Finally! An Animated Movie from Disney, 'Brave,' with a Mom Who Isn't Evil or Dead

First, the good news: There's a mom in the new Disney/Pixar movie Brave, which opens in theaters today -- an actual living, breathing mom! Unlike so many animated Disney films, where mom dies in action (Bambi), is already dead (Finding Nemo) or is an evil stepmother (Cinderella), Brave boasts a heroine (and a princess, no less) with two parents. Can I get a woot-woot?

Okay, to be fair, other Pixar pictures have had moms. And I get how a motherless princess/deer/fish is automatically a more sympathetic character, but it's still annoying. So I was excited to see a princess story that didn't fit that formula. Five minutes into this movie, however, I was rolling my eyes and thinking, Here we go again, because our heroine, 16-year-old Merida, and her mother, Queen Elinor, don't get along. Merida is headstrong, rebellious and something of a tomboy while Elinor is... well, a first-class nag who's always harping about what a princess does and doesn't do. A princess doesn't "stuff her gob" with food or become an ace archer who prizes her bow and arrows (given to her by her father, natch) and most importantly, a princess doesn't refuse to get married.

Stick with it, though. For Merida's willful ways set the plot of the movie, sending her away from the three suitors trying to win her hand (each one representing a clan from the kingdom ruled by Merida's father, King Fergus) and off into the forest, where she encounters a witch and asks for a spell to change her mother -- in order to change her own fate. And you can guess how that ends up.

Spoiler alert: The witch's spell turns Queen Elinor into a bear, and after much petulant protesting from Merida that it's not her fault, she realizes her challenge is to find a way to break the spell before it becomes permanent.

Let me pause here to say that a ferocious bear called Mor'du is also part of the story, having bitten off King Fergus' leg years before. And the bears in this movie are pretty darn terrifying. (Yes, even Mama Bear, who toggles between being an endearingly cute mom-as-a-bear to just plain scary bear while under the spell). Fair warning: This PG-rated movie isn't for the very young or the easily scared. I brought my 5-year-old son to see it, and kind of wished I hadn't. (Of course, he liked it.)

At its heart, Brave is the story of a mother-daughter relationship -- one that features the teen angst, quest for independence and parental exasperation that any daughter can relate to, and the motherly concern and desire to properly raise a child that every mom understands. Like so many mother-daughter relationships, Merida and Elinor's is fraught with hurt, anger, love and forgiveness. And how they find their way back to each other makes for an ultimately touching tale.

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