BRAVE: Pixar’s Pagan Princess is Perfect Pleasure

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to like this very much. The fact that this free-spirited spitfire had to be a “princess” in order to appeal to audiences really rubbed me the wrong way. There is way too much “princess” branding aimed at little girls these days, and it’s annoying. It also seemed Pixar was having trouble figuring out how to market this: changing the title (It was originally called The Bear and the Bow; Brave seems like a faint echo of Braveheart, no?) and it seemed recent trailers were emphasizing either the “curse” of the witch or the silly stereotypical Scottish-tinged humor. I expected something frivolously humorous, clever to the point of preciousness, and probably fairly shallow.

But I was, to put it bluntly, blown away. Even the overdone character physicality, caricatured to the point of cartoonish (something Pixar does very well, since this seems to be what audiences like) stopped bothering me within a short time, as it was balanced by stunning art direction and animation.  This film has unexpected depth and complexity, and is beautiful and thrilling to watch at every moment.

The story is fairly straightforward: Merida (Trainspotting‘s Kelly Macdonald) is a young Scottish princess who enjoys being a tomboy: she rides her horse Angus through the woods, is an expert archer and thumbs her nose at the etiquette her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) tries to teach her. When the time comes for leaders of the clans ruled by her father King Fergus (Billy Connolly) to come together and present their eldest sons as suitors for Merida’s hand in marriage, the feisty young princess rebels and a rift is created between Merida and her mother.

Merida escapes to the solace of the forest and follows the blue light of a will o’ the wisp, which her mother says will lead her to her fate. The lights lead Merida to a witch’s hidden cottage. The witch (a hilarious Julie Walters) seems dotty yet slightly menacing, and, spurred by anger at her mother and the feeling that she was led there for some purpose, Merida asks the witch to perform a spell to change her mother so that Merida won’t be forced to marry. And the witch complies: the transformation is shocking and places both Merida and her mother in mortal danger.

To reveal more would push me into spoiler territory, but I will say, the ensuing action is very suspenseful and surprisingly moving. I don’t think I have ever seen an animated film or, indeed, any film aimed at a young audience, that offers such an original and insightful exploration of the deep bond between mother and daughter, and of what happens to that bond when daughters begin to forge their separate paths to adulthood. This film is downright Jungian in its expression of these mysteries, using the imagery of pagan Scotland to weave a world where the human connection to the natural world is seen as the secret to happiness and fulfillment.

Of course, it’s also hilarious. Merida’s three young brothers (carrot-top triplets) are constantly stealing treats and causing mayhem, and the meeting of the clans is satisfyingly full of stereotyped Scots behaving badly. There is also a really fine selection of songs with a rousing score. I saw this in 3D but I can’t imagine it won’t be just as good in 2D. Just be sure to say something to the management if your theatre is showing the 2D version on a 3D lens (something happening all too frequently these days); you’ll know it if looks very dark and dingy. But DO absolutely see this on a big screen, it’s absolutely mind-blowingly wonderful, and I can’t wait to hear what you all think.


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  • you are so right Peg! I just saw it in 2d with a whole clan of young boys and girls who were moved excited and terrified in the perfect measure. And us adults, who loved the Wicker Man reference, the Scottish in jokes  and the use of tartanry all in a good cause, also loved it. Bodes well for the princesses of our time….

    • Peg Aloi

      Yes it does! I will always remember seeing this the first time with you and Suzanne and our thrilled excitement.

  • Adrian Hawkins

    the person behind us: what did I learn from watching Brave? Be really specific with your words when asking a witch for a spell!

    As a witch I wholeheartedly approve this message! SO MOTE IT BE

  • I Saw it at the Drive-in with my two pagan housemates, we all loved it 🙂 And Hawkins I felt the same way, Don’t meddle in things if you don’t know what you’re doing!

    •  Cool, where is YOUR drive-in movie?  Ours is one of two left in SW MIchigan.

  • I had trouble viewing the movie in 3D because I have poor eye sight and have to wear glasses regardless, so my glasses under the 3d glasses wasn’t a great idea and it was a little too dark. So if you have glasses, I suggest the 2d version.

    But that was the only problem I could see. It was visually appealing and the story was very entertaining, which is what I go to the movies for. I did appreciate the pagan highlights not being pushed to the ‘evil dark satan’ area and the crone was histarical, loved it. Just goes to show how tolerant the world is becoming. I’m proud of Merida being the first pagan Princess from Disney.  Hazzah, and bravo Disney * Pixar, Hazzah.

    • Peg Aloi

      I think seeing it in 2D would not detract in any way. I think 3D is overrated.

  • As a long time Pixar fan I can tell you are not one. Brave is Pixar’s 13th film and the first to be completely centered around a female character. She is also the first “princess” to not follow the standards expected by society from the start. Her love of archery (an obvious nod to the Celtic Goddess of the Hunt)  was started in childhood. 

    As others have stated before me, the lesson to be learned is to know what you are asking for. Beyond that I believe that it is showing us that we do not always know what is best for ourselves or the reversal, that we do not know what is best for others. That, while we control our own fate, we need to remember that our actions effect others. 

    As for the “Scottish-tinged humor”, I’m going to guess you do not spend a great deal of time with Scotts. For, if you did, you would understand the “humor” that is often portrait in films is actually a caricature of the Scottish love of life. They are a people who live life with such a passion that they, quite honestly, cannot contain it. They are truly a people who live life to the fullest, loudly, boisterously, and with every inch of their body and soul. 

    • Peg Aloi

      How do you know I am not a Pixar fan? And how do you know anything about my relationship with Scottish people  (who are normally called “Scots” by the way, not “Scotts”)? I am part Scottish myself and have been to Scotland. Heck, I even studied Scottish Gaelic at Harvard.

    • Chelsea

      Wow. That felt a little snobbish.

    • Evilchick93

      I love that the main character is a tom boy and I love that she did not HAVE to get married in order to have her happy ending. I know a lot of films that have the main character get married teaches young girls to grow up and get married but not what comes next.  

  • Calah Alexander

    I so agree with you about the princess stuff. It irritates the crap out of me. For the longest time we had a moratorium on all things princess, but when our daughters started getting invited to “dress up as a princess” tea parties it just felt mean and petty to say, “sorry, you can’t dress up as a princess.” Still, I’d be happy to see more movies come out without the princess theme.

    That being said, I absolutely cannot wait to take my daughters to see this movie, and your review has me even more excited!

  • Saw this at the drive-in movie with surround sound on our own speakers, with fireflies and dancing children…. the very definition of awesome.  Despite, or perhaps because of, hitting every Celt cliche, a fun movie, with scenes and dialogue for both kids and adults.

  • I practically cheered when the witch had her “away” message saying she was at Wicker Man, total joy!  I loved this movie, and my young son did as well! My familys scottish roots trace back to the year 900 so we were very excited for this release!

  • wiztwas

    I am almost tempted to watch it.

  • Sunweaver

    One of the biggest differences between this princess and others is that both of her parents (as well as her brothers) are living, active members of her life. I watched it from the perspective of a mother more than that of a Pagan, but found it interesting that Elinor believed in magic while Fergus did not. That with the fact that Elinor was more the head of household than her husband made it seem much like my own family.
    I like that the witch isn’t evil and that the real antagonist is pride. The importance of forging strong relationships within family and community is the main theme and I loved that as both a mom and a priestess.

  • From a pagan perspective, it rocked.  I think pagans need more media representation.  Movies, books, sitcoms, etc..  Wouldn’t it be cool?

  • The Real Jersey Girl

    I went to the movie with my five year old daughter who is being raised as a pagan.  “Oooooh, mom, look, a Disney princess for us,” she said.  With the familiar real life imagery of hounds, horses, Celtic symbols in abundance I think seeing this film has reaffirmed her upbringing for her.  We are lone practitioners of traditional Celtic worship, so we feel a little isolated here……what an unexpected boost from pop culture.  An amazing story about mother/daughter relationships (best I’ve seen since Joy Luck Club) and we both shed tears at the end.

  • I saw this as part of my summer solstice with a BIG group of friends. A few were Pagan, but most were not. A few were kiddos, but most were not. A few were men, but most…well, you get the picture. Everyone one of us adored this film.

  • RedHeadMom

    As a mother of 2 red headed pagan daughters, I was thrilled with the movie. My girls were so happy & stated “A princess for us!”   We had several people come up to us at the movie theater and remarked how much Merida looked like my girls. It certainly gave my girls a boost. LOL 

  • Daniel SnowKestral

    It was indeed, a delightful movie!  I loved the patterns of three in the movie, too, and especially picked up on the Maiden (Princess), Mother (the Queen), and Crone/Cailleach (the Witch).  I am not Scottish (I am Black Irish), but I felt my heart sing while watching this movie!

    • xCeption

       Maiden/Mother/Crone! I hadn’t picked up on that, thanks!

      • Daniel SnowKestral

        More than welcome xCeption!  There are many patterns of three in the movie “Snow White & the Huntsman,” too! 🙂  Blessed Be!

    • What is a pattern of three?

  • It has not yet appeared in London, though it had had a premiere in Edinburgh. But I think I should mention something I have just heard on a folk music program on the radio.

    The “really fine selection of songs” you mention very specifically includes traditional Scottish folk music from some well-known Scottish folk singers.

    That’s another way in which Pixar (or the directors) behaved with integrity.

  • multivoxmuse

    It is indeed downright Jungian but I’d say that in this story, we don’t need to invoke the mother archetype.

    I think the mom is the ego and the daughter is the shadow (albeit the positive shadow).

    This becomes especially apparent in the ensuing story of how they are both changed by their experiences but I will try not to spoil.

    I will just say it is a good analogy of jungian individuation.

    A couple other archetypes I noted: the trickster, the self, the anima, and the negative shadow.