While the house of Walt Disney has been pioneering ground-breaking animation techniques for most of the previous century, it isn't exactly known for telling its storytelling. In its golden age, Disney had a formula which it stuck to — the princess tale. In its late 20th century revival, it was the hero's journey.
Yet with Brave, we are presented a heroine that no one would have expected from Disney, of all animation studios. In the green glens of Scotland, the spirited red-haired princess Merida is athletic, boisterous, rambunctious, prone to pranks, and an accomplished sportswoman (among her feats: brilliant archery and horse riding!) who is not at all interested in the business of getting married off to a suitable boy or being groomed as a traditional princess and a suitable bride. Who can blame her? Her royal parental unit-approved suitors are apparently a bunch of dimwits. As she so forcefully puts it to her mother, the picture perfect and well-poised Queen Elinor, "I would rather die than become you!"
Brave is not a radical film simply because Merida is a princess whose love is not up for grabs (at least by male suitors), or because she pokes a defiant finger at authority, or because Merida has the temerity to enter herself into a contest for her own hand. It's radical in how it resolves the central conflict of the story. Authority figures don't have to die for a new way of thinking to be accepted, the protagonist doesn't have to go through the Disney princess ordeal of character-building hardship. Brave is revolutionary in the sense that it is the stick-in-the-mud queen who undergoes a magical transformation so that the resulting adventure will result in her change of mind — and not the taming and domestication of Merida.
Instead, Merida's personal rebellion and magical mischief (fuelled by a well-meaning witch, no less) creates a crisis for the kingdom when the queen is turned into a bear (no, we're not talking about Emma Thompson doing a Buck Angel here) and her little brothers are transformed into cubs. And it turns out the King loves to chase bears in his spare time as a result of an encounter in his youth.
For a counter-cultural and subversive Disney film, Brave hits all the right notes. Bring your favourite nephews and nieces and younger cousins along for their much-needed deprogramming from traditional gender roles!