Monday, 27 August 2012


Go and see Brave. Go and see it if you have a daughter.

This is the latest Pixar, and it's directed by a woman, Brenda Chapman. Hallelujah! A female animation director!

Brave manages to bring together Celtic and Norse legend with Astérix-style animation, and produce a story about the transformative power of... transformation.

The rebellious tomboy daughter of a Scottish king rejects her upbringing, and the destiny planned for her by her mother the queen, and inadvertently turns her into a bear, when she foolhardily buys a spell from a witch.

In wanting to be brave, and challenge the status quo, the girl finds herself in a nightmare in which she is on the verge of destroying everything she knows, mother, father and kingdom. Her bravery is revealed to be impulsiveness and pride.

But in turning her mother into a bear, she also enables the mother to see that she is being literally overbearing, and that the daughter needs greater freedom if she is to succeed in life, and if the kingdom's future is to be secured.

As a bear, the mother loses all her finesse and skill. She can no longer use words to reprimand and control her daughter's language, manners, dress and activities, and she cannot model the decorous behaviour she expects of a young lady, because of her ungainly body, and claws where her fingers should be.

The magic spell which transforms her seems to take several days to come to full fruition, and for that time, the queen is in a kind of metamorphic state -- she is neither queen nor bear. She is starving and does not know how to hunt. She must rely on the superior skills of her daughter, an expert marksman and archer, to feed herself.

The young girl and the older woman must reverse the spell before it becomes final. Their adventure involves them in saving the kingdom from sinister forces, ready to resurface from the past, and reactivated by the magic that is used to transform the queen.

They have to learn to respect each other, and each has to learn a new kind of bravery. The queen must defend her daughter through physical action rather than through political strategy, and the girl must conquer her stubborn pride and accept her mother's love and good intentions.

The term 'monster' comes both from monere (to warn) and monstrare (to show). The queen is made physically monstrous the better to examine and unpick what is character and what is behaviour in her. The daughter is given an opportunity by the witch she consults to look more intensely at her mother's intentions and faults. But she is also given a mirror in which she can see what she herself may become unless she learns to control some of her own impulses.

What I loved in this film was its homage to Uderzo and Goscinny, its immersion in non-Christian, non-Romano-Hellenic-Enlightenment narrative, and above all its courage in looking squarely at the mother-daughter relationship.

As I sat there in the dark, with my son (rather scared of the bear) on my lap, and my little girl squeezed in to my side, I kissed her hair and whispered that I loved her.

Then we came stumbling out into the light.

I probably told her to pull her skirt straight and not to screech so much.

And so it goes on.

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