No matter what the haters at IMDB might be saying about how un-Pixar Brave is, don’t go by what they say. I guess the Pixar diehards are expecting to see Up every time this label is put on something, but considering how many variations they go though, including all those wonderful Studio Ghibli movies, you really need to see each movie for itself, because Pixar movies are rarely cookie cutter. Brave is its own story, and considering all the on-site research the writers and artists went through to get this movie to us, a little appreciation is in order.
This movie features pretty much all Scottish voice actors, some you are most likely familiar with, with the exception of the one constant in the Pixar universe, John Ratzenberger. This is the story of Merida Dumbroch (Kelly MacDonald), a Highland princess living during the 11th century, and how she tries to change her fate in a devious way. Merida is a free spirit, and she is very much her father’s daughter. Fergus Dumbroch (Billy Connolly) is ruling a small kingdom of four clans, and Merida is his first born, and the only princess in the clans. When Merida was a very wee lass, her father presented her with her own bow on her birthday, much to her mother, Elinor’s (Emma Thompson) protest. Merida takes a few shots, only to have them miss, and one went flying into the forest. Her mother tells her to go fetch it, and in the forest, she finds little blue lights leading her about. These are will o’ the wisps, and the legend says that they will lead you to your fate. Just as they lead young Merida to the safety of her little birthday party, a huge black bear comes out of the woods to attack the party-goers. This is no ordinary bear. This is Mor’du, a demonic bear that has been terrorizing the region for what seems centuries, and this time it is Clan Dumbroch’s turn to get some of his wrath. Elinor scoops Merida up while Fergus and his warriors fight with the bear. Everyone survives, and the movie fast forwards about ten to twelve years later.
Now, Merida is a teen, and Elinor has given Fergus triplets with their father’s bright red hair, and a devilish streak as long as Loch Lomond. Merida is now under Elinor’s training to be the perfect princess. She spends hours learning all kinds of royal lessons, and soon this leads up to the day when the three other clan in the kingdom will come together in games to compete for the hand in marriage to Princess Merida. Merida is completely against this, and is not ready to be married, let alone an arranged marriage. The three clan lairds, Lord Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane), Lord MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd), and Lord MacIntosh (Craig Ferguson) present their eldest sons, the Young MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd), which no one can really understand. The sexy Young MacIntosh (Steven Cree), that every young lady in the kingdom wants, with the exception of Merida. When Lord Dingwall presents a huge man with long black locks and huge muscles, Merida’s interest perks up, only for him to pull the actual Wee Dingwall (Callum O’Neill) from behind the huge warrior. Wee Dingwall is clumsy and clueless. When Elinor announces that the princess must choose the competition in which the first-borns must play to win her hand, sharpshooter Merida chooses archery, and she has found a way out, since she can shoot better than anyone. When the boys take to the field, the competition is intense, and by a quirk of fate, it looks like Merida might become Lady Dingwall, until she takes to the field to shoot for her own hand, as she is also a first-born of a clan leader. Elinor cannot allow this scandalous behavior to go on, as Merida is embarrassing the royals and the clan leaders with her display.
Elinor pulls Merida back into the castle, and the two have it out, and Elinor throws Merida’s bow into the fire after Merida rips a tapestry her mother has been weaving on for years with a sword. Merida storms from the castle, and rides her Clydesdale through the forest until he stops at a faerie circle. Elinor is able to save the bow from burning, but Merida finds something completely unusual. She finds the will o’ the wisps again, and follows them to a cottage. She goes in and finds a old woman making wood carvings, and they all are of bears. Cute and whimsical or fierce and strong, they are all here, but the woodcarving old woman lets a few too many words slip, and her broom sweeps up sawdust on its own, and the pet crow is talking. Yes, this old lady is a witch (Julie Walters). She’s about to give Merida the boot, since she won’t buy anything, but Merida offers to buy all the carvings and one spell, in exchange for a silver pendant featuring bears in Celtic knotwork with emerald eyes. This is where Merida will change her fate, and she changes so much more than that with this spell, because the medium in which the magic does its work is a simple cake, and this cake will change anyone whom eats it into a bear! And this is exactly what happens to Queen Elinor. With a bear-hating kingdom now hunting down Merida and Elinor, thinking this new bear is Mor’du, the whole of the four clans are in an uproar, and it takes some crazy plans to get Elinor back to her old self again. The scene where Merida thinks she’s lost her mother to the bear instincts withing her at the last moment is going to make your eyes leak, and Musings dares you to hold those tears back.
If you do take the time to watch the extra features on the DVD set, you will learn that the production team did not take this project lightly. They went to Scotland to learn about the culture, language, and topography. All the most minute details in this film are rich and make it even more visually stunning. Merida is not a typical Disney princess, similar to Tiana of The Princess and the Frog, and this is no typical fairytale movie. It takes a spectacular group of storytellers to create a new classic, and that’s exactly what brave is.
I give this film a Musing review of