Multiple generations of girls have grown up now under the powerful Disney princess construct: a magical but questionable ideal of romance as reward, a scenario where girls earn happiness by securing a man's true love, aided by fairy godmothers or well-intentioned potions.
These movies and the characters they represent-Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, Aurora, Pocahontas, Mulan, et al., each unique and likely still precious in their respective places in the hearts of adult women around the world-have remained beloved for a reason.
Now, along comes Brave, a movie that aspires to add Merida to the ranks of iconic princess characters, but with a twist: Merida has no Prince Charming.
In this deceptively radical choice by storytellers, Merida's storyline follows many of the same conventions of other Disney princess movies but reaches a "happily ever after" rooted in familial love and wise choices rather than in a wedding day.
Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios first teamed up in 1995, but Brave is their first team foray into princess territory as well as Pixar's first fairy tale, and therefore highly anticipated. And rightly so: The movie is funny, memorable, heart warming, and beautifully animated.
Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), the eldest daughter of a Scottish Highlands clan lord, looks like a porcelain doll with a shock of fascinating, unruly, red hair. No doubt many young girls will find her a heroic character, complete with archery habit, pet horse Angus, and frustration with the "fate" her parents have prescribed for her.
The tagline for the movie, "Change your fate," only sums up the most predictable aspect of the movie: Merida does not want to follow her parents' set path of a marriage to an elder son of one of the other three Highland clans. The film isn't anti-marriage-it depicts a loving, teasing relationship between Merida's parents. But Merida insists she is not ready for romance.
It is unclear why Merida's parents-and particularly her mother-consider the arranged marriage so necessary. But to Merida's mother, there is only one path forward, and to Merida, dutifully obeying is unthinkable.
The emphasis in Brave is on the mother-daughter relationship, and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) is decidedly the most nuanced character in the movie (despite the fact that for part of the movie she is transformed into a bear).
Magic does play a role in Brave, complete with a witch, a spell, and guidance via mystical will-o'-the-wisp lights. But here the literal transformation achieved through magic (turning Elinor into a bear because Merida neglected, in her demand that her mother "change," to specify "her mind") is a device used to trigger a character transformation in Merida: She must learn that with the freedom to choose comes the responsibility to make wise choices.
Viewers will hear Merida declare, "It's not my fault!" multiple times in the movie, but ultimately watch her face up to the truth that actions have consequences, and sometimes those consequences harm the people who love us.
A secondary plot-an ancient relative also turned into an apparently immortal bear-provides a more dramatic obstacle to overcome, and an opportunity for Elinor to become a literal "Mama Grizzly." Although the evil in Brave is not as dark or as epic as in some other Disney fairy tales, scenes with the evil bear (described as a "demon") could scare younger viewers, and moments where Elinor-as-bear is overtaken by her beast nature and threatens her own daughter could confuse them.
The film is rated PG for some "scary action and rude humor." The men in the film provide much of the latter, as most of the male characters are played for comedy rather than strength. Refreshingly, however, Merida's parents are both alive and clearly in a supportive marriage.
Other things parents should consider include a long shot of nude male bottoms (animated, of course, but nonetheless inappropriate) and a non-sexualized but ostentatious use of quite a lot of cleavage on an older, nurse character.