Six years after its acquisition, Pixar’s Disney Princess finally arrives in the form of the flame-haired Merida. Refreshingly, she is fiercely independent, resisting properness and pursuing a passion for archery, a tension (with her mother, Elinor) which comes to a head when it is time for her betrothal. On the face of it, Brave is simple enough – a straightforward fairy tale-esque plot, a few obvious motifs guiding the way… – but it is a fascinatingly dark film. Teleology doesn’t lend its weight entirely behind Merida, an uneasy tension a mere stone’s throw from more ugly subjects. It is a very much a film about the mother-daughter relationship, but like a slasher movie it is obsessively focused on the return of the repressed.
Merida, seeking a spell to change her mother’s mind on her marriage, unwittingly changes her into a bear. Fortunately, Elinor is still herself… most of the time. Meanwhile, in a bit of contrivance, father Fergus lost his leg to a bear in the prologue and swears revenge. Merida and Elinor are forced to flee from the threat of the (tragically?) unknowing patriarch. Like I said, dark – and it goes on. (Nevertheless it is good to see a film in which the female characters rely on, are rescued by, each other rather than a man umpteen times.)
Other uneasinesses – is the witch malevolent or forgetful? – betray the merging of multiple story revisions and it is highly unlikely Pixar intended the film to be quite so uncomfortable beneath the surface, but it is their fairy tale film after all…
Having said that, all that’ll fly over kids’ heads, and it’s a funny, pretty, spunky film.