There has been a great deal of conjecture as to whether Disney/Pixar’s new movie, “Brave” would be “good for girls.” I saw the movie with my husband and my two daughters, ages 5 and 9, and we all agreed it was excellent. With one small caveat about the intensity of the movie for very young children, I’d say this movie is good for everyone.
I’m not going to do a synopsis of the movie, as that can be found numerous other places, nor am I really qualified to dissect the art or animation (which I personally thought was outstanding) but instead will focus on the elements that parents would care about in screening the movie for or discussing it with young children. The most talked about area of concern as the movie approached was whether Merida would finally be a “princess role model” that parents could get behind for their girls. This is an awful lot of pressure to put on one small character, but such as it is, I’d say she fits the bill nicely.
For more on Merida and why I liked her, see ““Brave’s” Merida as a Role Model for Girls”. With my focus on female role models, I want to give a nod to blogger “Backpacking Dad’s” assertion that “Brave” lacked much in the way of positive role models for boys, who were mostly caricatures or even outright buffoons. I might argue for the value of Merida’s father (see my comments on him below), but I found his argument compelling as “princess movies” affect boys too, which is talked about much less often.
But “Brave” is about a lot more than how Merida’s waistline translates into the real world. The defining feature of the movie in my opinion is that it is a princess movie where the princess doesn’t end up with a prince. The primary relationship explored in the movie is mother-daughter. Disney dipped their toe in this area with “Tangled,” although in that case the “mother” was actually a self-serving kidnapper and the thrust of the story was still about a boy.
The story between Merida and Elinor (voiced by the wonderful Emma Thompson) is beautiful and complex. The strong love between them struggles under the weight of expectations and intentions of the mother and the times vs. Merida’s own desires, interests and dreams. She wishes to “change her fate” and escape the reality of an arranged marriage and fights back in a way that would make “Atalanta” of “Free to Be…You and Me” proud.
Unlike “Little Mermaid” which is really about the desire of one girl to escape her parent’s notions of who she could love or marry, “Brave” is really a story about generational change, with Merida as a standard bearer. And it not just about parents accommodating a headstrong teenager, but the two generations seeing validity in one another’s traditions/desires and moving forward together. I honestly can’t remember anything about the mother-daughter story that made me cringe, but much that made me think and yes, get a little misty-eyed now and then.
It’s also worth pointing out the respectful partnership between the mother and father in the story, as well as the respect and deference accorded to females overall in the story. These two characters are as different as they can be physically and temperamentally, but they love and appreciate one another, respect one another’s individual relationship with Merida, even when they don’t quite agree, and they actively work together on parenting difficulties. This is great for boys and girls to see.
It is worth mentioning that this story, while surprisingly evolved, is set in clan war Scotland. It is sometimes bawdy and violent. There are themes of war and betrayal. There are several scenes throughout the movie that involve violent bear fights, with humans and with other bears. One of these is incredibly emotionally disturbing if children are following the plot carefully. My 9-year-old did fine, but it was really too intense for my 5-year-old who is generally not scared by movies. I might wait until 7 or 8 years of age if I knew this going in. That said, she did enjoy the movie overall and hasn’t had any other effect than turning away from those scenes. Lastly, it would be a huge oversight not to mention the wonderful Pixar short, “La Luna,” that precedes the movie. This was a treat and would have been worth seeing even if the movie was less than stellar.
My hats off to Disney/Pixar for, it seems, really listening to some of the feedback they have been getting these past years and working to craft a movie and characters that address those concerns and send some really positive messages. I’m excited to recommend “Brave” with the small caveat for intensity with little kids. Share your thoughts on the film in the BellaOnline Early Childhood forum.