Brave: Threatdown – Bears!

Last night Patty took me to see Brave, and this review actually has nothing to do with the significant bear content, but as a regular watcher of The Colbert Show I couldn’t resist the title.

At any rate, as I think I have mentioned in these pages before, I don’t really see animated features as my thing, but she’s judicious about the ones she takes me to, and I’m nostalgic enough that Pixar’s insistence on placing a short before the main feature really charms me.

While Brave‘s animation is surely a technical achievement (the hair!), what’s particularly interesting is how the structure of the script makes its format — that of an animated feature — a necessary part of the storytelling mechanism. Because while Brave is about a girl and her mother overcoming the pitched war that often goes on between mothers and daughters at some point in their lives, Brave is also, thanks in part to a very judicious use of a voiceover, about the creation of legend.

And, because Merida’s voiceover in the film suggests, when combined with her father’s recounting of his battle with a bear that everyone has heard so many times they can tell it along with him, that what we are witnessing is her story as it has come to be told as opposed to the events as they happened, Brave provides an access point for people who distrust or just don’t have the receptor sites for animated features. Because if we’re being told a legend — a broad tale meant to teach us a lesson — its not being live-action is, in its way, more honest.

It’s a fabulous trick in a film that gives repeated shout-outs to stories and story-telling: there are the troublesome triplets that turn into the three bears; Merida, like Robbin Hood, splits an arrow already occupying the bullseye location on a target; the witch’s head in the caldron evokes the The Wizard of Oz; and the importance of storytelling technologies, from oral tradition to woven tapestry is plot central.

Prior to seeing Brave, I had been warned that it’s slight, but I really don’t think it is. Rather, the film has three things happening at once — comedy; structure about storytelling; and a narrative about freedom and duty. While, as audiences, we are deeply used to films about masculine honor and duty (see: Gladiator as perhaps the most obvious example of hundreds if not thousands of films), we’re not used to, I don’t think, films about feminine honor and duty where obligations are both questioned and ultimately met through change. This, combined with the lack of romantic resolution in the film could, I suppose, make it easy to miss the amount that happens and changes in the course of it.

Also contributing to the idea that the film is slight, may be the degree to which Merida and her disinterest in marriage is something of a cypher. Is she supposed to be echoing forward to some idea of Queen Elizabeth with her red hair and statement that only she is worthy of her own hand? Is she asexual? Is she lesbian? Is she just far too young to be interested in marriage? The film never tells us, but this is less a failing and more another structural nod to the construction of legends: Merida is whatever we need her to be. It’s an awfully dutiful role for a character that just wants her freedom.

5 thoughts on “Brave: Threatdown – Bears!”

  1. Totally off topic to your post, but because I trust your sense of these things: Would Miss M be capable of seeing this in a full(ish) theater with her horror of ‘scary parts’ or should I wait for a 10am showing in late August when she next tracks out, and we’re unlikely to be bothering others if I need to calm her audibly?

    Back to your review – now I *really* want to see this!

    1. There’s only one or two moments that I think would possibly by too much for her, but they aren’t long, and they are pretty loud, so if you’re worried about her disturbing other patrons, I wouldn’t. But there’s some intense bear snarling and fighting in both of those moments, although one resolves very quickly.

  2. Hi! (longtime reader – have commented on your fiction before but never your meta).

    As a devotee of animated flicks, one thing I enjoyed about brave is that we have a female-heroine-centered story whose mother is neither gone nor evil. That may seem like a low bar but try to think about other movies for girls with girl heroines where that is true?

    It’s sort of like the bechdel test (which brave also passes by miles) – it seems like such a low bar, it becomes creepy when you realize how few movies actually pass the test.

    PS Although YMMV, on age range – the bear violence scenes are legitimately scary, both for the visuals/sounds and because of the concepts of the family being in jeopardy. I would think 7 probably fine unless history of not seeing any PG movies. 6-7yo – it depends on the kid.

  3. Just saw this and agree with your thought that we’re being told a legend — I think that’s a big chunk of why Merida’s sexuality and disinterest in marriage is important. It’s from her point of view, and nowhere in the “lesson” is the idea that being a wife to someone is an end goal at all. Merida actively bucks the concept of being won or wooed, rather she wishes to get to know the men/boys as a way to make the choice she eventually will, if any of them. She’s a princess, sure, and does the princessy things more willingly at the end when she and her mother understand each other better, but it’s not the point of the legend to be royal, rather to behave nobly.

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