Disney’s Brave Tries to Change the Fate of Mothers & Their Daughters: Will It Work?

If you’ve heard about Disney/Pixar’s new girl power flick, Brave, you’re off to a good start. If you saw it, of course, you’d know what you aren’t hearing.

For the first time in a long time — maybe ever — the hottest kids’ movie in America plays out the volatile mother/daughter relationship onscreen.

Pixar didn’t kill off Merida’s mother from the get-go. They didn’t put an evil stepmonster as family matriarch. They didn’t even craft a main character whose self worth hinges on the way her father sees her and his power to make decisions in her life.

The girl power message of putting a curly-haired redhead on screen with a bow and arrow in hands is being shouted loud and proud around the feminist community at the moment. And well it should be. I drove my daughter (with curly red wig atop her head) to our local theater for exactly that reason.

But to ignore the equally powerful message of a mother and daughter’s power struggle is to do this movie,and what it does for womankind, a disservice.

First off? Queen Elinor, voiced by the lovely Emma Thompson, is a mother of four who may be seen doing stereotypically “female” things (sewing tapestries among them), but her role in the kingdom is more than titular. Without spoiling too much of the plot, I can say that she — much more so than her husband, the king — is responsible for the running of their Scottish kingdom. It’s Elinor who serves as peacekeeper, who sets up the games meant to choose a suitor for Merida’s hand (I’ll get to that in a moment), who has final say in just about everything.

Her daughter is the one little girls will be emulating for years to come, but Elinor was written for us, the moms out here who will be sweeping the Merida dolls from the shelves (blogger confession, the doll above was given to me for free by an awesome friend at Disney who knew my daughter had been begging to see Brave … although that had nothing to do with this post, and I paid for tickets to Brave for me, my daughter, and my teenage babysitter, I want to be clear about that), throwing the Merida birthday parties, and straightening the Merida wigs to top off the Merida Halloween costumes.

I would have been happy enough with a mother who was actually alive. But they gave us more.

And then there’s the classic war of mother vs. daughter, the generations clashing, the insistence that the other isn’t listening, the refusal to give even one inch. The trailers give away that Merida ruins her mother’s carefully planned “games” by pulling an arrow from her quiver and shooting for her own hand in marriage. She is both the willful teenager and the courageous new woman making a stand for herself and every woman to come after her.

Disney and Pixar could have given us the triumph of youth over old-fashioned values, and I would have walked off happy. But there was more.

They found a way to give both of these powerful females their dignity. They were both right, both wrong — in the way that only a mother who loves her daughter and the young woman trying to find herself can both be right and wrong. We want only the best for our girls, but until they can figure out what the best for them will be, both parties are doomed to beating their heads upon separate sides of the same hard wall, unable to break through to the other side.

And then, suddenly, a beam of light.

Daughter gets an insight into mother; mother an insight into daughter. The wall breaks down. Slowly. So … slowly.

It’s never as simple in real life as it was in Brave, but seeing your dad’s bare-naked butt without his kilt is more scarring in real life too. Not to mention those brothers. Adorable. But something tells me a teenage girl with young triplet brothers with an impish streak a mile long would not be on such good terms with them. Eh, maybe that’s just me.

Point is, you know it’s Disney. You know it’s a movie for little kids. You knew there had to be a happy ending (well, happy albeit the sort of happy that made certain people sitting in my row of the theater cry … not that I’m naming any names) and make it fairly snappy.

Brave didn’t close the canyon that’s existed between mothers and their teenage daughters since time forgot. But if the grown women watching with their daughters can remember its lessons for years to come, it could very well change their fate.

Did you see Brave yet? What did you think? 

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