Science fiction and fantasy
directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell
The story is set in a fictional Scottish kingdom which mixes up all kinds of anachronisms and inaccuracies. Black bears, kilts, woad face-painting, and medieval dress occur in a script that has Scottish warriors talking about fighting Romans and Vikings. I don't think the royal family bears any relation to a real Scottish dynasty either. The kingdom unites four clans, but unless Merida marries the eldest son of one of them there will be trouble, and perhaps even war. That's because all Scots are belligerent eccentrics who aren't content unless they're fighting, or bragging, or bragging about fighting whilst hitting each other with a haggis, and only the prospect of a royal wedding will calm them of their berserker fury. And obviously the matter of who gets to marry the princess is best decided by a contest of arms, an ancient and venerable tradition in Bonny Scotland since the time Robert the Bruce sent the Romans packing with his deadly bagpipe rendition of Scotland the Brave which caused all of their ears to explode. Maybe that last bit isn't in the film, but that's the implication.
All of this business of stereotyping the Scots as dafter versions of Mel Gibson in Braveheart (which the scriptwriters seem to have used as a source for the film's historical details) is done for an important reason: so they could work in as many kilt jokes as possible. And to be fair there's at least one.
Whilst the men are being all Scottish and bawdy, Merida and Elinor have a falling out, causing Merida to charge off into the woods. They're very beautiful woods even before we get to the misty stone circle and the singing will-o-the-wisps. Then Merida meets Comedy Stereotype Witch (Julie Walters). The witch is posing as a woodturner, but she can't quite hide her nature. She offers Merida a spell to solve her problems, and before we know it it's on with the cackling and the curious bubbling cauldron. Of course, the witch doesn't fully explain the drawbacks of her magic, and Merida is too stupid to ask for an explanation beforehand. Cue lots of racing around trying to fix things, hiding in the castle, swinging weapons about, running, and getting into scrapes. And there are a lot of bears, even though they were extinct in Scotland by the time kilts came into fashion.
Brave is quite funny, mostly in a slapstick kind of way. I particularly liked the horse, Angus, and the three cheeky young princes whose mission in life is to steal cakes. The story works up to an emotional ending, by which point I cared about the main characters because Merida had lost her whininess and Elinor her refusal to compromise. The king, Fergus (Billy Connolly), remains quite cartoon throughout, but he's a likeable character because of his silliness and enthusiasm. However the story makes some very standard points: make your own destiny, learn to compromise, and see the value of diplomacy and manners as well as traditional masculine pursuits like hunting. It's safe and uncontroversial. Magic only exists in this story as a way of teaching the mother and daughter a lesson. I did think it was a little unfinished, in that after the main crisis is over we don't find out about Meredin's future. That's probably so the filmmakers can allow space for a sequel, even though the story clearly doesn't call for one. This film succeeds at being a bit of fun, but it only goes halfway to delivering on its promise of showing us an empowered heroine who fights for something meaningful.
19th August 2012
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Review © Ros Jackson