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Pixar’s newest release, Brave, follows in some well-worn fairy-tale footsteps, but it also goes a few steps beyond. It’s the first Pixar movie with a female heroine whose mother is alive and well. Generally in princess stories, the mother has been done away with long before we get to the action—think Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast.

Young Merida grows up willful and independent in 10th-century Scotland. She prefers archery, horses, and the great outdoors to her mother’s lessons in civility. While her clownish father can barely stop talking to focus on the present, her serious mother, Elinor, has been working hard to ensure a good future for the young princess. Merida is due to be married to the son of a clan leader in order to strengthen alliances.

Unfortunately for her mother, Merida is interested in neither marriage nor her potential mates. She follows the fairy-like Will O’ the Wisps to find her destiny; they lead her to a witch who casts a spell to change it. The spell brings unintended consequences, and young Merida is forced to confront her own pride and self-centeredness as she works to make things right again.

Parents may wish to think carefully about bringing young children to the theater. There are some pretty terrifying scenes that were enough to send my 6-year-old nephew crawling into Mom’s lap, and I don’t think he was alone. Also unexpected was a scene featuring men’s bare rear ends, exposed after they dropped their kilts, that had the young ones snickering with guilty glee. But the intensity is definitely an issue for the younger crowd.

For the older crowd, there are other flaws. In a bid to show that Merida and her mother are strong, intelligent women, the filmmakers make the father look like a ridiculous, if lovable, oaf. I’m not sure any girl would want to be married after watching that display. From a spiritual point of view, the platitudes about finding or changing your “fate” or “destiny” are flat and unenlightening, a mix of Celtic mysticism and self-reliance.

In spite of these shortcomings, Brave is worth watching. For one thing, as you may have guessed, the animation is fantastic. Merida’s so-real-you-could-touch-them red curls, water cascading from rocks, and the historical setting are wonderfully done.

Merida’s triplet little brothers add some entertainment. But the best part of the movie is the relationship between Merida and her mother. It is complex and difficult. They love each other, and deep down they want the best for each other, but each of them is more interested in making their points than in listening to the other—a very common, very human flaw in family relationships. The realization that Merida’s wish to have her own way has had horrible results for someone she loves is also a common human experience.

Unlike the typical storyline for Disney princesses, in Brave experiencing “true love” will not make it all better for Merida. She has to repent, forgive, and reconcile. And that is a worthy lesson. (Pixar)

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