Science fiction and fantasy                                            


directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell

Brave poster  

I don't know why this film is called Brave: it doesn't have much to do with bravery, and the main character isn't notably brave. Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is a tomboy who loves nothing more than to shoot her bow, climb mountains, and charge through the wilds on her horse, Angus. But her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) wants her to behave with decorum, dressing well and mastering what she considers to be more suitable female pursuits. Merida can't bear this, and feels she's being shunted into a role that doesn't fit her, sometimes literally when it comes to her mother's choice of restrictive clothing for her.

This looks like Disney's attempt to atone for all of those awful passive heroines it's inflicted on impressionable young girls over the years. But it's not as progressive as it wants people to think it is. Merida isn't struggling to replace one kind of duty for another, so much as she seems to be trying to replace duty with pleasure. All of her romping through the woods is of little use to anyone but herself, so she comes across as a whiny teenager.

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

Film Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Films

  Kids     Fantasy

Classification: PG

If you like this, try:

Moana cover    

Moana by Ron Clements and John Musker
A young woman in ancient Polynesia sets off on an epic quest with the demigod Maui to restore her island, against the wishes of her father.

Maleficent cover    

Maleficent by Robert Stromberg
This re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty tells the story from the point of view of the fairy who curses Aurora.

Mirror, Mirror cover    

Mirror, Mirror by Tarsem Singh
Snow White does battle with a vain, evil queen obsessed with expensive and ridiculous couture.

4 star rating

Review ©