Call this a pre-emptive strike. My Disney friends have been plotting for years to get me to watch every single movie the Mouse has ever produced. In hindsight, it is kind of funny that I have not seen more of them. My former distaste for everything Disney has been well-documented. However, I cannot say that was always the case. My sister and I enjoyed the early days of the Disney channel, though it did not seem to show too many of their movies, as I recall. What I remember most from those days are shows like The Mickey Mouse Club, both the new and old versions, and classic Mickey Mouse cartoons. Hence, when I began going to the parks on a regular basis with my annual pass compadres, I thought I had at least a working knowledge of all this stuff. How wrong I apparently was, and they have all but threatened to tie me down, prop open my eyes, and force feed the titles to me. Their frustrations come out most when we are driving along, they put on music from these films, and I have no idea to which one they belong. Since the long-expected kidnapping is probably not going to happen, they slip Disney movies into my calls for suggestions. But this time I beat them to the punch! I watched Brave (2012) before they could say anything. Who is laughing now?!
Ah, Scotland, the setting for Brave. Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is the eldest child of Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly) and Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson). Merida’s parents are clan leaders, which makes her a princess. You know, Disney and their princesses. Anyway, though Merida is quite close to her mother as a child, she wants to take after her father in terms of being able to shoot a bow and arrow, handle a sword, and ride horses. This is tolerated somewhat at a younger age, although as Merida gets older it is time for her to learn to take on the duties of a royal lady. Apparently, none of these jives with what Merida truly wants to do, and her adventurous nature is only really given full sway one day a year. Upon returning from her annual jaunt into the woods of hitting targets with arrows and climbing cliffs, Elinor announces it is time for her to find a suitor. This is the result of her receiving a response from the three other nearby clans as to their desirability for bringing a suitable match for Merida. This is the last thing Merida wants for her life at this point, and she sees her proposed fate as confining as the corset and dress Elinor forces her into on the day the clans arrive. Giving Merida hope is what she feels is a loophole in the arrangement: only the first born of each clan leader can compete for her hand. And because they are vying to marry her, she gets to choose the vehicle for the competition. Naturally, she picks archery, and at the last moment enters over Elinor’s objections. When Elinor reacts rashly by throwing her bow into the fire, Merida runs off into the woods. Coming to a circle of rocks, she notices the will-o’-the-wisps, ghostly blue lights indicating a path. It leads to a squat, thatched hut where a bear carving enthusiast witch (voiced by Julie Walters) resides. Merida thinks that through a magic spell she can make her mother change her mind about Merida’s betrothal, and she agrees to buy all the bear carvings in exchange for the proper enchantment. The spell is boiled down to a cake, which she must get her mother to eat. Merida then rushes off before hearing the catches to the spell, because, you know, there is always a catch with magic. In either case, Merida is successful in getting Elinor to consume the cake. This is when the first catch is revealed: Elinor morphs into a giant bear. She retains her human conscious (for the moment), but is in the body of a bear. This is not the kind of change for which Merida was hoping. Sneaking Elinor out of the castle and remarkably past Fergus, who loves to regale people of a past encounter with a bear that resulted in him losing a leg, they set out to find the witch. Once they arrive at the enchantress’ cottage, they find it empty. However, she has left a message for Merida: the spell will remain permanent if, by the second sunrise, she cannot mend the broken bond. Already, Merida is getting a sense of how this might happen when Elinor loses her humanity a few times and behaves like a bear. Their journey also leads them to an ancient site where another former-human-turned-bruin haunts a castle, this one with the strength of ten men. It fits with a legend her mother told her of a king who wanted more power than his fellow rulers, and she can see how it tore apart friendships and peace. It also reminds her of a tapestry she sliced through with her sword in anger at Elinor, which she now believes is key to ending her mother’s curse. Though they make it to said tapestry, Elinor is discovered by Fergus and guests and chased out of the castle. Fortunately, Merida is able to frantically mend the cloth, drape it over Elinor, confess her love for her mother, and save the day. And all presumably live happily ever after.
Merida is able to presumably live happily ever after in Brave because she is able to pull off what magic can never do. When she is trying to make her way back to the tapestry, she has to find a way to distract the men in the hall while a giant bear sneaks past behind them. In doing so, she gives a speech, egged on by a pantomiming bear mom, about how she had been prideful, but that she must follow her heart and break the tradition of betrothal. This is the true mending that takes place between Merida and Elinor. It is the result of the time spent between mother and daughter, albeit with the former in an altered state, that repairs the years of resentment built up over Merida’s foretold fate. While I did not enjoy Merida constantly saying that Elinor’s condition was not her fault (what else do you get from consulting with a witch, one that also admits up front how terrible she is at magic?), the way their relationship rebounds is satisfying to watch. If this story had been told at another time, the characters would have probably at least prayed. This may be a tenuous thread, but I sense that there is a perception that Faith is akin to magic. I suppose it makes some sense. To those who are not serious Christians, a miraculous occurrence seems like the result of sorcery, making prayers incantations. It comes from a lack of understanding as to who is wielding the power when a prayer is said. Someone asking God for Divine assistance has absolutely no control over its outcome, and it is best that way. Like Merida in the film, we do not fully understand the things we ask for in prayer. God does hear us, though, and knows best what to do with the requests we send Him. And because God is love, and love is healing, only He can mend any broken relationships as He wills it. This is also interesting to consider because it is only Merida’s confession of her love for her mother that returns Elinor to being a human.
While I do love Scotland, I probably will not be re-watching Brave any time soon. Then again, who knows? I do not mean this as an indictment of the movie. I think it is a fine one for anyone of any age to see. It also won an Oscar, which is pretty cool, too. If nothing else, it will mean one less film I will be forced to sit through when my friends finally get their hands on me.