Brave

Last Friday I went to Benjies Drive In, which is a little north of Baltimore, to see Pixar's new film Brave. It was a double feature with the Avengers. As a bonus (?) a Three Stooges film was tossed in and also a Barney Bear cartoon, the one about the crows that I think might be a precursor to Heckle and Jeckle. The Three Stooges short was something about a castle in Scotland with the worst bagpipe soundtrack I've ever heard. I'm not a fan of either of the shorts but Brave is definitely worth both the longish drive and sitting through the opening shorts. It was absolutely wonderful and I loved it to pieces.

The only trailer I saw prior to seeing the actual film is this one, where the heroine fights for the right to her own hand in marriage.

Rather than let her fate be chosen by a contest that has little to do with compatibility, she takes things into her own hands. Since this was all I knew, there were so many delightful surprises in store for me. As you can see from the trailer, Merida, the redheaded young lady, is meant to be the prize in an archery contest. What they don't show in the trailer is that this is to keep the peace between the four most influential families, and when Merida upsets the plan she inadvertently brings the clans to the brink of war.

Of course Merida isn't really aware of the repercussions of her act, or she if she is, she just doesn't care. She wants her mother to understand her, her objections and see her as a fully actualized person, instead of treating her like a headstrong child. So Merida does what every fully actualized person does – run away from home, get lost in the woods and buy a spell from a witch, I mean woodcarver.

The woodcarver is one of my favorite characters in the film. She's adorable and her hut is filled with amazing, and sometimes deadly, things. She makes a cake for Merida, who has asked for a spell to change her mother, which will also change her own fate. Merida seems strangely naive for someone who believes in magic. She doesn't ask about any possible repercussions, or interpretations of her request that could make things go awry. And of course we're pretty sure they will go quite badly wrong, or the second two thirds of the film would be very dull indeed.

Brave is everything we've come to love from Pixar. Gorgeous animation (especially Merida's hair and the will o wisps), charming characters, lovely little details and as much fun as you can cram into a movie. Merida's three little brothers are adorable troublemakers, who should have their very own film, and her dad is hilarious. He's huge, has an ongoing feud with a bear, and is the one who has taught Merida how to shoot. Merida's mother is the executive of the castle, keeping it and the clan running – an enormous, thankless task.

I love that Brave is a real family film. Often studios mean that there is something for the children and something that goes over their heads, added for the sake of whatever adult is taking them to the movies. But Brave is about family; particularly the problems and strains of family life. In a lot of Disney (the new owner of Pixar) films Mom is nowhere to be seen. Aladdin, Snow White, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast – we may see Dad, and maybe a stepmother, but no loving mother figure. Elinor, the mother in Brave, is fiercely protective of her family and her clan. There is a terrific montage where both Elinor and Merida talk to other people (I'm counting a horse as a person in this example), explaining their feelings and motivations, much more eloquently than they can talk to each other. I don't want to get into spoiler territory, but Brave is one of a very few films I've seen which features such a strong inter-generational relationship. Merida's connection to her father is also very strong. He's the one who has taught her weapons and encouraged her to to listen to her wilder side.

A couple of drawbacks - the songs, two that I remember, are nothing to write home about, but they don't detract from the film or anything. They were just dull, which was disappointing. I will be very surprised if they end up on any award lists at the end of the year. The rest of the music is lovely. The other thing that puzzled me, was Merida being called a princess. I know that Disney has a whole investment in princesses, but can't we see a story about someone with a different function? Sure she needs to be seen as a valuable prize (barf) for the plot to work but as the daughter of a leader she is still important, without specifically making her a princess. I don't enough of Scottish history to know if this is princesses were a thing, but it felt wrong to me. But despite these quibbles, I still thoroughly enjoyed myself. (Some people hate the film. If you are in this camp I would love for you to leave a comment so I can try to see things from your point of view.)

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is something I should have linked to a long time ago. It's episode one of the web series Husbands. (My family supported the Kickstarter for season two, which is in production right now.) Starring Brad Bell aka Cheeks, Sean Hemeon and Alessandra Torresani (who I loved in Caprica) and written by Jane Espenson, Husbands is about a high profile sports star and an actor who celebrate the legalization of gay marriage and wake up to discover they married each other while intoxicated. Since it would be bad PR to divorce they decide to stick it out, which leads to much hilarity. You can watch episode one, which is about three minutes long, via the video below and follow the entire show at http://husbandstheseries.com/. Enjoy!