Friday’s Essay – On ‘Brave’, Disney and Momma Bears

Elinor & Merida ('Brave')

*SPOILER ALERT – If you intend to see this film you may not want to read this post until afterwards.  For a good review of ‘Brave’ follow this link here.

I saw the new Disney/Pixar film ‘Brave’ the other evening.  All I knew about the film was that it was set in ancient Scotland and the protagonist is a young woman – a princess, of course – who is an accomplished archer.  I wanted to see if Disney could create a strong female character whose ultimate reward wasn’t love and marriage.  Though, deep down I’m a romantic sap and love all that Disney crap.  The story began much as I anticipated.  The princess, Merida, must be betrothed to one of the three sons of the allied clans – Dingwall, MacGuffin and Macintosh.  This is tradition and her mother has been preparing her for this.  The winner of the princess’ hand will be the champion who wins a contest of the princess’ choosing.  A small loophole is that the oldest child of each clan can compete to win the princess. So, of course, Merida chooses an archery contest and, in the end, wins her own hand.  This causes embarrassment to her mother and strife among the clans.  After fighting with her mother, Merida takes off on her horse into the woods.  In the woods she meets a witch from whom she purchases a spell that, in Merida’s understanding, will change her mother’s mind about the betrothal and marriage.  And, indeed, it does, only after Queen Elinor has been turned into a bear.  We soon learn that unless the rend that pride has torn is mended in two days, Elinor will remain a bear.  In the process of  working together to undo the spell mother and daughter learn to listen to and hear one another.  They each gain a better understanding of the other’s point of view.  And, at the climax of the story Queen-Elinor-the-Bear bests an old ferocious bear to protect her daughter and family.  Of course, as Merida apologizes to her mother who is nearly a bear permanently, the spell is broken.

It’s a very nice story and definitely not the one I was expecting.  I was expecting a more traditional Disney romance with a bit of a twist on the married-happily-ever-after, and hoping for not-married-happily-ever-after.  I was not expecting a mother-daughter story that would hit me where I live, so to speak.  But, that’s exactly what happened.

I have been a daughter since the moment I was born.  I have been a mother for more than eighteen years and, surprise, will continue to be a mother for rest of my life.  I am also mother to a daughter.  And, this movie got me from every direction!  The surprising thing to me was with whom I most identified.  I could identify with Merida as she complained to her horse, Angus, that her mother never listened.  And, of course, I recognized my own daughter in Merida.  I identified with Elinor as she tried to make her daughter understand her point of view and the reasons for the things she did.  But the character with whom I most identified was Queen-Elinor-the-Bear as she tore away from the ropes binding her to protect her daughter and family from the attack of the ancient boar bear Mor’du.  Apparently, deep down I am that mother bear, prepared to fight to the death to protect my family and child.

While I was in the day-to-day of being a single mom I never really took the time to reflect on what that meant to me.  I was working and studying and taking her to activities and attending parent-teacher meetings and cooking and shopping and kissing boo-boos and nagging about school work and worrying about what she was doing on the internet and … never quite figured out what being a mom means to me.  Now that I’m a bit removed from the situation I’m realizing that I enjoy being a mom.  Yes, it’s hard and frustrating and I wanted to sell her to the zoo at least once a week.  But, somehow, through all of that I felt love and a desire to protect in a way that I have never felt for another human being.  I will always feel that for her, but I miss having it close – like, in-my-house close.

Funny what a Disney cartoon makes me think about.