Wednesday 8 August 2012

Charming without Charming

I’m a hard-nosed romantic; let me get that out of the way to begin.  I love fairy tales and tradition; I love ruined castles and haunted halls; I love witches and princesses; I love elves and goblins; I love all sorts of enchantments.  I loved Brave, a brave account of a brave old world, a world caught half way between night and a dream.  It’s an animated feature made by Pixar Studios, the same people who made Toy Story, one of my favourite childhood experiences. 

I used to love animated features.  It’s a long time since I’ve seen one, though.  The last I think was Ratatouille, also by Pixar, which I saw some years ago on a flight back from Hong Kong.  I went to see Brave, set in a mythical medieval Scotland, because I’m not long back from the country, because it was recommended here and elsewhere, because there is something crystalline and whimsical about my present mood.  I’m so glad I did because I was captivated; I was charmed and I was enchanted.  I was carried along by a will-o’-the-wisp. 

It concerns one Princess Merida, feisty, fun-loving girl of wholly independent mind, her flaming red hair as shocking and untameable as her flaming red spirit.  She takes up archery, much to the disapproval of her mother, who expects Merida to do what princesses do, which is to look decorative until such time as Prince Charming puts in an inevitable appearance. 

The only problem is that Merida does not want to get married; the time is not right; she has too much life yet to live; she wants to make her own choices; she wants to discover her own fate, her own destiny.  She most certainly does not want to marry any of the three geeks supplied by the clans who arrive at her father’s castle.  But refusal means war. 

Brave derives much of its energy from the tension between Queen Elinor, voiced by Emma Thompson, and Merida, opposite polar strengths, compatibly incompatible.  In fact they are the only strong figures in a land headed by the amiable but ineffectual King Fergus (Billy Connolly).  Merida herself is given colour and substance by Kelly Macdonald, speaking in a beautiful, melodious Scottish accent. Oh, those lilting intonations; those voluptuous vowel sounds! 

Macdonald was in Trainspotting, a bleak, ugly film set in a bleak, heroin-soaked Scotland, a movie I absolutely hated based on a novel by Irvine Welsh, a talentless poseur I absolutely despise.  There is no comparison, of course there is no comparison, between the depressing hyper-realism of the first and the transporting beauty of the second, but I would far, far rather have the fairytale.  “Legends are lessons”, the Queen tells Merida, “they rhyme with truth.”  Indeed, they do; and there are some truths better than other truths. 

So, here we have Merida, the rebellious teenager, who, in an attempt to escape an artificial fate, goes of in pursuit of will-o’-the-wisp and a real fate, her fate, her destiny, whatever it may be.  Merida, Merida, burning bright, in the forests of the night.  In the forests of the night she meets a woodcarver (Julie Walters), who is a woodcarver when she is not being a witch!  Alas, she disappears far too early from the movie. 

After promising to buy all her carvings – this is a witch with business acumen – Merida obtains a bewitched cake which, as she intends, will change her mother’s mind.  It doesn’t; it changes her into a bear!  This presents an additional family problem because Fergus had his leg torn off by a monstrous Ursa Major called Mor’du when Merida was a child. 

It’s now a race to reverse the curse, a race in which the mother discovers the daughter and the daughter the mother.  I’m not going to spoil the tale with spoilers, just in case there are any girls and boys in the audience.  Just remember that legends are lessons that do rhyme with truth, and that daughters and mothers often do come to understand one another; that there is no difficulty that cannot be surmounted by love. 

Oh, how I would have loved a Merida when I was growing up, someone I could really identity with, a princess who is not a wallflower; a princess who knows her mind and has a mind to share.  This is a visually and morally luscious experience without, I’m delighted to say, the advent of Prince Charming.  No, it’s just charming.  This is a heart-warming, poignant and funny modern fairy tale for imaginative, sentimental and funny modern girls.  Girls like me.  


  1. I tend to like my witches a little more sinister - Michelle Pfeiffer in Stardust - and a little less chirpy crone, but I thought the movie was splendid overall. It was nice to see a new tale instead of the endless reworkings of the Grimm standards.

    I don't know if you saw Snow White and the Huntsman or Mirror, Mirror. I haven't seen the latter, but the former had beautiful imagery spoilt by the sulking, leaden performance of KS. Even Charlize Theron could not quite rescue it.

    What do you imagine is behind all these Snow White remakes? Is it just coincidence? Or is Hollywood sending us a message about something?

    1. I know what you mean about the witch, but I thought Walters brought a comic charm to the part, totally at variance with her sinister appearance!

      Actually, Calvin, this is the first movie I've been to see in an age. I shall have to take the time to see the Snow Whites, then I'll be a better position to say if there is a message or not. :-)