She’s feisty, wild, and something of a thorn in her mother’s side. She’s also athletic, unconventional, and spunky as all get out, with no shortage of chutzpah. I’m talking about Merida, the central character in the Disney/Pixar movie “Brave.”
As the dad of a similarly outside-the-box, force-of-nature daughter, I couldn’t help but relate to the relationship between Merida and her father, a burly, teddy bear of a guy, King Fergus. He has a giant soft spot for his strong-willed tradition-breaking daughter — which means she has him wrapped around her finger. It’s the kind of relationship many dads will relate to. I certainly did.
The bond between Merida and her father is established early in the story. They both have shockingly red hair, the same sense of humor, and the same impatience for the strictures of how they are expected to behave as members of a royal family.
Merida rides her horse like the wind, her wild hair flying and her bow, a gift from her father, in her hand. When she laughs, he laughs. When she throws a snit over the idea of getting married, he quietly supports her. He loves all the parts of her that make her the unique girl she is, while her mother furls her brow and tries to lay down the law. Herein lies the central conflict of the film.
I first saw Brave at an early screening. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but I kept wishing my wife and daughters were there to watch it with me. That’s because at the heart of the story lies the relationship/conflict between Merida and her mother.
Not long after my first viewing, I brought my family to a second screening. Throughout the film, my wife laughed and cried and laughed some more and cried some more. After the movie, I asked her if she liked it. She answered, “No. I loved it!”
My kids loved it, too — with my youngest daughter howling at the antics of the devilish redheaded triplets and their constant mischief making. Apparently she could relate, too.
The transformation of mother and daughter in “Brave” is a pleasure to watch. The mother, Queen Elinor, is very much ruled by tradition, and she strongly resists Merida’s determination to follow her own free and wild spirit. But in one especially poignant scene, we see that Elinor has come to recognize Merida’s need to make her own life decisions while Merida has developed a new respect for her mother’s traditional values.
Their transformation continues, and by the end of the film, Merida and Elinor have grown to understand, love, and genuinely respect one another. Each has outgrown her stubbornness and become a different person than she was at the beginning of the film.
Before you classify “Brave” as merely another “chick flick,” let me assure you that there’s more than enough action, swordplay, and “kilt lifting” to satisfy members of the male gender. Moreover, King Fergus is a beautifully drawn exemplar of male virtue: As a husband and father, he remains a steadfast, protective, and loyal figure to his entire family. It will be worth a dad’s while to take a little piece of King Fergus away with him when he sees this movie.
The animation in this film is stunningly beautiful — just what Pixar is known for. I especially loved their renderings of the lush Scottish highlands. As a collector of books by the Scottish author George MacDonald — and having taken numerous trips to Scotland — I felt transported back to the land that I love. Pixar’s artists captured all the ruggedness of the landscape and the mythical spirit that abides in the land and its people.
Dad alert: For very young members of the family, a fight scene toward the end of the film may be quite scary. Also, there’s a little bit of “rude” humor.