etc. Whereupon his grandmother simply told him that his reasons wouldn't fly, but that the clan had spent to much training the hero to be able to afford him having low morale, so permission was given. And that after saying that as a chief's wife she wished to congratulate him as a grandmother.
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