Note to readers: This post contains spoilers.
This Pixar animated fairy tale Brave has a lot of charm; it’s one of the few movies this summer that I’ve been able to send friends to. But it takes a wrong turn in the middle that’s almost disastrous. The heroine, a bright, tomboyish Scottish princess named Merida, has reached the age to be courted, but she has no interest in any of her suitors and she bests them easily at the archery competition that’s meant to determine which one is worthy of her hand. Merida hopes that she can win her mother’s sympathy but instead the queen is furious at her unladylike behavior. So – in the film’s most inventive sequence – the princess enlists the help of a witch who promises to deliver a potion that will alter the queen’s perspective. What it does is to transform Queen Elinor into a bear. The scenes that follow, in which Elinor continues to attempt to act in a queenly manner while her body keeps working against her (and while she’s unable to communicate except through gesture), are comical, and Merida’s efforts to keep her father, a celebrated bear hunter, from seeing Elinor while trying frantically to track down an antidote underscore the princess’s imagination and resourcefulness, certainly appropriate in a coming-of-age story. The problem is what we might call tonal follow-through.