2012 was quite a momentous year. Not only was the world supposedly due to end, but London was to host the Olympic Games. This meant that the eyes of the world would be fixed on the United Kingdom which, for the time being, includes Scotland. What better time to release an animated children’s film that demonstrates the beauty and the culture of the Highlands? It’s worth noting that the release of Brave happening around the time of the 2012 Olympics is pure coincidence, with work on the film beginning in 2008 before a change of director in 2010 delayed the project. What isn’t a coincidence is the Scottish Government’s use of this film to promote tourism in a country that hadn’t been portrayed by previous films in the best light. Perhaps two of the biggest titles were the historically inaccurate Braveheart and the wonderfully made Trainspotting, which portray Scotland as a violent nest of drugs, crime, and alcohol. At the time, The Guardian reported that VisitScotland, which is responsible for Scotland’s tourist trade, set aside £7 million to advertise itself alongside Brave in the hopes that it would increase tourism by roughly £140 million. Sadly, I cannot find any evidence that this was the case or even that tourism increased at all, but Brave itself proved to be much more successful.
We follow princess Merida as she defies the ancient custom of arranged marriage to set out on her own path. In order to change the mind of her disapproving mother, she procures a spell from a witch that turns her, unexpectedly, into a bear. What follows is a tale of magic, intrigue and familial bonding. This is PIXAR Studios second story to feature a princess, after A Bug’s Life, and they’ve come out of the gate swinging. There is a long history of Disney Princesses, though not all of them belong to the Disney Princess brand (I’m not getting into that here), and that history is filled to the brim with rushed love. Of the 14 animated princesses that Disney had provided at the time, not one of them remained single, which makes Merida’s story a truly historic milestone for the company. Whilst the Walt Disney Company is only responsible for the distribution of Brave, they officially made Merida a part of the Disney Princess brand in 2013. Brave chose to be about a love just as powerful- the love of family- and it is abundantly clear from the very first scene where, on young Merida’s birthday, her father gifts her a bow and arrow. While her mother clearly isn’t pleased with this gift, she allows Merida to play with it anyway and allows her to keep it in the following years. These three characters have a very natural chemistry and it makes for a wonderful viewing experience, even when they’re apart. This is even more apparent when Merida’s mother is turned into a bear and can no longer use words to communicate. The use of body language to convey emotion is something that PIXAR has always been good at, but it has never taken centre stage like this. I’m very much reminded of Aardman Animations’ Wallace and Gromit and I can think of no higher praise for a movie than that.
At this point, we are 13 films into the PIXAR catalogue and I once again find myself praising the visuals. I know that consistently reading about how beautiful these movies are must seem repetitive, but this is my review and these films just keep getting prettier. As with Up, the production team took a trip abroad to make sure they were representing the landscapes as best as they could, and it really pays off. Whether its the thistles, the architecture or the clothing. Brave looks and feels like Scotland. Not only that, but PIXAR made sure to hire Scottish actors and a Scottish composer in order to make the film as authentic as possible. Again, it pays off, and I find that I occasionally have to remind myself that this is an American film. I think the final aspect of Brave‘s success is how dark it is in tone. By 2012, there seemed to be a move away from dark elements in children’s films towards something lighter. Gone were the horrors of Don Bluth Animations and even the early Walt Disney cartoons. While films like The Land Before Time and The Dark Cauldron had supposedly scarred a generation, films like Frozen aimed to be a sort of “fluff piece.” Perhaps adults wanted to protect the innocence of their children for a little while longer or perhaps these happier films were easier to market. I do not know. What I do know is that Mor’du is perhaps the scariest character that PIXAR has ever given us, and perhaps the scariest in children’s films full stop. I think it’s good to challenge children like this, and to show that they are no less capable of handling fear than an adult. Judging by Brave‘s positive reception from both critics and audiences, it would seem like there is some foundation for this statement. The longest lasting impact from this film seems to have been Merida, which is a shame because there is so much more to Brave than just the main character.
Until Next Time…