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Movie Report: Brave

Your Humble Blogger watched Brave yesterday. I enjoyed it a lot; there were certainly flaws, here and there, but it was largely an enjoyable movie. It was also an interesting movie. And since what interested me the most is tied up in the plot (naturally), the rest of this note is full of spoilers.

I’ve seen quite a few children’s movies, but there are a lot more that I haven’t seen. When I compare this movie to the general run, it’s true that my impression of the general run is not complete. I’ve seen 33 out of the top 50 box office grossers in the animation genre; if you adjust for inflation, it’s probably a bit more. I’ll call it two out of three of the big-deal, wide release toys-in-the-fast-food-joints cartoons, the group that Brave is in. So when I say that this movie has the best mother ever, I am willing to concede that there are movies I haven’t seen, even movies I have heard of, that might have better mothers. But seriously? Best mother ever.

First of all, she’s the best Disney Mother ever, even before she is turned into a bear. Yes, that’s a low bar that she clears by being (a) alive and (2) reasonably bright. But really, she saves her daughter’s life. She is queen, and while the movie makes fun of her for her emphasis on regal queenliness (and princessliness), it also shows her using that majestic mien as a tool of governance. And she is an active participant in governing, insofar as there is any governance of the clans in the movie. Certainly she is the diplomatist of the clan; the correspondence goes to her.

But then, when she is in bear form, she is even better. Mostly because she utterly kicks ass as a bear, including a massive paw-to-paw fight with an evil enchanted bear, but also because she is able to back down from her prideful stubbornness without giving in where she is right. And that’s pretty impressive—the mother and daughter are both represented as being wrong in the (somewhat draggy) middle of the movie, and the problem is solved when they both recognize that and move to a new, forward-looking, progressive, and open-ended solution. The daughter comes to see that her actions were selfish, and comes to care for the good of the clan; the mother comes to see that her viewpoint was blinkered, and comes to a new understanding of the good of the clan. An understanding that does not require her daughter’s total self-abnegation.

Because the mother’s transformation is not skin deep. She is truly transformed, and is reborn naked into a new world. Transformation is what happens in stories, of course, and in a kid’s movie it’s nice to see that transformation taken seriously, but the movie manages to make that transformation without making it a betrayal of the earlier, pre-transformation character. It would have been easy to make the post-bear character another fun-loving chaotic (masculine) figure of disorder; they did not. The transformation gave her an understanding of those figures, but did not turn her into one, herself. To the extent that the movie follows the Apollo/Dionysus thing, it keeps some respect for the Apollonian forces of order and restraint, even while clearly siding with the Dionysian revelers. Because, you know, kid’s movie.

Which brings me to my real point: I don’t know much about the actual moviemakers, but it sure seems to me like a movie made by people who really, really like Studio Ghibli movies—transformation, the young female lead, the witch (who was a clear homage), stuff I can’t describe well about the use of landscape—but who are Hollywood filmmakers deeply immersed in Hollywood filmmaking, fully a part of the Western tradition. People who aren’t going to slavishly imitate the Studio Ghibli movies, people who have thought about the movies and internalized what they liked, and made a movie that is fully Western and fully Hollywood while also showing that Ghibli influence. And while it oughtn’t to be at all surprising that there are people like that making movies, and maybe there are others, I haven’t noticed any.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,