Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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If you’re a mom taking your daughter to the movies, get ready for a big bear hug after the credits roll. I took my little girls to a “Brave” preview at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank yesterday and Brave really hit a chord with our family. I got a big bear hug and heartfelt kisses during 10 minutes. In a nutshell, Brave is the story of Merida, a Scottish princess who wants to break away with tradition as she becomes her own person. Tradition being represented by mom Queen Elinor , the movie revolves around the complex mother-daughter relationship and the political consequences of a selfish act of teenage rebellion. In Brave, you’ll get the high standards Pixar has gotten us used to with stunning Scottish landscapes, fun Celtic folklore and brawny jokes. However, with a few dark and scary passages, the movie also hovers on the edge of the more somber Princess Mononeke or The Secret of Kells – while never quite getting there because of lighthearted humor. To me, it looks like we might be coming back to classic dark fairy tales and I like that. Thanks for Tangled but I much prefer Brave!
Now with the story. Brave starts out as a fairly conventional fairy tale family movie with a broken royal family. Dad King Fergus lost his left leg to a bear monster and is not the best ruler. Thank God (or as a result), Mom Queen Elinor wears the pants in the family and she does it firmly but gently. Princess Merida, the oldest child, is only happy outdoors and excels at archery, rock climbing, horse riding and is fearless – now that’s a princess according to my heart. Youngest but not most harmless in the family, the three tiny triplet princes are an explosive combination of never-ending mischief with a devilishly sweet tooth. So far, so good.
When Merida is offered to choose between three weirdo suitors from allied clans (remember, we’re in the Scotland highlands), she does the rebellious thing and refuses. Again: so far, so good and we expect nothing less of a strong-willed heroin who can outperform any clansman at archery.
The story takes an unexpected turn with the intervention of magical elements. One thing you may not realize is that the movie’s directors went to Scotland several times, walked the highlands and mountain trails and listened to many traditional storytellers to infuse the story with authentic Scottish flair. Some of my favorite “creations” in the movie are the fleetingly blue “will o’ the wisps”, little lights that are an actual phenomenon of swamp and bog gas seeping up through the earth and creating blue flames at night. People would follow these lights thinking they were little fairies and basically drown or get sucked down into the bogs. I asked my girls what they thought of the movie’s will o’ the wisps – were they good or evil? “Both!” they replied in unison. And here’s a complexity of the movie.
The magical characters in Brave are neither good nor bad, they’re an interesting blend of both. They’re actually much more fascinating than the humans. Take the witch who lives in a forest Hobbit house carved in a grassy hill. At first she may seem incompetent, senile or completely off the mark but the truth is, she’s eccentric to the dirty end of her crooked nails. As such, she grants Merida’s wish but she does it with an unexpected twist. Then take the story’s villain, the demon bear Mor’du. Usually, usually evil is evil and the only way out is complete extermination. However the movie’s storyline manages to make us feel an ounce of empathy for the badly cursed demon. In a Lord of the Rings way, I half-expected Mor’du to be freed from the witch’s curse and attain redemption, gaining back his previous shape.Not so, that might have been too Beauty and the Beast. As a result – well I can’t give away everything, but – I felt sorry for the demon bear at the end.
Last but not least, the movie’s main strength is the stunning Scottish outdoors and how nature energizes the young princess. Take note, video game addicts! Here is a movie where 80% of the movie takes place in the forest, in the creeks, on coastal bluffs, on vertiginous mountains or in desolate forest clearings. Here is a story where the heroin feels much better surrounded by trees than inside a dainty bedroom, however nice the castle it’s in. Hopefully kids – girls – who see Brave will be inspired to follow in Merida’s footsteps and take up an outdoors passion to find happiness of soul. You see, the nature in Brave is dramatic to be point of romanticism; the weather is unpredictable and in true Scottish fashion, one minute sunny and the next harsh. At the end of the movie, I was seriously considering long hikes in the Scottish highlands as a future family vacation. Even though I know this is all computer animation, I still want to see the real landscapes that inspired the images.
As a very last note, I want to give you a young child warning. In the small theater where we attended the preview, my girls sat two rows in front of me. Towards the end when the action heated up with the demon bear, my 7-year old (she turned 7 that day) rushed to me, jumped on my lap, buried her head in her hands and told me how scared she was in a small voice. There weren’t a whole lot of young children in the audience so I couldn’t take a good scare-gage of the audience but I could see how the final scenes would be very intense for even a 7-year old. In fact, after the movie my 7-year old said that if school were not over, she’d tell her friends that Brave was good but scary. My 8-year old, on the other hand, resisted the urge to get up and fared much better. She completely enjoyed the movie and took in the mother-daughter love message much more than my youngest. If that’s any indication, the movie might be more suited for tweens than future 2nd-graders.
I’ll leave you with the opening quote from the movie that shows the connection of the characters to their natural and historic environment, a lovely statement voiced by Emma Thompson in Brave. “Some say our destiny is tied to the land, as much a part of us as we are of it. Others say fate is woven together like a cloth, so that one’s destiny intertwines with many others. It’s the one thing we search for, or fight to change. Some never find it. But there are some who are led.”