The first time you see Merida's red curly hair flowing in the wind as she rides atop her horse going full speed at the beginning of Brave you immediately know that this is not your typical Pixar film.
And to that I say Hallelujah. Not that I have anything against Toy Story or Cars. But it's seriously about time that our friends at Pixar have gotten around to creating a film with a strong girl at the center.
Hopes were very high for this film, probably too high, as the trailers have portrayed Merida as a perfect heroine for our time — a girl who fights stereotypes, shoots arrows (interestingly, this is the second film this year with a strong girl with archery skills) — mixed with a dose of spunk and fun. The character does live up to expectations though I have to admit that the story went off on an unexpected course that was at first jarring, and now with reflection, I realize the twist is kind of brilliant.
Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is a princess who needs to marry to keep the kingdom stable. Her mother (voiced by Emma Thompson) is doing her best to reign in her spirit and prepare her for her princess responsibilities. But, Merida wants none of it. She doesn't want to and is clearly not ready get married. She doesn't want the responsibilities attached to her title, and most especially, she does not want to become her mother. In her mother she sees a woman besieged with responsibilities who cares more about the kingdom than her own daughter's happiness. She makes her feelings clear and deeply hurts her mother.
Merida decides to figure out a way to change her destiny and that involves a witch and a spell, and as you can probably guess that is trouble. The spell turns mom into a bear (the unexpected twist), and Merida spends the second half of the film figuring out a way to get her mom back before the spell becomes permanent.
The brilliant part is the use of the mama bear metaphor to describe how that the Queen has really been doing everything she can to protect her daughter. Yet, while she watches her daughter work her tail off to change her back, they both see each other for the first time in a long time and she realizes that she shouldn't be forcing her daughter to marry someone just for the sake of tradition. She realizes that her daughter needs her freedom. And so in the end this film turns out to be a true mother-daughter love story. How they got from mom becoming a bear to a touching mother-daughter love story is to me the brilliance of the film.
I want to state on the record that anyone who thinks this movie just a movie for girls and not for boys is officially and forever on the shit list. It's a film for everyone. Just because the lead character wears a dress and has gorgeous red hair is no excuse to take a pass on this. Merida is a hero for the masses. She shoots arrows better than the guys. She fights her butt off to fix her mistake. She learns a lot about her mom's character and how difficult her life is, and she finds her true inner strength.
The great thing about this film is that she is a girl who reminds us what it is like to be a girl. The push and pull of growing up. The desire to remain free and true, all the while struggling to fit into a world that says girls should act and be a certain way. Brenda Chapman one of the directors said she created Merida "to give girls something to look at and not feel inadequate." And that is what she has accomplished. There are so many girl character that leave you empty at the end of the film. This one leaves you full up and brimming with joy and hope. I can't wait to see the movie again with a gaggle of kids of all ages. I want to watch their faces as they watch this character. I want to see their eyes sprakle when they see her hair.
Merida is a great character because she is an awesome role model who speaks her mind and fights for her beliefs. She does it fully clothed and doesn't need a guy to save her. She figures it all out on her own. It may have taken over a decade for Pixar to get here but it was worth the wait. Hopefully this movie will be such a hit that we won't have to wait another decade to see the next Pixar female lead character.