At some point, I’m gonna have time to go see Rogue One and write a review about it, but the way this month is going, probably not until 2017, long after everyone else has finished discussing it and moved on to bigger and better things. In the meantime, I must continue on with my Disney Princess Movie Challenge.
There’s an awful lot I like about Brave. But there’s some stuff that frustrates me, too.
Blah blah SPOILERS blah blah.
Merida (Kelly Macdonald) isn’t interested in acting like a lady or getting married; she just wants to run around and shoot stuff with arrows. Unfortunately, her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) doesn’t quite see it the same way, so Merida rushes off to take charge of her own destiny, and by “take charge,” I mean “make the worst decisions ever.”
1. This is the first time I’ve ever seen Brave, and I’m still trying to work out exactly how much I like it. It definitely has some awesome things going for it: Merida’s hair, for instance.
The color is gorgeous, the volume enviable, and all the curls actually move. Merida definitely wins 2nd Place for Best Disney Princess Hair. (All the curl in the world, I’m afraid, can’t quite take 1st Place from Rapunzel; it’s pretty much impossible to compete with hair that glows AND magically heals people. I mean, that’s just practical.)
2. Even more exciting than awesome hair, though? Merida doesn’t have a love interest! This is very neat, not just because of my own obviously cold dead heart, but because it allows the movie to actually focus on the pivotal relationship at the heart of this story: Merida and Elinor.
I love that Brave is all about the heroine’s relationship with her mother–and not just her mother, but her living, non-evil mother at that. This is very different for Disney; hell, it’s pretty different for Pixar, too. And I like how the movie frames their relationship: we get to see a cute, happy moment between Elinor and Tiny Merida before we get to the montage of Merida growing up and Elinor repeatedly trying to shape her into something she’s not. That prologue serves a few different purposes, actually: it sets up our bad guy, Evil Bear (totally his real name), and it provides some mild foreshadow (with Elinor chasing after Tiny Merida, saying how she’s going to gobble her up). But mostly I just like that we get to see these two in a sweet moment where things are good between them before expectation and pride and stubbornness started breaking down their relationship. All of that works really well for me.
3. Unfortunately, I’ve got some problems with Teenage Merida.
On one hand, Merida has gumption, believes in taking destiny into her own hands, and has some serious skill with a bow and arrow, all things I generally enjoy in a heroine. On the other hand, she makes ridiculously bad life choices, like, Ariel’s whole decision to sign a contract that will turn her into a shriveled sea worm if she doesn’t make a dude fall in love with her in three days without using her voice? Monumentally better deal than the one Merida strikes.
See, Merida wants Elinor to change her mind about the upcoming betrothal to one of three unappealing Scottish lads; she also wants a mother who will stop demanding that she be a dignified, courtly woman who only does what she’s told. This is all totally understandable, even sympathetic. It becomes slightly less sympathetic, however, when Merida asks a witch to cast a spell that will turn Elinor into the kind of mother Merida wants her to be. Or, what she actually says:
Merida: “I want a spell to change my Mum. That will change my fate.”
That’s it! That’s all she specifies. She doesn’t ask for the fine print; hell, she doesn’t even ask for the medium-sized print, like, ‘can you guarantee I won’t have to marry anyone’ or ‘so, HOW will this change my Mum, exactly?” Merida’s only doubts about her whole plan seem to arise from the fact that the spell is also a cake, and the only actual follow-up question she asks is the same vague nonsense about changing her fate. I get that Merida has grand hopes for her new future, but I have zero idea why she takes it for granted that her fate will change for the better. I know she’s young and all, but Jesus Christ, I think small children would have been more suspicious of this deal than Merida is.
Not to mention getting tricked is one thing; this curse, on the other hand, is just hugely selfish. (And let’s call it what it is, folks: Merida absolutely curses her mother.) At least Ariel only thought she was putting her own life on the line. Merida is trying to use magic to entirely change her mother’s personality. That’s some fiendish shit right there. I mean, I get where she’s supposed to be coming from, and I feel for her, sorta, but come on now. Even if the spell had worked exactly as Merida had intended, like, that’s still a pretty awful fucking thing. Try to imagine someone doing something like that to you.
4. Well, of course the spell doesn’t work as Merida intends it. My immediate thought upon watching this scene was like Jesus, Merida, that’s some open-ended bullshit right there. That spell could change your mother into ANYTHING. She could become a DONKEY.
Well, Elinor doesn’t become a donkey. She does become a bear.
Bear Eleanor is pretty fun, honestly. I mostly referred to her as Fancy Bear, as she kept trying to keep up queenly manners and posture and the like. It’s all pretty hilarious.
She also, by the by, has an entirely justified reaction to finding out that it’s Merida who’s responsible for turning her into a damn bear, like, I’d roar my head off too, you know? Freaking Merida. I think my biggest problem with her isn’t even necessarily what she does but how she reacts after it all goes wrong. Like, okay, she seems kind of upset a first, sure, but she also spends the whole night denying that it’s her own fault. Which I could take for a little while, like, I get it, this is a journey . . . but the next morning when Merida’s being all sassy about how princesses aren’t supposed to use arrows and the like, my patience ran out. Like, honey, no. You don’t get to be sassy today. You get to go sit in a corner and think about what you’ve done.
Look, everyone makes mistakes, but if I cast a spell on my mom to get her to stop pestering me about having a boyfriend and it somehow backfired and turned her into a bear? I’d be horrified, and I’m pretty sure I’d have been horrified at 16, too. Merida monumentally fucking up is one thing, but to keep acting annoyed about it, like it isn’t entirely her own fault, drives me nuts. Worse, it means that I absolutely can’t buy into the happy fishing bonding moments that occur just seconds later, and I really need to buy those moments for this arc to work.
I love the idea of this story. I like its very beginning and I like how the curse resolves, and the moment where Merida cuts off her own dad’s peg leg and is all, “I’ll not let you kill my mother!” Fantastic. But as I was watching this movie, all I could really think was that Merida is kind of her own Disney villain here. And maybe it’s because I’ve been unduly influenced by all the awesome ladies in the past half dozen or so films–because you sure wouldn’t catch Tiana or Mulan pulling this kind of shit–but Merida’s selfishness really annoyed me, and apparently I want better from my Disney Princesses.
5. I’m also at something of a loss to understand why this movie is called ‘Brave.’
Okay, so there’s a tie-in line at the very end, but honestly, I think it’s kind of a bullshit line, or rather, I don’t think the sentiment applies to this story at all. (Which is exactly why I’m tagging this review “This Ending Sucks.” Otherwise, I rather like the ending.) Cause to me, this isn’t a story about being brave enough to make your own destiny. It’s a story about communication, about seeing things from outside your own perspective, about understanding what you want for someone might not be what they want for themselves–and yes, it’s a story about not making dumbass decisions, especially where magic is concerned, too. Those are all fine things for a story to be about, but this whole ‘be brave enough to see the fate lying within you’ nonsense? Nope. That’s not what I get from this movie at all.
Apparently, Brave’s original title was “The Bear and the Bow,” and while I understand that’s a very literal title, I still think it’s far more appropriate for the film at hand. Besides, “Brave” is a bit generic for my tastes. Maybe not Edge of Tomorrow generic, but still.
6. It’s kind of funny: about ten minutes into the movie, I realized I had absolutely no idea what Brave was actually about, other than a Scottish princess who was good at archery and who had a complicated relationship with her mother. (And I only knew the mother bit because someone told me about it, probably in hopes that I’d be interested in its non-romantic focus. In my head, this person is Alyc, but I could be mistaken. I have a sucky memory, so. Apologies all around if I’m wrong.)
Anyway, I figured I’d remember more about the premise as the movie went on, but I never really did. Part of that’s probably because I didn’t pay great attention to the trailers when they aired, like, four years ago. But the other part is that I just watched three previews (well, two previews and one clip masquerading as a preview) for Brave and absolutely none of them mention anything about Merida turning Elinor into a bear. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or not; on one hand, if you gave more detailed trailers, you wouldn’t have the Holy Shit, Elinor’s a Bear! moment. On the other hand, it kind of feels like editing a trailer for Cinderella where you forget to mention that she goes to a ball, like, it’s kind of an important part of the movie, you know?
7. But back to positive things! I thought the actual story of Brave was very well put together, like, okay, you’ve got two bad guys at the beginning: Evil Bear and Old Legendary Prince Dude, but then it turns out that they’re the same person, something I’d like to say I called but didn’t. (I did catch the witch mentioning something important about a prince asking for a similar spell, but by that point I’d apparently already forgotten all about the Old Legendary Prince stuff and figured that maybe the original spell had something to do with Merida’s parents.) I thought the reveal about Evil Bear was very nicely handled. It also provides even more stakes: Elinor being stuck for the rest of her life as Fancy Bear is bad enough, but becoming another Evil Bear, entirely devoid of any former sense of self? That’s a considerably more frightening prospect, so yeah, excellent upping of the stakes.
Although it does make me wonder what’s up with this witch’s obsession with bears. (Seriously, even all the carvings in her shop are bears, something I also apparently missed on my first viewing–because I’m clearly not as observant as I’d like to pretend, or else something better grabbed my attention, like food. Yeah, let’s go with that.)
And I’m really amused that when Evil Bear dies, he basically becomes a Force Ghost.
See? Even way back in 2012, everyone was already preparing for a Disney/Star Wars crossover.
8. I’d love to be ecstatic about Merida’s size, how she’s not as ridiculously tiny as some of the other Disney Princesses, and how that whole makeover a few years back was complete and utter horseshit–but the thing is, I didn’t even notice her size while watching the movie, not once. And don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a problem with the film, and I’m still totally jazzed to see a Disney Princess who isn’t an insanely proportioned hourglass . . . but she’s also not exactly the plus-sized princess I’ve been waiting for, either.
9. Finally, some random notes:
9A. When the three little boys went for the bear cake? That definitely got a reaction from me, namely, laughter, a hand to the mouth, and a muffled “oh, shit.”
Also, the Baby Bears are kind of delightful. Not that the boys aren’t cute as humans too, but I may actually prefer them as tiny mischievous bears.
Other moments that made me laugh mostly involved the witch and the crow, like their matching spellcasting/welding masks, or when the witch hits the crow with a broom and quickly sweeps it away. Oh, and also Fergus (Billy Connolly), who is just amusing in general, although I was especially fond of his terrible Merida impression and resolving conflict strategies.
9B. I like that, at the end of the movie, all the princes go along with Merida’s decree because they, too, are in favor of a plan that allows them to choose their own wives. It makes sense to me that the fathers are the ambitious ones who want their sons to be kings, and the actual sons are like, “Look, being king sounds neat, sure, but I’d actually prefer to choose who I’m going to be sleeping with for the next 50 years. You know, if it’s a one or the other kind of thing.”
9C. I suppose this is because Brave is a Pixar movie as well as a Disney movie, but holy shit, there are no songs! I’m actually a little sad about this because, as Merida doesn’t have an actual love interest, that means I could have had the fun musical without the annoying love ballad. A pity.
9D. Straight ladies, bi ladies, bi gentlemen, gay gentlemen, and anyone and everyone else who finds men attractive . . . I know we all have a different definition of what constitutes ‘sexy,’ but can we at least all agree on one thing: men who like to flex their chest muscles are considerably less hot than they are creepy?
On this one particular thing, at least, I am entirely with you, Merida.
Fergus: “Pretend I’m Merida. Speak to me. What would you say?”
Elinor: “I can’t do this.”
Fergus: “Sure you can.”
(Elinor gives him a look.)
Fergus: “There, there! That’s my queen. Right, here we go.” (in dreadful falsetto) “I don’t want to get married! I want to stay single and let my hair flow in the wind as I ride through the glens, firing arrows into the sunset!”
Elinor: “Even I had reservations when I faced betrothal.”
(Fergus looks up, shocked.)
Merida: “Oh, that’s attractive.”
Merida: “Good arm.”
Fergus: “And such lovely flowing locks.”
Elinor: “I’m naked. Naked as a wee baby. Don’t just stare at me; do something!”
Brave really is a well-made movie, bullshit title and tacked on accompanying moral aside, and I adore that the story is centered around a girl and her mother . . . but my frustrations with the girl herself make watching this movie significantly less enjoyable than I’d like it to be.
Hm. I can’t quite make myself go with Kelly Macdonald on this one, since I get too annoyed with Merida. (It’s a writing thing, not an acting thing, but still.) And I like Emma Thompson, but since she sort of doesn’t get to say anything for half the movie . . . I’m going to go with Billy Connolly, mostly for bringing the comedy.
Oh, be careful what you wish for, and all that jazz. Or maybe just learn how to wish better, like, come on, lady, let’s try a little specificity next time. Specificity? (Yes, I know, my Arthur/Eames ship is showing.)