Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”
Source material: Original concept by Brenda Chapman, yet the reference to a long lost kingdom from days past where there was a king and he had four sons is a reference to the early French ruler Clovis, who had four sons and, upon his death, split the region of Gaul (modern day France) into four parts, one for each son to rule.
Budget: $185 million
Box office: $540.4 million
Plot: In Medieval Scotland, Princess Merida of the clan Dunbroch is given a bow and arrow by her father, King Fergus, for her sixth birthday to the dismay of her mother, Queen Elinor. While venturing into the woods to fetch a stray arrow, Merida encounters a will-o’-the-wisp. Soon afterward, Mor’du, a huge demon bear, attacks the family. Merida flees on horseback with Elinor, while Fergus and his men fend off Mor’du, though the fight costs him one of his legs.
Ten years later, Merida discovers that to her dismay, she is to be betrothed to the son of one of her father’s allies. Reminding Merida of a legend of a prince whose pride and refusal to follow his father’s wishes destroyed his kingdom, Elinor explains that failure to consent to the betrothal could harm Dunbroch. The allied clan chieftains and their first-born sons arrive to compete in the Highland games for Merida’s hand in marriage. Merida twists the rules, announcing that as her own clan’s firstborn she is eligible to compete for her own hand. She easily bests her suitors in an archery contest, shaming the other clans.
Later, she and Elinor argue, in which Elinor throws Merida’s bow into the fire and Merida leaves. After following the wisps to the hut of an elderly witch, Merida bargains with her for a spell to change her fate. When Merida gives the spell, in the form of a cake, to Elinor, it causes Elinor to transform into a bear, unable to speak but still retaining most of her human personality.
Merida returns to the witch’s cottage with Elinor, only to find it deserted, and discovers a message from the witch: unless Merida is able to “mend the bond torn by pride” before the second sunrise, the spell will become permanent.
Merida and Elinor are led by the wisps to ancient ruins, where they encounter Mor’du. Realizing that Mor’du was the prince in the legend, Merida vows that she will not let the same thing happen to her mother, and concludes she needs to repair the family tapestry she damaged during their argument.
They return to the castle to find the clans on the verge of war. Having learned from her experience with her mother, Merida intends to declare herself ready to choose a suitor as tradition demands, but with nonverbal encouragement from Elinor, instead insists that the first-borns should be allowed to marry in their own time to whomever they choose. The clans agree, breaking tradition but renewing and strengthening their alliance.
Merida sneaks into the tapestry room with Elinor. Elinor, who is losing her humanity, attacks Fergus, but suddenly regains her composure and flees the castle. Mistaking the queen for Mor’du and unwilling to listen to Merida, Fergus pursues the bear with the other clans, locking Merida in the castle. With the help of her younger triplet brothers, who also ate the cake and have been transformed into bear cubs, Merida escapes and repairs the tapestry while riding after her father.
Fergus and the clans capture Elinor, but Merida intervenes and stops her father before Mor’du arrives. Mor’du batters the clan warriors and targets Merida, but Elinor intercedes, holding off Mor’du and causing him to be crushed by a falling menhir. This releases the spirit of the prince, who silently thanks Merida for freeing him. As the sun rises for the second time, Merida realizes the mistakes she has made and reconciles with Elinor, unknowingly fulfilling the real meaning of the witch’s message, causing the queen and the princes to turn back into humans.
With Mor’du gone, Merida and Elinor work together on a new tapestry when they are called to the docks to bid farewell to the other clans, and ride their horses.
Background: After graduating from Cal Arts with a BFA in character animation, Brenda Chapman was a story trainee on The Little Mermaid. She was a story artist on Beauty and the Beast, and head of story on The Lion King. When Jeffrey Katzenberg left Disney to form Dreamworks, Chapman went too. She was one of a team of three directors who worked on The Prince of Egypt, along with Steve Hickner and Simon Wells. She became the first woman to land a directing role in an animated feature by a major studio. 1 She joined Pixar in 2003, working on WALL-E and Up.
The film was announced in April 2008 as The Bear and the Bow. Chapman considers it a fairy tale in the tradition of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. She drew inspiration from her relationship with her daughter. Chapman conceived the project and was announced as the film’s director, making her Pixar’s first female director, but in October 2010, she was replaced by Mark Andrews after creative disagreements. Chapman found the news of her replacement “devastating,” but later stated that her “vision came through in the film.” When asked whether she will return to Pixar, Chapman responded: “That door is closed. I made the right decision to leave and firmly closed that door. I have no desire to go back there. The atmosphere and the leadership doesn’t fit well with me.”
Animation: (Rather than try to explain computer animation, I am going to quote an article from Inside Science from June 20, 2012 written by Emilie Lorditch)
Merida’s explosion of fiery ringlets started as a series of springs on a computer. The Pixar team created many kinds of springs, including short, long, fat, thin, stretched, compressed, bouncy and stiff. In order to give Merida’s hair volume, the springs were entered on the computer screen in layers. The layers varied the length, size and flexibility of each curl.
“We used 1,500 hand-placed, sculpted individual curls,” said [Claudia] Chung. 2 “There is this weird paradox where a ‘spring’ of hair needs to remain stiff in order to hold its curl but it also has to remain soft in its movement.”
Once Merida’s hair was in place, the next step was making it move naturally. Chung and her team of groomers used a new technique to represent the hair. Called a “core curve and points,” the result bears a resemblance to a beaded necklace. The core curve is like the chain of the necklace and the points, which include the springs, are like the beads. When Merida moves her head, her curls move along the curve, keep their shape and flexibility while maintaining the look of her character.
Music and Songs: The score for Brave was composed by Patrick Doyle and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Doyle also composed several songs for the film.
- “A Mhaighdean Uasal Bhan (Noble Maiden Fair)”
- “Song of Mor’du”
Other songs include:
- “Learn Me Right” written by Mumford & Sons and performed with Birdy,
- “Touch the Sky” music by Alex Mandel, lyrics by Mark Andrews & Mandel. Sung by Julie Fowlis
- “Into the Open Air” music and lyrics by Alex Mandel. Sung by Julie Fowlis.
Kelly Macdonald as Merida.3 She is known for the films Trainspotting, Gosford Park, Intermission, Nanny McPhee, Finding Neverland, No Country for Old Men, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. On television, she appeared in the film The Girl in the Cafe, 4 State of Play and Boardwalk Empire as Margaret Thompson. 5 Dame Emma Thompson as Queen Elinor. She is known for her roles in films as Dead Again, Much Ado About Nothing, Howard’s End 6 The Remains of the Day, 7 In the Name of the Father, 8 Sense and Sensibility, 9 the Harry Potter film series, Wit, Love Actually, Angels in America, Nanny McPhee, Stranger than Fiction, Last Chance Harvey, Men in Black 3, and Beauty and the Beast.
Sir Billy Connolly as King Fergus. He previously voiced a character in Pocahontas. He has appeared in such films as Water, Indecent Proposal, Muppet Treasure Island, Mrs. Brown, The Boondock Saints, The Man Who Sued God, The Last Samurai, Timeline, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, Open Season, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Open Season 2, Quartet, and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Julie Walters as The Witch. She first became known for playing the title role in Educating Rita. 10 Her other film credits include Personal Services, Prick Up Your Ears, Buster, Stepping Out, Sister My Sister, Girls’ Night, Titanic Town, Billy Elliot, 11 Calendar Girls, Wah-Wah, Driving Lessons, Becoming Jane, Mamma Mia! and its sequel, Paddington and its sequel Effie Gray, Brooklyn, and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. She played Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter films.
Robbie Coltrane as Lord Dingwall. Je known for his roles as Rubeus Hagrid in the Harry Potter films, as Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky in the etale James Bond films, and as Dr. Eddie “Fitz” Fitzgerald in the British TV series Cracker during the 1990s.He appeared in Flash Gordon, Death Watch, Balham, Gateway to the South, Scrubbers, Krull, The Supergrass, Defence of the Realm, Absolute Beginners, Mona Lisa, The Fruit Machine, Henry V, and Nuns on the Run. Kevin McKidd as Lord MacGuffin and Young MacGuffin.12 He is best known forplaying the role of Owen Hunt in Grey’s Anatomy. He also appeared inTrainspotting, Anna Karenina, and Rome. He provided the voice of John “Soap” MacTavish in the video games Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. He played Poseidon in the film Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.
Craig Ferguson returns as Lord Macintosh. Steve Purcell as The Raven. He is most widely known as the creator of Sam & Max, an independent comic book series about a pair of anthropomorphic animal vigilantes and private investigators, for which Purcell received an Eisner Award in 2007. He joined Pixar and worked on Cars and Ratatouille. He went to work for Telltale Games.
Where in the World is John Ratzenberger? John plays Gordon, the guard.
Pizza Planet Truck: A wood carving in the witches hut (even though there were of course no cars in this era)
A 113 A113 can be seen carved in Roman Numerals in the Witch’s Hut.
Critical Reception: Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 out of 4 stars. He wrote, “The good news is that the kids will probably love it, and the bad news is that parents will be disappointed if they’re hoping for another Pixar groundbreaker. Unlike such brightly original films as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and Up, this one finds Pixar poaching on traditional territory of Disney.” He said that the film did have an uplifting message about improving communication between mothers and daughters, “although transforming your mother into a bear is a rather extreme first step”.
Legacy: The film won the Academy Award, the Golden Globe, and the BAFTA Award for Best Animated Feature Film. Merida has a designated meet and greet spot in the Magic Kingdom, and appears in the parades. Merida appears as a recurring character on the fifth season of Once Upon a Time, makes a special appearance in a 2015 episode of Sofia the First titled “The Secret Library,” and will appear in the film Ralph Breaks the Internet voiced by Macdonald.
Pixar created three original tartan patterns for the film for three of the four clans – DunBroch, Dingwall, and MacGuffin. (Clan Macintosh wears a red tartan similar to the nonfictional Clan Mackintosh.) The Walt Disney Company registered the Clan DunBroch tartan with the official Scottish Register of Tartans upon release of the film. 13 The color scheme is:
- Ocean blue for the North Sea
- Deep scarlet for the family’s reverence for its own history, and the blood shed during battles between the clans
- Deep green for love for the Scottish highlands
- Navy blue and its clear central intersections for the forging of the clans within the DunBroch kingdom
- Subtle grey for the inner soul of the Scots
Video games: A video game based on the film was published by Disney Interactive Studios on June 19, 2012, for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PC, and Nintendo DS. A mobile video game, Temple Run: Brave, was released on June 14, 2012, for iOS and Android, and on June 7, 2013, for Windows Phone.
I can’t really say that I loved this film. I liked it when I first saw. It’s beautiful though. Merida’s hair alone is fascinating.
I have to say that I didn’t buy the part about the young ones deciding for themselves who they could marry, because, let’s face it, it’s the Middle Ages and that just wasn’t done. It’s an example of the present social norms shoehorned into the past
Next Week: WE’RE GONNA WRECK IT!