I think I saw the first trailer for the Disney/Pixar movie Brave shortly after I returned from Scotland, which means I was in major sentimental mode. Even an animated glimpse of the Scottish landscape with a red-haired young woman riding a horse, a lovely Scottish ballad in the background, was enough to move me to tears. Like I said, I’m incredibly sentimental.
So I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time. Imagine my dismay when people I know started to see the movie and the response was tepid. As in, “Eh, it was okay” or “Not one of their best.” Poor Scotland.
I held out hope that they were just all wrong, and my friend Koh (who I visited in Scotland last year) and I saw it yesterday in a theatre matinee full of small children and annoyed parents. We both walked away pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t The Incredibles or Finding Nemo, but it was pretty good, in my book. It had plenty of cuteness and plenty of charm.
Here’s what I really loved about Brave:
It was about a girl and her mother.
I’m sure the internet will correct me on this if I’m wrong, but most animated movies, Disney or Pixar or otherwise, seem to be about girls and their fathers, boys and their fathers, or kids and their parents. Or orphans, which are really about children and their absent parents. In the place of the mother is an evil stepmother, a wicked witch, or a gaping hole.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all riled up about feminism and gender roles. Whatever, girls like to be princesses, witches are scary, it’s fine. But where are the queen mums? Cinderella, nope. Aladdin, nope. Peter Pan is sort of about a little girl growing up, but her mom’s not a huge part of it. Tangled, a much more recent example hits on the mother/daughter issue somewhat, but in a really dysfunctional way. The Incredibles is one of the only movies that I can point to and say, “Hey, mom and daughter issues are worked through and resolved in a healthy way.”
I’m not talking about power struggles between men and women and how they’re represented in the media; I’m talking about the absence of the most important woman in a little girl’s life. Her mother. Some little girls don’t have mothers, and that is sad. So someone takes the place of that mother: a grandmother, a stepmother, an aunt or teacher. Little girls need a mother figure in their lives.
And Brave was about that. It was about a mother who wanted to change her daughter, and a daughter who wanted to change her mother. They both wanted to be heard.
I can’t tell you how many of my friends struggle with their relationship with their mothers. Their fathers are laid-back or supportive, but their moms? That’s another story. Why isn’t that story being told? If media reflects our society, why aren’t there more stories about moms and daughters who don’t get each other?
The best part of Brave for me, besides the Scottish aspect (accents, hillsides, and magic; what more could I want?), was how everyone was changed at the end. I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice to say, both mother and daughter had something to learn and something to teach. And when both were wiling to hear and to try, they were able to realize their love for each other and the wisdom of the other.
That’s what’s Brave, really. It’s not just about being brave in battle, having a heroine who is anti-domesticity. Bravery isn’t just about archery or fighting the power or making social change (though all of that does require bravery). Being brave can be about listening to another’s opinions and watching their way of life, and being open to change. To realizing that you might not have it 100% right. That other ways of life that are not yours can still be good, and they should be yours.
Example (not about moms/daughters, but still): I just listened to a Nerdist podcast (none of which are safe for tender ears) where Nerdist founder Chris Hardwick talked to his father, former professional bowler Billy Hardwick. Chris is 40; his father turned 70 this year. They just sat down and talked. Billy did most of the talking, about his life and his pains and his stories of fame and his downfalls, about the game he loves and what he hoped for his children. Chris listened, and as a reward, heard new stories, and heard that his dad loved him. And his dad got to talk, tell his stories, and feel like his son valued what he had to say.
That is Brave.
Here’s my call. Can we do this? Can we be brave, and talk to our parents, and ask them to be brave and talk to us? Can we open up about the things that matter in our lives, what we’re doing, where we’re going? Maybe your parents aren’t ready for this, but let’s start the conversation. They’ll never be ready if you don’t start talking, and then the years will pass and you’ll realize that you never had a real conversation with your mom. Or your dad.
You never know what you could learn. You never know how your life could change. How you could become braver by learning to sew or learning to fight, or teaching either of those things.
I have a great relationship with my mother, but to her credit, she has never tried to make me into someone I’m not. I’m thankful that I have a mom who is brave enough to confide in me, and I’m grateful to have a mom who listens when I confide in her. We’re still always learning how to teach each other, and it will be a lifelong endeavor. But what could be better?
Society is full of speakers. It needs more listeners. Especially among daughters and their mothers. Ladies, let’s be brave. Let’s talk to our moms.
(Guys and dads, you can join in too. There’s always room for the brave among the brave.)