I mean, it's Pixar.
So I knew no matter what, Brave would have me amazed, entertained, snort with laughter at some point, and possibly be crying by the end. But because everybody lately is PRINCESS CRAZY, either Team Princess or Team Grow Up, I was interested to see what their take on a Scottish princess would be. I went in with only a vague idea of what it was about - Scotland, princess, big gorgeous hair, archery, PIXAR.
(Spoilers from this point on! Stop reading lest ye be spoiled!)
(Seriously! It was fun not having the plot ruined for me ahead of time!)
At first, the movie seemed to follow a familiar flow:
- Young princess is a tomboy
- Young princess likes shooting arrows and riding around on her horse
- Young princess does not like dresses, lessons, manners, or anything having to do with her mother (the Queen's) work.
Already, though, Pixar was beginning to weave its unique magic: Despite a horrifying big bear encounter in the opening scene, BOTH parents of the princess lived (if this had been Disney, Queen Mom so would've had a big fat target on her head). The princess grows up with a good relationship to both her parents and her younger mischievous triplet brothers. She escapes off into the woods whatever chance she gets, AND ... there is no singing. I mean, there's a soundtrack, we need some feel good Scottish music getting our blood pumping, but the princess herself doesn't utter a word of song. Incredible! At first I couldn't place my finger on what was missing, but then I got it. No forced song about how unfortunate her position is and how her destiny is oppressing her. Just Princess Merida, romping through the forest, nailing every archery target she sees, and then casually scaling a dangerous cliff in a dress. Y'know, princess stuff.
After Merida is confronted with the fate of being a princess - i.e. picking a suitor from a neighboring clan to marry and solidify the kingdom's relationship with its clans, yadda yadda, the story takes a really incredible turn. Not only does Merida put herself into the archery contest (to win her own hand at marriage), but when that doesn't work she seeks out some witchy aid to help her parents see clearly. I thought it was telling of the strong relationship she had with her parents that she didn't want the witch to help her run away from home, or create some suitor she would actually like, or turn her into a boy so she didn't have to go through this. No, she simply wanted the witch to magically knock some sense into her mom so she would let her live her life the way she wanted to.
Well of course, that backfires (even I know better than to eat something a witch magicked up for me). And instead of getting her mom to walk in her shoes, she gets her mom to walk in bear shoes. Er, bear feet. Bear claws? The point is she turns her mom into a bear!! Or, to quote Spike:
For the rest of the movie, mother and daughter have to work as a team to get her mom back to normal (and keep the bear-killing kingdom unaware of the sitch), everything hinging on how well they can get along. Such a brilliant twist - using a mother/daughter relationship as the main driving force behind a story. Brilliant! (And terrifying, knowing the temper my mom and I share.)
I'm ashamed to admit at one point I really expected a guy to come along and turn Merida's head, and be the suitor she was hoping for. Why? I guess because that's what I'm ALWAYS used to seeing when there's a princess involved. Unhappy princess, supposed to be wed to some ugly suitor? Well just go off singing in the forest, I'm sure the perfect guy will show up!
I hate that somewhere that plotline is still ingrained in my head. Grr! Oh well, maybe if I see enough non-true love bear movies, I'll be cured of this affliction. Yay Brave! And three cheers for Scotland!