Everyone in my family’s trying to speak with (bad) Scottish accents. My sons are pretending everything in our house is a target for their imaginary bows and arrows.
So, let’s cast a magical spell, fend off a savage bear, shoot for our own hand and figure out when you can watch Brave with your kids.
Red Flags: “Fate be changed. Look inside. Mend the bond, torn by pride.”
Red Flags usually are few and far between in a Pixar film, and Brave is no exception. Oh, the animation giant has never been shy about addressing such weighty issues as death, illness, abandonment, bullying, environmental abuse, and/or bad parenting in their features. But those subtexts largely exist for parents to embrace, and rarely are front-and-center (to the detriment of the child).
Case in point: There’s a twist in the Brave subplot that I’m going to have to dance around. It’s important to the narrative, elevating Brave to a different pedestal once it is revealed … but it’s also the launch pad for a lot of physical jokes that captivated my two kids. Disney and Pixar have done an admirable job of selling Brave without spoiling this story development, and I’m not going to be the one who ruins it for you (because I didn’t know it was coming, and it changed the way I viewed the finished film, overall).
What I can tell you is that the story involves bears … and not the gentle, yellow kind who wear red shirts and crave honey.
Co-directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, Brave is set in the lush Scottish highlands at the castle of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). There, the couple hopes to find a suitable suitor for their independent strong-willed daughter, Merida (Kelly Macdonald).
A mother-daughter fable at heart, Brave gets off to an action-packed start as, in the opening scene, Fergus loses a leg in a bear attack -- sacrificing his limb to the ancient bear known as Mor'du. Mor’du isn’t around for much of Brave, though his ominous shadow hangs over the fairy tale. And when the bear does grace the screen, he’s vicious. Brendan, our 4-year-old, actually put his popcorn bag down and crawled into my lap during a Mor’du attack. It takes a lot to come between Brendan and his popcorn.
So the bears are an issue. And so are the film’s “bare” assets. I’ll explain.
The terror inflicted by the Brave bears is offset by the film’s silly sense of humor – tilted kilt gags and a key that must be retrieved from an old woman’s cleavage. But even here, there are moments I want to point out.
I know I wasn’t expecting to see bare asses in a Pixar picture. Animated asses, mind you, but asses all the same. The first set of cheeks belongs to elder Scottish tribesmen exiting Fergus’ castle. (Those kilts can’t hide everything, apparently.) Later, Merida’s mischievous little brothers sprint through a meadow sans clothing after a magical spell wears off. More asses.
Believe me, my kids broke up every single time. It’s just worth noting that we get to see bare butts for the first time in a Pixar film. Ballsy.
Green Lights: “Legends are lessons. They ring with truth.”
As you might expect, the positive Green Light moments far outweigh the one or two questionable elements in Brave, giving us plenty to talk about and celebrate in this week’s section.
Brave is receiving a ton of credit – and rightfully so – for breaking ground by featuring a powerful female protagonist who may be a princess-in-waiting but doesn’t need a prince to fulfill her destiny. Merida’s an outstanding role model for young audience members (both male and female) -- a feisty, opinionated but extremely talented archer who has a loving relationship with her father and a … well, a complicated relationship with her mom. But it’s Andrews and Chapman’s understanding of the communicative interplay between a mother and daughter in several of Brave’s key scenes that had my wife reaching for tissues during our screening (and reaching for her cell phone to call her mom afterwards).
You know what else Brave nails? How difficult it is for a child to live up to their parents’ impossible expectations. There are two scenes in Brave that really moved me. One is a conversation between Merida and Elinor where they each state what they want from their relationship. Only it’s seamlessly cut to show that they’re not actually speaking with each other … and the gap existing between them feels a mile wide.
The second scene closes that divide. Elinor, at this point, isn’t feeling like herself (I can’t say why). But the mother’s able to view Merida in a different light, and see how capable her daughter can be when she’s in her own element. There are times when I’ll come up on my boys in their rooms or on a playground. They don’t see me yet, and I just watch. It’s magical watching them be themselves. Brave captures a bit of that whimsy and splashes it across the screen.
There’s powerful fantasy elements at work in Brave, as well. Willow the Wisps and a wood-carving witch play important parts of the Brave narrative. As they played out on screen, I was reminded how underserved the fantasy genre can be, particularly in animation (where it should thrive).
But really, Brave hammers home the point of how far a parent will go to protect their child, no matter the cost. It’s a lesson my wife, Michele, frequently conveys to our boys, how no one will ever hurt them while she’s around. She even jokingly calls herself Mama Bear around our kids. Thanks to Brave, that nickname has a whole new meaning.
Brave is a whole new ballgame for Pixar., in more ways than one Instead of toys, talking cars, or monsters in our closets, they spin a tale about a flesh-and-blood teenage girl with unlimited dreams and tangible consequences to her actions. But the studio doesn’t forget its audience, and there’s more than enough on display to entertain the youngest in the theater.
Brave held our four-year-old’s interest for 90% of its run. I’m going to say it will work best on kids 5 or 6 and older. From a content standpoint, most is safe outside of the vicious Mor’du, a legitimate threat. As for where Brave ranks on Pixar’s quality scale … well, that’s a column (and a debate) for a different day.
As always, if you give Brave a try, please let me know how it goes! I’m at @Sean_OConnell on Twitter. Follow along!
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.