Not Feeling “Brave”: Why Every Hero Needs A Sam

I sat down in the theater, hoping to be swept away by the CG beauty of Pixar’s “Brave.”  While the background and animation is beautiful and smooth, I walked away with a sense of emptiness, a sense of missed expectation.  As my family and I went to lunch, I was asked what I thought, and I couldn’t answer.  While we waited for food, I sat and thought.

I began to venture theories: The characters weren’t fully rounded.  The relationship between Merida and her mother wasn’t fully developed, and that’s the key relationship in the film.  Some of the characters were generic.  The plot was a little empty.  Merida’s actions were self-centered, and she never fully redeems herself.  There are moments of action, but I never felt full peril.

The stakes in “Brave” aren’t nearly as high as they should be.  The kingdom never feels as if it is in real peril.  There is only one moment when Merida seems in peril, but she quickly escapes so children aren’t too scared by this film.  Her mother is in danger, but everyone knows the structure of this tale, and the key to a solution is given early on and has blazing neon lights around it.

There is a grave lack of subtlety and cleverness, a cleverness that “Tangled” has.  Tangled adds twists and enough variation on the classic fairy tale to maintain suspense.  We know she’ll end happily, but we don’t know how, and there are several moments when it looks hopeless.  Also, Rapunzel has Flynn Rider, the horse, the chameleon, and the entire group of ruffians from the Ugly Duckling to help her, question her, and show dynamics of her character.

In “Brave,” Merida’s brothers are one-dimensional.  Her father is a fun, and enjoyable character, but she has rare moments with him, and she never confides in him.  There is so much time spent developing a conflict between Merida and her mother, that when danger comes the connection between the two seems forced.

The problem comes down to this: There is no Sam.

This is in reference to Sam Gamgee of The Lord of The Rings Trilogy.  Both in the films and the original books, Sam becomes the heart of the story.  His loyalty to Frodo even through the darkest moments at the very end is what ends up carrying the whole epic tale.  He is a loyal companion who is honest with Frodo, who questions the hero, and also creates an anchor into reality and everyday life.  He is a foil to Frodo as Frodo is attempting to trust Gollum/Smeagol.  This all culminates in the moment when Frodo is too weak to climb the final rise to Mt. Doom, and Sam carries Frodo, pack and all, to the fires so they can destroy the ring.

As mentioned before, Merida has no true companion.  The most important relationship is with her mother, and that feels empty and forced.  If there were a Sam character, whether it be an animal, a brother, a friend, a maid, the witch, a talking bear or Baloo from The Jungle Book, or some male love interest, it would add a triangle dynamic.  Merida could freak out at what happened, have good council, ignore the good council and do something foolish, and then accept the good council.

Frankly, “Brave” could have been a great film with a great story.  Despite having a butt-kicking girl, which I am a major fan of, it misses opportunities for a more compelling story and better character development.  The best part of Merida is her awesome hair.

What did you think of Brave?  Were you satisfied, dissatisfied?  Do you prefer Sean Astin as Rudy or Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee?

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2 thoughts on “Not Feeling “Brave”: Why Every Hero Needs A Sam

  1. I came back to this from your Christmas post because I actually just watched Brave. I was most ecstatic about her hair and adventurous character, because that clicked with me. Plot-wise, however, you are correct. I felt like the story just did not have enough depth or character development. The mother character especially frustrated me, because I felt like the jump between her “nice” side and the demanding side was too quick and too broad. In the first scene she’s very sweet and likable, but becomes a completely different character for most of the rest of the film. Overall, a light-hearted and enjoyable film, but not as great as it could have been.

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