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  • Brave Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell
  • Christy Williams (bio)
Brave. Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell. Performed by Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, and Emma Thompson. Walt Disney Pictures, 2012. DVD.

The newest film from Pixar Animation Studios, Brave, is a fairy tale about a Scottish princess who does not want to get married and tries to change her fate. Her parents, Elinor (Emma Thompson) and Fergus (Billy Connolly), invite the leaders of three other clans to bring their sons to compete for Merida’s hand in the Highland Games. Merida (Kelly Macdonald) competes as the eldest child of her father, winning the archery contest and her own hand. However, winning only delays the decision and her mother insists that she still marry. Merida buys a spell from a witch (Julie Walters) to change her mother, but the spell has unintended consequences, and Elinor becomes a bear. Merida and Elinor seek out the witch, and in their search start to repair their damaged relationship. The more Elinor acts like a bear, however, the less control she has as a human, and when she eats, that control slips and Elinor is more bear than queen. The witch is gone, but she has left Merida a message explaining how to undo the spell: “Fate be changed, look inside. Mend the bond, torn by pride.” Merida interprets this as needing to mend her mother’s tapestry that she tore in anger, so the women return to the castle. [End Page 211]

Without Elinor there to keep peace, the men have turned the main hall into a war zone. Merida intervenes and gives a speech in which she intends to say that she will marry one of the young men, conceding that “one selfish act can turn the fate of a kingdom.” Her mother motions her to stop and through gesture prompts Merida to suggest that there is a new way for the clans to proceed: they should “break tradition” and allow the young people of the clans to decide who they want to marry for themselves. She is successful, and as the men celebrate, Elinor and Merida sneak upstairs. However, Elinor loses control and attacks Merida. Fergus intervenes and goes after Elinor, locking Merida in with the tapestry. With her brothers’ help (triplets who accidentally have also been turned into bears by the spell), Merida escapes and chases after her father and the other men. The spell must be broken by sunrise, and Merida stitches together the tapestry on horseback with her brothers in tow. When she reaches her mother, who has been captured, Merida draws a sword and fights her father. Mor’du, the bear who is Fergus’s nemesis for taking his leg, has been stalking Merida and attacks. Elinor breaks free to protect Merida and kills Mor’du by pushing him into one of the standing stones, which crushes him. Merida throws the mended tapestry onto her mother, but the spell does not break until Merida cries, apologizing for her actions and taking responsibility for them rather than blaming others.

It is important to note that Elinor, not Fergus, is the one who tries to reinforce patriarchal tradition. Elinor is afraid for her daughter if she breaks from tradition, and the film clearly shows that Elinor acts out of love. She asks Merida, “Are you willing to pay the price your freedom will cost?” Showing Elinor’s fear is important in terms of demonstrating why not following “tradition” is much more serious than Merida’s understanding of it as a personal choice. As much as the film is about valuing individual choices, suggesting that women do not need to be married and that princesses can be heroes, it is also about recognizing that one’s choices affect others. Having a man reinforce the tradition of arranged marriage and present a competition to “win the fair maiden” would more easily make him a villain, whereas a woman doing it more obviously nods to patriarchal structures rather than individual villainy. There is no individual villain in this film; tradition is the problem. Elinor is not a villain; neither is the witch. Even Mor’du...


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pp. 211-214
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