A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Brave is pretty scary for a "princess movie," especially for kids under 7 and/or those who are very sensitive to peril. Several intense sequences involve a large angry bear that attacks the main characters -- which are even more so when seen in 3-D -- and (possible spoiler alert) a possibly disturbing but mostly comical transformation of a mother into a bear. A moment when the mom-turned-bear temporarily forgets she's human and growls at her daughter could upset younger kids. There's also a lot of brawling among the Scotsmen, who use both weapons (arrows, swords, etc.) and their bodies (fists, teeth) on each other. The first Pixar movie to revolve around a female main character, Brave does have a strong message about family relationships and open communication between parents and kids (particularly mothers and daughters). There's no romance for Princess Merida, but you can expect a few jokes about men being naked under their kilts; a couple of scenes even include quick glimpses of naked cartoon bums belonging to men and three young boys. Although there are no product placements in the movie, there's a ton of Brave merchandise available, particularly aimed at girls.
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What's the story?
BRAVE is Pixar's first feature with a female main character, and Merida isn't your typical princess. Brought up in the Scottish kingdom of DunBroch, Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) would rather sling her arrows than learn the proper etiquette befitting a future queen. When the realm's three other clans arrive to present their leaders' firstborn sons as potential suitors for betrothal, Merida rebels against her regal mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), and runs away to the forest. Following a will o' the wisp, Merida encounters a witch (Julie Walters) who conjures a magical cake to "change the queen." But when the queen eats the magical treat, it's not her mind that changes; she (possible spoiler alert!) transforms into a giant black bear -- exactly like the bear that took the "Bear King" Fergus' (Billy Connolly) leg a decade earlier. With her mother a bear and her father on the hunt, Merida must find out how to break the spell before her mother stays a bear forever -- or worse, is killed by the king and his men.
Is it any good?
This movie a great mother-daughter tale -- it's just not quite the warrior princess story you might have hoped for. There's still a lot to love about Brave. The animation is breathtaking -- particularly Merida's blazing red curls, which are so detailed that you can imagine touching them strand by mesmerizing strand. But there's also the lush green and blue landscapes, the dark and majestic interiors, the haunting light of the blue will o' the wisps luring Merida deeper into the forest. And for once, a princess story stays centered on the princess' personal development rather than her romantic prospects. Plus, the acting is superb, thanks to the mostly Scottish ensemble unleashing their heaviest brogues. Most voice actors record their parts separately, so it's remarkable how beautifully Thompson and Macdonald interact. The emotion between mother and daughter is remarkably genuine and believably fraught; even when Elinor is in bear form, she's still fussing at Merida to get her weapon off their makeshift dinner table.
The only problem with Brave is that it doesn't quite live up to Pixar's own record of originality and sophistication. There's nothing terribly out of this world about the story -- it's simple and sweet but not "never seen before" like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, or WALL-E. And Merida, for all of her virtues, is still very much a self-absorbed teen trying to find the easy answer to her problems (relying on a spell to change your mother's mind is a hilariously bound-to-fail idea). Is it leagues above most other animated films in terms of artistry? Yes. Is Merida a worthy alternative to the stereotypical princess? Absolutely. But this isn't among Pixar's best, and that's a tiny bit of a disappointment.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what kind of princess Merida is in Brave. How does she compare to the other Disney princesses? How is her story similar to and different from theirs? This could be the first princess movie in which there's no romance. What do you think of the shift in focus from love story to mother-and-daughter tale? Do you think that makes Brave more appealing to more people?
Kids: Did you find the movie scary? How does it compare to other princess/animated movies you've seen?
Brave has strong female role models, but what about the men/boys? Which male characters do you think are portrayed as role models?
Kids: What made you want to see this movie -- the story, or all the product tie-ins? Do kids want a product because Merida is pictured on it?
- In theaters: June 22, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: November 13, 2012
- Cast: Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Kelly Macdonald
- Directors: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews
- Studio: Pixar Animation Studios
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Adventures
- Character strengths: Communication, Courage, Self-control
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some scary action and rude humor
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Golden Globe
- Last updated: November 24, 2019
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