‘Brave’ has ‘Grrrl’ power and then some

Reeling It In
This film image released by Disney/Pixar shows the character Merida, voiced by Kelly Macdonald, in a scene from “Brave.”

Pixar Animation Studios
1 hour, 33 minutes

As a relatively new father, I'm discovering things that seasoned parents take for granted. The second child gets less. Less attention, less worry, less activities, less restrictions. It's less by necessity, and often the less is for the best -- I'm less likely to want to call 911 when my second child burns her finger on a hot plate than I was for the first born.


Even so, it's hard not to feel a little guilty. Which is why I was seriously considering taking my 2-1/2-year-old daughter to see "Brave" this weekend. After all, it's Pixar's first entry into the "princess" genre that Disney slavishly held to for close to 100 years. However, being a new millennium and all, I knew "Brave" would promote positive, strong feminine character traits rather than simply the ability to remain beautiful for Prince Charming's eventual arrival.

In the end, though, cooler heads prevailed, and my wife and I took our 4-1/2-old son instead, leaving our little girl with her grandparents.

"Brave" is very good, and tells a powerful story of family, responsibility, and fate, but in the end I think the whole female empowerment thing would have been slightly overshadowed by the giant scary bear attack. My daughter has her whole life to be a "grrrl." I think, for now, the only bears she needs are the cuddly kinds.

"Brave's" heroine, Merida, on the other hand, is a feisty teenager with enough grit and gumption to take on all comers. Princess to a vaguely Scottish kingdom recently formed due to the alignment of four warring clans, Merida wants nothing more than the freedom to do as she pleases. Her mother, the queen, has a particular plan for our young princess, one that does not include archery, horse riding, and mountain climbing. Instead, Merida's days are filled with instruction on history, proper etiquette, and poise. Booooring.

When it's revealed that the three other clans will each be presenting a suitor who will compete for the princess' hand in marriage, things go from bad to worse and Merida, whose frustration knows no bounds, makes a fateful decision that could change her relationship with her mother forever.

On the surface, "Brave" would appear to break no new ground, thematically, anyway. The introduction of "girl power" into these movies has been going on for a while, but what's been missing up 'til now is a true sense of responsibility and sympathy for all parties. This isn't simply a movie about how the princess convinces Mommy and Daddy to let her be free to make her own destiny. "Brave" is also about having the courage to do your duty. It's about strength of family and how important those ties are. I especially liked the complex relationship the film portrays between mother and daughter. The queen, voiced beautifully by Emma Thompson, is far more than merely an antagonist to the heroic Merida. She's a woman with real responsibility, responsibility that she knows will eventually pass to her daughter.

Merida, on the other hand, is a teenager who has trouble seeing past the end of her fiery flowing hair. When the princess makes her fateful play, "Brave" flips the traditional story on it's head, making the queen the victim and the hero the antagonist. It's smart and entertaining without ever feeling gimmicky.

Complementing the animation is de rigour for a Pixar movie, but never unwarranted. The look of "Brave" is stunning. The detail work, the larger landscape, the characters -- all perfect. And though the computer graphic work on these films continues to improve movie by movie, these animators have successfully avoided the trap of trying to make their characters look too human, too real. "The Polar Express" lies down that path, and no wants that again. Instead, Pixar keeps everything stylized and, as a result, soars.

I found very little to criticize about "Brave," but it might be helpful, as a parent, to know that the movie is more than a little scary at times. Not for long periods, but depending on the kid, maybe long enough. My boy did fine, though he did migrate from his seat to Mom's lap for the tenser moments. As a side note, I have to say how proud I am that I'm raising up such a good little moviegoer. He always stays very quiet and still during the film, to the point where I feel the need to check on him periodically. "You doing OK, buddy?" "Don't be scared, everything's going to be alright." "Are you liking the movie?"

This time around, at one point, he clearly gave me a look that said, "Dad, please, I'm trying to watch!" Point taken. It won't be long, however, before my daughter can join us and I can start in on her. Maybe in a couple years they'll re-release "Brave" into the theaters and I can get that look from both of them, one on either side.

Grade: A

"Brave" is rated PG for some frightening animal attack scenes.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.