It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!
MPAA Rating: PG
Genre: action, animated, fantasy
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters
Director: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
Writer: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Irene Mecchi
Budget: $185 Million
Box Office: $555 Million
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 78%
Merida, Princess of Dun Broch is determined to change her fate and the over bearing hand of her mother. Queen Elinor has been training Merida since childhood all with the goal in mind that she’s to marry one of the sons of the other chiefs. And when Merida balks tradition and fights for her own hand and wins, it creates a rift that may not ever be mended, especially when Elinor is intent on ignoring the problem. Merida turns to magic and uses a spell on her mother that has unpredictable consequences. Now, she’s on a quest to keep her mother’s new form from her father, King Fergus and set things right before it’s too late and Queen Elinor is stuck as a bear forever.
(This review contains spoilers for the ending because it irks me that much. Fair warning.)
If How to Train Your Dragon is a story about fathers and sons and expectations, Brave is the story about mother and daughters and those same expectations. Both movies go about tackling the same problem, a parent not wanting the child they have and so not listening to the child they have and the disastrous consequences this brings, in very different ways. Hiccup goes and trains a dragon. And Merida ends up buying a magic spell and has to set it all straight to make things right. Same problem, different overarching conflicts and thus different solutions.
Both Merida and Elinor are stubborn. And as the story goes onwards, I feel that the difference between Merida and Elinor is that Merida actually listened to Elinor and Elinor never listened to Merida until magic forced her hand. Not that Merida is squeaky clean in this story, what Merida did was horrible and wrong. Not the fighting in the archery tournament for her own hand, that was brilliant and exactly the type of rules lawyering a future Queen needed to possess. Giving her mother a magic spell that she didn’t know what it did was wrong and as Elinor finds out and if you watch the facial expressions of the bear, you can see how betrayed Elinor is by this. Her daughter used magic on her, turned her into a bear and to add insult to injury, won’t take any blame for it. Elinor on the other hand is clearly not at all suited for the life of a bear. She would be dead without Merida’s help.
Elinor’s character is severely handicapped through most the movie by not being able to talk. We have to rely on facial expressions and body language to know how she feels. Fortunately the animators exaggerated them enough that for the most part you can know. But if someone has trouble reading body language, Elinor would be a closed book for most the movie. So, when Merida gives her speech to the clan lords, prompted by Elinor’s claw motions, it does feel a little flat. It’s sweet that Elinor is seeing Merida’s point of view, but we aren’t exactly sure why. It’s not like we’re shown Merida finally ranting at Elinor when she has Elinor’s captivated ear after all. And Elinor showing an ounce of understanding towards Merida’s position while she’s a bear.
Despite that, there are really funny and heartwarming moments. Fergus and Elinor are huge elements of contrast. Both adore Merida and Fergus has a hard time seeing why Elinor wants Merida to be so much like Elinor is. Elinor is the civilizing force on the entire court (and it makes me wonder where the hell Fergus found her and how he wooed her enough after the betrothal for them to hold each other in such affection.) She reads. She writes. She is the one who is clearly in charge of diplomacy, as Queens were back then. Fergus’ fearsome reputation help keeps the clans safe. The really funny moments of this movie are the triplets. I could happily watch a movie of the triplets and their pranks and the consequences thereof because if done right it would be hysterical.
(Spoilers start here.)
But as emotionally wrenching as this movie is, and as funny as it is with the well developed characters, there is one glaring flaw. The ending. Merida pours her heart out, takes all of the blame, says her mother is always there for her (and I dispute this because if this was so, there wouldn’t be a need for a movie) and things go back to normal with Elinor being a bit more ‘chill’ of a mom. And Elinor never apologizes. Look, Stoick apologized. He did it at the worst possible moment. He had the balls to grab Hiccup’s hand and sincerely tell Hiccup that he was wrong and he was sorry, that he was proud Hiccup was his son and then later, that they needed Hiccup in the tribe.
Elinor never did this. Never.
Look, I despise the whole “mother is always right” rhetoric. This movie plays into it. No. Mother is not always right. This gets a lot of young girls tied into knots trying to please mothers who are impossible to satisfy. Mother may want what’s best for their children. They aren’t always right. Because guess what, mothers are human too. They make mistakes. They’re selfish. They’re often flat out wrong. Without Elinor reciprocating the apology to Merida, this movie falls flat on its face. I have to take a big, very big, bite out of the cookie for this.
All I needed Elinor to say was “I’m sorry,” and this could have been avoided movie writers!
(End of Spoilers)
There was a nice magical explosion at the witch’s house. One cookie. (Totally unnecessary.)
The fights were thrilling and showed that Merida was a capable fighter with bow and arrow and the sword. She held her ground. Elinor even got into the fighting with taking on Mor’Du as a bear to protect Merida, Fergus and her boys. The fights in the great hall were funny with the bag pipers going at it while everyone else threw punches. One cookie.
I’ve already talked a lot about Merida and Elinor above in the story section of the review. It’s hard not to because 95% of the movie focuses on the two of them. The entire conflict of the movie revolves around Merida’s agency. Let’s be clear, Merida had a lot of freedom, even if she didn’t know it, being the Princess. (It wasn’t until later that women had less control over things like money.) And this one area of her life, who she gets to marry, is the bone of contention between her and her mother. Throwing a tournament for your daughter’s hand isn’t really the best way to choose the next king. (Nor is having a riddle contest.) So Merida, takes matters into her own hands and yes, Elinor eventually sees the merit in letting Merida make her own choice. And to be fair, we don’t know how Merida will make her choice, will she make it with her heart (likely) or will she take the kingdom into account (also likely.) Merida didn’t wait around sleeping in a tower, for a fairy godmother or be ‘dead’ in a glass coffin. She didn’t have to follow the wisps, she chose to the follow the wisps and see where it took her. We need more characters like this. One cookie.
Scotland! Oh, the Scottish with their kilts and bagpipes and haggis and, yes, I’m tempted to break into Veggietales Stilts and Kilts here. The movie seemed well researched. The Queen did what Queen’s actually did back then. I’m not entirely sure about the castle, yes, the Scottish did fortify their cliffs back then to fight off the Vikings and such, but most surviving castles are of Norman (descendants of the Vikings no less) origin. But you sort of expect a castle in (whatever century this is, they’re saying Vikings so I’m going before 1000 AD.) So, for most people, it’s not going to pull them out of the story and I’ll make allowances. One cookie.
Merida is a heartwarming and emotionally wrenching movie for anyone who has ever come into conflict with their mother. Unfortunately, the ending falls flat and isn’t satisfying. Four and three quarter cookies.