Directors: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews
Writers: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews
Cast: Kelly MacDonald, Billy Connelly, Emma Thompson
Central to the story is Merida’s relationship with her mother Elinor who is single-minded in her determination to see Merida fulfill the clan’s tradition of marrying a neighbouring clan’s prince. To this end, Elinor constantly corrects and trains Merida to behave in a manner befitting a lady. Meriad on the other hand has other livelier interests – archery and horseriding – and this becomes a source of much tension between mother and daughter.
The family patriarch is Fergus, king of all the clans. Voiced by Billy Connelly, he is a man with a booming voice and of great importance but he is ultimately laid back and is happiest when he gets to regail an audience with the story of how he lost his leg fighting the mighty bear Mor’du. He actually shows a greater willingness than his wife and daughter to listen and support both their wishes although he is not always the best moderator between the two. Fergus and Elinor also have triplets – three young boys who constantly get up to mischief around the castle but ultimately come to play an important part in the events that unfold.
When Merida ruins a festival where she deliberately outshines her suitors at an archery contest, she has a heated arguement with her mother and runs away from home in a fit of anger. In the forest, she follows a trail of willow-the-wisps and encounters a witch who is comically obsessed with making bear carvings. The witch sells Merida a potion to ‘change her fate’ to be betrothed to a tribal prince in exchange for Merida purchasing the entire contents of the witch’s shop. All Merida has to do is feed this potion to her mother, disguised in a slice of cake. From there, the film has a twist which I shall not spoil.
There are many characters in this film that can be considered brave. There are acts of courage shown by Merida and Elinor in protecting one another from harm. There is bravery from King Fergus who fearlessly battles twelve foot tall bears to protect his family. And there is bravery on the part of Pixar who have taken the time-honoured Disney princess formula and changed it in ways that allow them greater creativity with the story but will surely cost them a greater potential audience. Although I personally enjoyed this film, it has had a mixed critical reception and I wager its not going to touch the popularity of the heavy hitters like The Incredibles or Finding Nemo.
Brave is the first Disney princess film that I know of where the heroine isn’t definined by her love for a man. Merida isn’t anti-social or disinterested in a relationship, she simply protests the idea of an arranged marriage in principle. To be honest, Merida’s capacity for physically defending herself and maintaining her agency puts in her in a tiny category of film heroines including Ripley from Alien and Agent Mallory from Haywire.
Brave also bucks plenty of other animated film conventions, Disney or otherwise. The witch in this film isn’t evil. The story is set in Scotland but the lead character isn’t arbitrarily given an American accent to give them ‘broader’ appeal (see: Aladdin, Lion King, How To Train Your Dragon etc). Even the pacing of the tale is unusual and I say that in a good way. Twenty minutes into this film, I had no idea where it was going. The film is confident in the same ways Merida is. It’s happy to go its own way.
One last bit of praise: the film looks fantastic. I think the animators at Pixar and Dreamworks have really hit their stride with recent efforts. Tangled and How To Train Your Dragon both set high benchmarks for their vividly colourful and detailed imagery and Brave is certainly their equal. Both the smaller details, like Merida’s twisted tussles of hair and the wide angle shots of the Scottish countryside are eyecatching in their quality.
Brave is a film that shows Pixar back to their creative best. The film doesn’t quite aim for the same emotional highs and lows of films like Up and Toy Story 3 but it is a wonderful, creative endeavour and I’m glad Pixar still shows a willingness to support projects like this. That three out of their next four films are new stories rather than sequels suggests that the best is yet to come.