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Watching "Brave" on Family Movie Night

When a kid's movie begins a discussion about gender roles and personal choices.

A recent Ware family movie night found us watching the Pixar movie “Brave.”

“Brave,” which tells the story of a princess, Merida, who has her own ideas about marriage and how to live her life, is set in a mythical kingdom in Scotland during what appears to be the medieval period.

With its blend of action, comedy, and drama, “Brave” had little trouble entertaining my family. If there was any complaint, it was the fact that the DVD didn’t come packed with the extras we always enjoy watching.

My 11-year-old son found the high jinx of Merida’s three younger brothers hilarious. My teen daughter found the movie compelling, saying the story held some exciting surprises for her. I’m sure having Merida as a princess who is competitive and strong willed helped my daughter relate to the character in some ways.

After most Pixar films, the discussion usually revolves around the funny moments in the movie and the laughs they provided. But with “Brave” the movie’s story and its feminist theme was a big part of the discussion afterward.

I asked my wife if she thought the message of the movie was one that was lost on our children. I asked this, not because I thought the message was too subtle, but because I felt that our home and the communities we’ve called home have been progressive enough that the events depicted in the movie seem more a relic of a bygone era as opposed to art imitating real life.  

When Merida’s father, King Fergus, gave a young Merida a bow as a birthday present, I’m not sure that birthday present had as much significance to my children as it may have to certain adults viewing the movie.

I wasn’t sure if my kids saw a father giving his daughter a bow as some revolutionary act or simply as a plot point that moves the story forward.

“I wonder if the idea that societal customs dictate who you marry, how you’re expected to behave, your career options, and how alliances are formed are lost on our daughter,” I said to my wife.

“You’d have to ask her to find out,” my wife said.

So, I went to my daughter and asked her what she was thinking when King Fergus gave Princess Merida a bow. My daughter shrugged her shoulders and told me that she didn’t give much thought to the scene.

While I had many more questions I wanted to ask my daughter, she was giving me the signal that perhaps I was reading a little too much into a kid’s movie.

Days later, we watched “Up” and were entertained by it for the umpteenth time. Fresh off the viewing of “Brave,” I was able to view the “message” in “Up” in a whole new light.  

While I wanted to ask my kids how they felt about Russell (the boy in the movie) and how he was dealing with the absence of his father since his parents split, I chose not to go there. After all, I didn’t want to get accused of reading too much into an animated movie.

While “Up” and “Brave” are entertainment properties first and foremost, I imagine they hold deeper meaning to those viewers who have dealt with the fallout from parents divorcing or lived in a time and place where your personal passions are not as important as knowing your place in that particular society.   

Whereas my daughter didn’t think much of Merida receiving a bow, I’m quite sure she would have had a lot to say if King Fergus would have told Merida that shooting a bow was something that she, as a girl, could never master. 

I’m happy that my daughter lives in a time and place where she can look at “Brave” and relate to Merida solely based on the character’s assertiveness and determination.

I know it is good that my daughter lives a life where she hasn’t had to deal with issues of being treated differently on account of gender.

I wish I could tell her that it will be like that for the rest of her life.     

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