Friday Flix: Brave

This week we’re going over to Pixarville with Brave. Typically I’m a big fan of Pixar movies. I love the Toy Stories, The Incredibles, and Monsters, Inc. to name a few. I think my least favorite Pixar film I’ve seen has got to be Cars. The plot bored me, so I didn’t get through the whole thing.

But don’t get me wrong, Brave was good, though certainly not the best Pixar has ever offered. Let’s see if we can figure out why. According to IMDB, Brave’s story is this: Determined to make her own path in life, Princess Merida defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, Merida must rely on her bravery and her archery skills to undo a beastly curse.

This movie has got all the right elements: action, adventure, tough girl, fun characters. At the end of the day, though, I just thought, Hm, that was good. But would I watch it again? Meh, probably not. Toy Story 1-3 though? Certainly! Especially for this part.

But back to Brave. I’ve been thinking a lot on why this movie, for me, was good but not great. Here’s what I’ve come up with. By now you should know I’m probably going to SPOIL the movie a little, so click away if you haven’t seen it.

STAKES

The big problem is Merida has to get her mom changed back from a bear into a person within a couple days or she’ll be a bear forever. But at no point did I ever doubt that she would change back. More importantly, I didn’t care. So she stays a bear or she doesn’t, who cares? No really, think about it. As far as we saw Mom was this unrelenting figure who only wanted things done her way and Merida seemed to only care for her as any daughter would be obligated to care for her mom. In fact, it seems more like Merida was worried more about how it would make her dad feel than that her mom had changed.

The other thing is whether or not Mom got changed back, Merida would still get exactly what she wanted. So where’s the risk? Yes, she’d lose her mother, and I guess that’s decent motivation. But as a viewer I just didn’t care enough about the mom for me to care.

The point is, in our stories, we can have the right plot formula, but fall short if any of the elements isn’t adequately balanced. It’s these details that take our stories from good to great.

PLOT MOVERS

Was it just me, or was the witch really just a character of convenience to get the plot going? She was amusing, yes, but she’s clearly an impetus for plot. And then when Merida realizes things aren’t going the way she wants, she easily finds the witch’s house again. The witch has thoughtfully left a message telling Merida everything she needs to do to solve her problem. This goes back to stakes too, since risk is eliminated.

Oh, honey, you’re not the first red-head with parent issues I’ve dealt with.

It made me wonder how the story would have been if Ursula had been in the house, striking a deal with Merida. And if this other witch supposedly caused the problem with the monster bear in the first place, well, wasn’t that a bit nefarious? So why is it she’s presented as all harmless, as though she’s got no clue what her spells are doing to anyone or anything. And maybe that’s true, it’s just not interesting.

If the sole point of a character is to move the plot along, and I’m talking in a major way, you might want to rethink that character’s purpose in your story. What was it the witch wanted? What’s her motivation in the whole thing? I don’t know, just something about the witch rubbed me wrong story-wise. She felt flat.

DESIRES

Let’s go back to what Merida wanted in the first place: to change her fate. (Sounds like a forced line someone wrote into a script.) She said that about a million times, but what was her goal otherwise? For things not to change? To go open a cookie shop in the woods? As far as I can tell, all she wanted to do was not get married. She really doesn’t even explain why she doesn’t want to get married, just that she doesn’t approve of the choices.

I would have liked to see her have some kind of reason. Love with a non clansmen or other forbidden boy would have worked nicely, or perhaps there’s this thing she’s always wanted to do, or maybe she doesn’t want to leave her family—whatever. But the whole motivation for her doing anything was just that she didn’t want to do it. And does it really stop her from living life exactly as she wants anyway? She’s obviously as tough as her suitors, I doubt they’d stop her from going on hikes and shooting arrows every day if she really wanted to. Her desires seemed a bit lacking.

I just wanted to get any kind of inkling of what her ideal fate would be. If she were to get everything she wanted, what would that be? What’s the grand prize in the scheme of things for her?

CONCLUSION

All that being said, it’s still a decent little movie. It’s a nice morality tale of a mother and daughter coming to understand each other. And there are plenty of Pixar gags to be had, so I don’t think you’ll come away hating this movie. It’s good, not great. It could have been better, and that’s always disappointing and a little irritating.

But what do you think? Did you notice any flaws you thought kept the movie from being great? What bits of advice did you glean from watching the movie—i.e. things you wouldn’t do in your own novel? Let me know in the comments below.

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14 thoughts on “Friday Flix: Brave

  1. My daughter loves the movie Brave. I can’t get her to watch anything else right now, literally. I bought her the movie that came with the horse stuffed animal. She now carries that horse everywhere. She knows his name too, ‘Angus.’ I took her with me to do some Christmas/ birthday shopping (her birthday is 3 days before Christmas) and we were in the Barbie aisle, she saw Merida, pointed and kept saying ‘Princess’; she wanted the Merida Barbie doll.

    • I do like that Merida has uncontrollably curly hair. To be honest, my hair is naturally curly, even though I often draw myself with straight hair (because I flat iron it a lot to change it up, that and sometimes I don’t know what to do with my curly hair). And I like that she’s a tough girl—that’s cool that’s who your daughter likes. 😀

  2. I’ll admit that I was underwhelmed by Brave, too, but probably because of my girls’ negative reactions and because I had high expectations based on the reviews.

    My almost five-year-old children hated it–they thought the bears were scary and they couldn’t understand why the bears were there at all. The plot felt like a random series of coincidences to get the characters into trouble, which made me think that some of the explanations may have been left on the cutting room floor. Either that, or I missed the parts that would have tied the story together because my children insisted we fast-forward through some of it (I tried to go back, but there are definitely some parts I missed).

    The part I liked the best was that Merida didn’t have a love interest of any type. This was a story about autonomy (the reason behind her behavior is her belief that she should able to chart her own destiny) and a conflict between a mother/tradition and her daughter/newer thinking. A boy would’ve ruined it entirely for me. Who knows, maybe Merida is a character who would never be interested in boys. That wouldn’t be a bad thing.

    • It’s funny you should mention coincidences, because I was thinking of your book review you pointed me to recently when I wrote this. 🙂

      I don’t mind that Merida doesn’t have a love interest, I was just trying to think of ways the story might have raised the stakes a bit. The movie, for me, was fine, nothing more.

    • Yep, Ursula has a clear objective, and she’s devious at getting what she wants. I think that was my problem with Brave’s witch. She was really just there out of happenstance.

  3. I watched this recently as well and I was disappointed, but not surprised, by the reinforcement of patriarchy within the framework of the film. While I agree that a love interest would have killed this film stone dead, by the end the only concession is that Merida may choose, of the three, the one she loves to marry. She still cannot win her own hand or subvert legend/tradition. By the end of the film nothing has changed except for her appreciation for her mother’s position. I liked Merida best when she opposed her mother, and proved that she alone could do everything she wanted to and more.

    • Really? I felt like the movie ended with her Mom saying choose whomever you want to love—not from the three. I might have to re-watch it and see if I missed it. So much potential… *sigh* But I still found it a decent story, just not great.

  4. I saw Brave completely differently. I saw it as a great mother-daughter movie about learning to compromise family tradition with individuality.

    Merida never really says she doesn’t approve of the choices in husbands, only that she’s simply not ready to be married. She wants to be young a little longer, I think.

    I never saw Elinor (the mom) as an unrelenting figure. She’s a mother deep rooted in tradition. She wants what’s best for her daughter — wants to know her daughter will be taken care of (ie: get married, cause that’s how it was done back then). I saw Merida as being very selfish and uncaring of family — she broke the tapestry her mom had worked hard to make and never once seemed to feel remorse about it, not even when she had to fix it herself. On the other hand, the mom threw Merida’s bow in the fire and almost immediately regretted it.

    I like that in the end, Merida is still expected to follow tradition and marry, with the compromise that she can take her time and fall in love. Yes, Merida can definitely take care of herself, and she shows it time and again, but she didn’t come across as really caring for her family — she wanted to do what she wanted, and damn the consequences it had on her family. She’s the selfish teenager and in the end I think she gets SOME of the freedom she wants but also has a deeper understanding that her actions affect the whole.

    Anyway, I loved it. Thought it was adorable. I just looked at it a little differently. 😉

    • Differing opinions are always welcome here. I like hearing others’ perspectives and seeing whether I agree or not. Often it shifts my perspective, even if just a little.

      I didn’t hate this movie, I’m sorry if that’s the impression I’m giving. I’m just trying to figure out why it wasn’t a home run for me. I think it’s mostly to do with the witch and coincidental victory.

      But I liked and partly agree with your sentiment: “She’s the selfish teenager and in the end I think she gets SOME of the freedom she wants but also has a deeper understanding that her actions affect the whole.”

      I think sometimes we focus too much on what ‘we’ want and what ‘we’ need and tell everyone else to go suck it for all we care. I like how you pointed out that she understood and took responsibility for the consequences of her decision.

  5. I just watched this movie last night, and I really liked it! But, I can definitely see what you are saying about the plot and being disappointed. I really liked Merida as a heroine because she is so brave and takes her fate into her own hands. However, the plot just seemed off. I think you hit the point when you said it’s hard to care about whether or not the mother is changed back. We just don’t get enough of their relationship or the good side of the queen to really think that Merida’s life would be just as terrible without her.
    It’s a fun movie–though at times It think it could be scary for kids!
    Great post!

    • Thanks. Yeah, I’m thinking it was 90% a plot issue. Like I’ve said, not a bad movie, just not a great one. But I didn’t hate watching it and I was happy we plucked it out of the Redbox for viewing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  6. Y’know it’s weird, but ever since I first saw a trailer for Brave I’ve had no interest in it and I can’t pinpoint why. So, as you can guess – I haven’t seen it. I think it would disappoint me, which is sad because I’m a HUGE Pixar fan!

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