Thursday, February 7, 2013

Oscars 2013: Brave

Our princess heroine Merida
Brave (U.S., 2012) directed by Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman, 93 minutes
Nominated for One Oscar:
Best Animated Feature Film

Charmed as I was by this animated Pixar film, I was somewhat puzzled by its message, which I will talk about in a moment. It’s very refreshing to see a princess, especially a red curly-haired princess named Merida, who is not saved by, awakened by, nor defended by, a prince. The story is actually about a complex and problematic relationship between a high-spirited daughter and an imperious mother.

The animators do a captivating job of presenting Merida (voiced by Boardwalk Empire's Kelly MacDonald as the older Merida), our wee Scottish princess, who does not fit the princess mold – she is rambunctious, loves archery and the outdoors, rides her horse with desperate abandon and has no interest in romantic entanglements. Her red curls are wild and willful and beautifully illustrated as is the rest of her realm.

Her parents, voiced by Billy Connelly and Emma Thompson, have a specific plan for her. Her chilly mother Elinor constantly berates Merida on her “unprincess-like behavior” and urges her to be more princess-like (here read feminine). She admonishes Merida, “Princesses don’t leave their weapons [bow and arrows] on the table!”

Her parents ask the clans to send forth their sons to win Merida’s favour. Queen Elinor has the girl gussied up like a Christmas turkey in a girdle, tight dress and with all her luscious curls bound and covered. Merida demands that her would be suitors must demonstrate their skill at archery, where Merida excels, to win her favour.

By allowing her to marry one of the sons of the clans in the kingdom the King and Queen will retain the peace between the clans. However, Merida does not want to be wed to any of the bovine, gormless and barbaric sons of the realm – none of whom rival her in archery where she reigns supreme. The aspirants are a comic concoction of Looney Tunes meet Braveheart. I know it’s impolitic to say so but I love the depiction of the Scottish youth as a horde of barbarians barely crawling out of their caves to win Merida’s favour.

In a desperate bid for freedom, Merida eludes her parents during the archery tournament and finds a witch whom she hopes will grant her a potion to “change” her mother’s mind. This potion has a curious effect, or defect, it turns her ferocious mother into a bear which, conveniently enough, is perceived to the realm’s most fearsome enemy. The King has lost a leg to a bear in the opening scene so he is particularly vigilant in wishing to hunt it down. 

By now, as a mother, I’m thinking someone has some serious mommy issues … as Merida tries desperately to convert her mother back to her humans elf and protect her from both her father and the clans who wish to destroy the bear as well.

Intriguingly, Elinor in her new body as a bear, has her own troubles as she fluctuates from lady-like, prissy behavior (eating blueberries with a knife an fork) and almost devouring her own daughter when she reverts to a more bear-like state that she can’t seem to control. You know that Merida will find a way to save her mother … and isn’t it nice to think that this princess is doing the saving rather than being saved for a change?

There’s a moral in here somewhere I think … don’t try and change people you love, you won’t like the result? Parents shouldn’t try and control their kids? Or … Mom can cannibalize you if you aren’t careful? True, soooo true.
Merida in perilous times

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