I’ve always felt rather lucky to be someone who has a good relationship with their parents, and one of the tough things about me living in another country is being apart from them. As an only child, I can only assume that it must be even harder for them than it is for me. Especially for my mom, who is prone to getting teary-eyed whenever the subject of me being away or how she is “proud of me” comes up. She’s probably doing so as she reads this, and I am sure she is reading this because she’s always been so supportive in my eclectic interests and activities. So, I’m going to be that person and give a shout out: Hi Mom! I love you!
The past couple weeks my mom was actually able to visit me here, all the way in Japan, which I was very surprised she was able to do, but also excited and happy. Along with our running aimlessly around Tokyo, we found some time to just sit back, relax, and watch one of our favorite mother-daughter movies, Brave.
Brave is rather rare amongst Disney and Pixar movies in that it focuses on a mother-daughter relationship. There are plenty of cool father-son or father-daughter relationships around – you’ve got Mufasa and Simba, Ariel and King Triton, even psudo-fatherly relationships like Sully and Boo from Monsters Inc. The mother figure is usually deceased or relegated as a background character. Even Bambi’s mom ends up dead (spoilers). And if they are at the forefront, they are usually evil step-mothers or just keeping the child so they can use their magical healing hair to keep them forever young. So it’s nice to see a kids movie, and especially a fairy tale movie (where evil step-mothers thrive), that has a positive and rather realistic portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship.
I must admit that when Brave came out, I was somewhat disappointed. The trailers and the hype had worked it up to be this epic movie of a master of archery taking on some mythical bear-creature. The title sure made its mark as something to be excited for. But when it actually turned out to be a more slower paced, theme-heavy movie, I was a little upset. I guess I was hoping for an example of bad-ass feminism a la Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road or Rey in The Force Awakens. It was not until a re-watching or two that I came to understand that while it wasn’t the kick-ass female fighter showdown I was hoping for, it did make an important mark of showing us something we hadn’t seen as much before. You don’t have to be shown fighting or being physically strong to be a strong or good female character. It would also be unrealistic and unoriginal if all our fictional women were essentially men with breasts. So, I applaud Brave for bringing us two really awesome female characters who are epic in their own right, and who reflect an important aspect necessary to not just mother-daughter relationships, but all relationships – understanding.
The main conflict in Brave is that the adventurous Merida (Kelly MacDonald) doesn’t want to be held back by the customs imposed upon her by her more traditional mother, Elinor (Emma Thompson). Things begin to get worse between the two when Elinor forces Merida to choose a groom from the sons of the family leaders within their kingdom. Merida seeks out help from a witch to “change her mother” in order to change her fate. But this causes Elinor to be turned into a bear, with the only way to undo the spell is to “mend the bond torn by pride”. What follows is a sweet and sometimes suspenseful story that tests their trust in one another and allows them to learn from each other. The change throughout the movie is somewhat subtle, but well done and no less heartfelt. In the first act, there’s a wonderful scene (shown below) where Merida and Elinor are ranting about what they would say to each other. Though they are separate and speaking to no one in particular, they are almost having the same argument. This is effective in showing that their problems are similar as well as their personalities, and that their only wish is for the other to understand how they feel. Later on, when Elinor is a bear, there is a cute bonding moment where the two try to catch a fish. And then in the final act where things come together, Merida is able to “mend the bond” which turns out to be saying two simple phrases – “I’m sorry” and “I love you”.
What I like about this film is that at certain points you want to side with both characters. I especially relate with the free-spirited Merida, not wanting to be tied down into a marriage she doesn’t agree with. But the political leanings of the mother, wanting marriage to maintain peace in the kingdom and safety for her daughter becomes understandable, too. That’s what is important here – the understanding and the necessity to talk. There was no need for Merida to “change her mom” no more than there was need for Elinor’s attempts to mold and shape her daughter. The movie doesn’t pick sides and the viewer can see faults in both characters. Children make mistakes, and mothers don’t always know best. Brave does an excellent job of expressing this lesson and mirrors a common family clash in a fun and still pretty epic fairy tale, and is yet another example of Pixar’s finest.