Note: once again things get confusing. Brave is officially a Pixar film, but by this stage Disney and Pixar were really the same thing, different in name only, and Brave is more of a Disney film in concept and story than it is a Pixar one. Merida is occasionally referred to as Pixar’s first Princess, but she has also been added to the Disney Princess franchise. So I’m counting Brave as a Disney film here.
Personal Overview: when I first started hearing about Brave I wondered what fairy tale it had been based on, only to find out that it was an original story written by the director Brenda Chapman, the first female to direct a feature length Pixar film.
The casting all sounded really promising and had an all star cast. Billy Connolly as King Fergus of Dunbroch. Connolly is always good value and they let him do what he does best; be Scottish and shout amusingly. Kelly Macdonald as Merida, Kelly Macdonald is best known for playing Helena Ravenclaw in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Margaret Schroeder in Boardwalk Empire (Kelly Macdonald is Scottish, but Margaret is Irish). Craig Ferguson (famous for voicing Dobber in How to Train Your Dragon and playing Mr Wick from The Drew Carey Show), Kevin McKidd (Vorenus in Rome) and Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid from the Harry Potter films and Valentin Zukovsky in two Pierce Brosnan Bond films) all Scottish actors were cast in minor roles, except for Pixar regular John Katzenberger. I didn’t have an issue with casting Emma Thompson (I adore Emma Thompson) as Merida’s refined mother Eleanor and Julie Walters as the Witch, but I did wonder why they couldn’t have also cast Scottish actors in those roles.
The film is about the attempts of Eleanor and Fergus to marry Merida off to one of the sons of local clans to keep peace within the kingdom. They never say how old Merida is, but I’d put her at 16, which for the time they’re portraying does make sense. Merida is a highly spirited and headstrong young woman and isn’t having any of this being married off against her will.
When Eleanor tries to explain why this is necessary to her daughter there’s a blazing row, a tapestry is torn and Merida runs off on her Clydesdale; Angus, where she comes across a Witch (woodcarver) in the forest and procures a spell in the form of a cake (shades of Snow White and the poisoned apple there) which will ‘change’ her mother.
Of course these things are never what they seem, and the change turns Eleanor into a bear. Bears aren’t welcome in the castle. Fergus wears a bearskin cloak, he has at least one stuffed one in the great hall and he lost a leg to a giant rogue bear known as Mor’du.
Once Merida and her mother the bear work out what’s happened they try to find the Witch again. She’s gone off to a fair and won’t be back until spring. She leaves a message though that says to reverse the spell Merida has to mend that which was torn. She thinks this means the tapestry she tore when arguing with Eleanor, but the real thing that has to be fixed is the bond with her mother. Both tapestry and mother daughter bond are mended when Eleanor gets to know her daughter better as a bear than she did as a Queen and then puts her own life at risk to save Merida from the rampaging Mor’du.
There’s also some great comedy relief from Merida’s triplet brothers. Three silent, havoc causing redheads.
Hero/es: for me there are two. One of them is Merida, but I was more on the side of Eleanor. She appears cold and distant, but she’s really only trying to do what is best for the kingdom and, to her mind, Merida herself. Merida is the main character, but she’s not all that likeable. She’s supposed to be a ‘modern Princess’, but I would have preferred her to be more like Rapunzel. I can kind of understand Eleanor’s exasperation. Merida doesn’t listen, she’s frequently self centred, short sighted and even tries to change her mother by magic in a piece of remarkable gullibility and selfishness. She can stand up for herself, survive in the wild, good shot with an arrow, but needs to do a lot of growing up.
Villain/s: it’s kind of villainless. I guess Mor’du gets the ‘honour’. If he’d simply been a bear I could have let him off, because he’s just behaving like a grumpy old bear, in fact if he’d been a bear I may have even felt sorry for him. He’s old, he’s been shot a number of times, lost an eye, no wonder he’s crabby. However the bear is actually the cover for an ancient ambitious and mean prince who became bitter that he as the oldest didn’t inherit the entire kingdom when his father died, but instead had to split it between he and his brothers. The Witch could be seen as a villain, after all it is her spell and she is a Witch, however she did what she did to teach Merida a very valuable lesson, and she’s also highly amusing.
Cuteness Factor: it doesn’t sound like there’s a whole lot of cute here. Lots of funny (Fergus pretending to be Merida in a conversation with Eleanor, Eleanor as a bear and still trying to be the elegant queen, the incomprehensible Young MacGuffin), there is however a generous helping of cute. It comes in the forms of Harris, Hubert and Hamish, Merida’s irrepressible redheaded triplet brothers. They’re pretty cute as kids, although the maid Maudie from whom they are always stealing food may beg to differ, but as tiny bears (yes they ate the rest of the cake that Eleanor left) they are almost too cute for words.
Animation: this is Pixar and that means it is quality. It’s incredibly lifelike, it’s brightly colourful and you almost feel you could step into it. You can feel the grass under your feet and the water on your skin. You can smell the flowers. The sequence with the arrow is absolutely amazing. They had a job with Merida’s wild red hair, too.
Final Words: I quite like Brave. It had a sense of fun, although Merida did annoy me at times. I was glad she was made into a Princess, although not so happy that they tried to tame her after, and she’s the wild highland Princess for mine. I can’t get over the feeling that although it’s officially a Pixar film that in so many others ways it is pure Disney. Two of the songs: Touch the Sky and Song of Mor’du are two of my favourite ‘Disney’ songs. I also have to mention Fergus and Eleanor as the best Disney Princess parents ever. They’re real, they have depth, they’re believable. If you got through most of the Princess’ parents they’re not particularly well drawn or developed. They’re usually shuffled off to the side as something rather inconvenient that Disney just didn’t want to deal with.