Brave: Creating a modern fairy tale

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

Once upon a time, full length animated movies were largely the province of Walt Disney, and the classics like FANTASIA and BAMBI and ALICE IN WONDERLAND were released ever few years so new generations of kids could enjoy them. 

The advent of computer generated imagery (CGI) has made the category of animated feature films much larger.  The Academy Awards have had an Oscar for the best animated feature since 2001.

BRAVE-POSTER_510I’m seen a sprinkling of the well reviewed animated features of the last decade: SHREK, ICE AGE, FINDING NEMO, TOY STORY, etc.  I’ve found them pretty and mildly entertaining, though a couple so completely failed to catch our interest that we sent the discs back to Netflix largely unwatched.

But over the weekend, I saw the first animated feature that I loved: BRAVE.  It’s the first that really caught at my heart, which may be why I loved it.

I’m often behind the cultural curve, so I expect that many of you have already seen BRAVE, so please excuse me while I burble.  

For starters, the film is visually stunning.  Made by Pixar, it uses newly developed software, and the result is so gorgeous you want to fall into the images and live there.

Spoiler Alert!

For anyone who plans to see the BRAVE dvd and doesn’t want to have the surprises spoiled, quit here because I want to talk about the film and what made it special to me.

As I saId, BRAVE was made by Pixar, and is the first of their films to have a (gasp!) female protagonist.  It helped that one of the principal creators was female, Brenda Chapman.

The film was distributed by Walt Disney, a company which knows a thing or two about princesses.  But unlike charming movies like BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, there is no romance!  MULAN is mostly a girl’s adventure story based on an old Chinese legend, but in the end, she finds love, too.

Naturally I love romance, but I was tickled that there wasn’t a shred of it in BRAVE. Instead, it’s a story of a mother and a rebellious daughter, who love each other but have a relationship strained by the daughter’s fierce independence. 

The princess daughter is Merida (pronounced MER-i-da), a teenager with hair that is such a mass of wild red curls that it’s almost a character in its own right. <g>  Her father is King Fergus and her mother, Queen Elinor, does her best to train her daughter to be a responsible young princess.

Merida and angus
Naturally, Merida HATES this.  On her rare free days, she tears off into the forest on her faithful horse, Angus, a great beast with the huge feathered feet that one would expect to see in a real medieval war horse—more Clydesdale than Arabian. 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more exuberant piece of film than Merida galloping through the woods, practicing her brilliant archery and climbing a famously dangerous pillar of stone.  She radiates life and enthusiasm. 

But she may not be the brightest candle on the chandelier, since she is shocked, SHOCKED <g>, when told that the three allied clans are coming to present their oldest princes as suitors for Merida’s hand.  Merida is Not Ready to settle down, and the potential suitors are, to say the least, unprepossessing. 

Mother and daughterThe queen’s demands that her daughter behave causes an explosion as irresistible force meets immovable object. Merida roars off into the forest, runs into a witch, and learns a terrible lesson in magical contracts.  Namely, don’t ask for something as vague as “I want my mother to change.”  Because the results can be ANYTHING. 

The spell Merida buys turns her mother into—a bear.  And this in the middle of a castle full of men obsessed with hunting and killing bears.  Bears were symbols of power and danger.  The word “berserker” comes the Nordic warriors who fought in a state of trance like rage and wore bear skins into battle. 

Much humor is derived from the queen’s confusion and embarrassment at her change, and Merida’s desperate attempts to protect her mother and reverse the spell.  But it’s scary, too!  At the end, I was saying, "Nooooooo!  Pooor bearrrr!!!!"

The ending is happy, and has no handsome prince popping up for Merida to fall in love with.  But it’s a very American fairy tale in that independence and the opportunity to pick one’s own mate in one’s own time trumps responsibility to one’s family, position, and society—exactly the values that Queen Elinor champions.  It’s the difference between reading Georgette Heyer, where an elopement is naughty fun, and reading Jane Austen, where an elopement is devastating to the whole family and its position in society. 

As an author, I try to write characters that fit within the mores of their era.  When your family and community were everyone's safety net, responsibility to others is vital.

Brave-3-680Nonetheless, I still adored Merida and her spirit and her wild red curls. <G>  Have you seen BRAVE, and if so, did you like it?  How do you feel about animated films in general?  Love them, tolerate them, or hate them?  I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Mary Jo, who loves independent Scottish lassies (of the sort Wench Susan writes about!)