Brave: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

by | May 30, 2013 | Catholic Mom Movie Review, Pop Culture | 9 comments

For grownups, this movie would be worth watching just to see Merida’s hair, and the dark and wild and beautiful setting.  For kids . . . I have my reservations.  


Things you’ve probably heard elsewhere . . .

It has magic:  Yes, but fairy tales do, and that’s not an issue for me.  As in The Princess and the Frog, appropriate consequences are shown for using magic (against your mother).  

It’s really scary:  Yep.  We watched it with the whole family and the kids (1.5-10) were pretty terrified during the bear fights.  But I think it’s good for kids to be scared by movies.  It helps them to understand that feeling and cope with it in a low stakes situation, rather than confronting fear for the first time in a real life situation.

It’s really sad:  Yes again.  Like any good Disney movie, it’ll make your kids cry and cry and cry (Bambi, The Fox and the Hound, Up, I’m looking at you).  I think that’s fine too.  See above.

None of those things are an issue for me. 

My concerns were with the visceral and hurtful arguments between Merida and her mother Elinor, and the bold and spiteful (and public) disobedience Merida shows.  I don’t have teenage daughters yet, so honestly I don’t know how that stage goes.  I know I certainly gave my own mother a good deal of trouble.  But regardless of how true Merida’s feelings of rebellion are, I’m not sure I can make the case that it’s good for my young children to witness them.  The same goes for her disobedience.  Unlike the situation in Tangled, when we can cheer Rapunzel’s bravery as she struggles to shake off the yoke of her evil “mother’s” distorted worldview, Elinor is a good queen and a loving mother who has always done what was right for her daughter.  She does NOT deserve the treatment she receives from Merida.  And I’m talking about even BEFORE the magic stuff starts.

I know, I know, it’s a story of redemption.  How can Merida be redeemed if she doesn’t fall to begin with?  But isn’t this a movie meant for children?  Is teenage rebellion something we’re all desperate to introduce to our little ones as soon as possible?

And while I LOVE that Merida finally learns to love and respect and emulate her mother and to take responsibility for the consequences of her bad behavior, so does her mother learn that she and all the traditions of her people were wrong too, and Merida was right.  Brave falls just to the right of center on the Girls Just Want to Have Fun scale of “Kids Are Right and Parents Are Wrong,” the far right being The Lion King where Dad was all right all the time and the far left being The Little Mermaid where Ariel’s dangerous and subversive disobedience earns her not only everything she wanted, but a humble bow from her Dad to go along with it.


Which isn’t to say I’m an apologist for arranged teenage marriages.  I just wish that the script had been written differently so we could focus on MERIDA learning the lessons she needs to learn.  Queen Elinor deserves better than she gets.  And “I’m competing for my OWN hand?”  Please let us NOT go there.  But you do have to feel sorry that apparently she’ll have to marry one of those three eventually.  Perhaps she can improve him.  That usually goes well.

And, here’s a question:  In what way exactly is Merida ever “brave?”  She’s feisty, and spirited, and passionate, and sporty, but I honestly can’t think of how the title fits at all.  Rapunzel is brave.  Merida is the one who’s tangled.  I’m just sayin’.  The original title of the movie was The Bear and the Bow.  Isn’t that much more appropriate (not to mention cooler)?

What I liked: the marriage relationship between King Fergus and Queen Elinor is beyond adorable, and he is a pretty extraordinary character in every way himself.  As I mentioned before, Merida’s hair is just beautiful and worth every bit of all the trouble they went to to create it.  I also loved her horse, Angus, and how the will o’ the wisps were rendered, especially their sing-song childlike voices.  Haunting and spooky and very very cute.  The music was lovely and the scenery was breathtaking.



So basically, this is one I’m glad I saw and I’m okay with the kids having seen, but it’s not going into high rotation around here.  I have no desire to fast forward my daughters towards teenage rebellion with the expectation that all it takes is a good old fashioned magical poisoning to get mom to come around to your point of view.



  1. Stephanie

    I just found your blog! You are right on about Brave with the whole attitude thing. What really kind of pushes my buttons also about this particular movie is how every single male in Brave acts and looks like an idiot. I understand the whole "don't force me to marry thing" but I keep waiting for Disney to get out of the "girl power" mode…and this is so funny because I HAVE girls! Male bashing sells…I guess?

    • Kendra Tierney

      I agree about the suitors, but I guess they didn't want to make any of the boys (or their dads!) in the least bit appealing so we wouldn't be rooting for any of them to win over our heroine.

      But I do love King Fergus and how complimentary his relationship with Queen Elinor is. Obviously he has his strengths and weaknesses, as do all of us, but he and his wife together make a great ruling couple. And, I think, pretty great parents, though Merida doesn't seem to appreciate it.

  2. Mrs. Mike

    Yep. IMO, it's one of the few recent Disney movies that I actually don't mind seeing from time to time but your observations re: her relationship with her mother are dead on. I will say–it's prompted some good conversations about how parent-child relationship is a two-way street. I saw a lot of myself in Elinor–crabby and nit-pitpicky. But that doesn't justify – ever – a child's disrespect towards a parent.

    One other rather unfortunate little tidbit from the movie that I have a hard time with – call me a prude – was the old guy who lifted his kilt for everyone behind him to "feast their eyes". *cringe* My boys were clueless initially but astute enough to figure it meant something inappropriate. That reference just didn't belong in a kids' movie…I don't care how traditional the kilt is to the Scots.

    I do like the soundtrack! Who doesn't love a little Mumford and Sons (a la Learn Me Right)?

    • Kendra Tierney

      That's funny. Elinor and I have such a similar parenting style that it's hard for me to see where she needs to improve! But certainly, we all can.

      And I couldn't agree more with you on the kilt incident. My kids all let out a gasp of shock and disbelief when they saw it. They loved the little naked buns on the triplets, but they knew the old guy was beyond the pale.

    • Kara Warme

      I'm with Mrs. Mike that Elinor's character was convicting to me about not nagging or having rules just for rules sake. In the scene where Merida announced she had climbed the falls on a free day, I found Elinor's response passive-aggressive and disheartening. Either it was against the rules and should be directly addressed as such, or it's allowed and Elinor should have celebrated her daughter's successful safe completion of the adventure.

      Kendra, I can see where you relate to and appreciate certain aspects of her mothering, but I've learned a lot from you on exactly the things Elinor didn't seem to support. You certainly encourage your princesses to take adventures and climb mountains, and while I can hear Elinor saying "A princess would NEVER play in the mud", you've pushed me to let my girls do just that. Oh yeah, and you were first in line to shoot the bow at our house last summer!

      I agree with you both that the path Merida and her Mom take is disappointing and Merida's yelling and direct disobedience toward her mom is absolutely not okay. But I did really enjoy seeing them laugh and have fun together fishing for salmon and riding horses at the end. Hopefully we can all have that with our daughters without the ugly in-between! Brave is a favorite around our house because of the archery, so every time it's on we recite: "What happens if you disobey Mom? She turns into a bear!" 🙂

    • Kendra Tierney

      I just felt like the whole thing needed one more rewrite.

      I liked seeing them bonding as bear and daughter too, and I liked even more when they were talking to their husband/horse about their true feelings about the issue at hand. But why couldn't they have ever had that conversation with each other? I would have loved seeing the two of them have a discussion and come to an agreement about it.

      As written, the only reason I can see for Elinor changing her mind is the Girls Just Want to Have Fun-style, "my child diobeyed me in such a dramatic fashion that I now see the error of my ways." Not okay.

      If we watch it again I'll have to pay more attention to the rock climbing scene, since I don't remember it well enough to comment on Elinor's reaction.

      But I think it's worth noting that Merida is sixteen years old, not six. In her culture she's old enough to get married, and therefore be a mother herself in short order, not to mention with all those bears running about she could have to take over the running of her kingdom at any moment.

      Having said that though, I think it's clear that Merida favors her father rather than her mother in leadership style, so perhaps her mother would do well to recognize and encourage Merida's good qualities (as she appears to do pretty well with her husband King Fergus). And unless one of those suitors was doing an awfully good job of hiding his intelligence, elegance, and responsibility, the kingdom might be in for some tough times if she ever does get around to marrying one of them . . .

  3. Kathia

    I live with a real live Merida!! My 14 yr. old daughter Audrey has the hair and the attitude. If I could post a photo on this thing I'd show you the one of her wild hair blowing in the wind as she cuddles her pet chicken on the beach. 🙂 We love, love, love the movie (Brave) as it so resembles our own family. But, my teen daughter was actually disapproving of Merida's rebellion and even thought it was silly that the queen changed the marriage rules in the end (though she isn't for blindly arranged marriage; she does think parents should have a say). Audrey has a very strict moral sense. Come to think of it… you remind me of my daughter… just a taller, straighter-haired version! If my Audrey grows up to marry a good man and raise a family like I see you are doing, I'd be proud.

  4. Ana

    What movies ARE in high rotation for your family? I have an almost-3-year-old who hasn't watched much at all thus far, and I have NO idea what would be ok to expose her to!


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