Friday, March 1, 2013

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down Movie Review on Disney's & Pixar's Animated Feature Film "BRAVE"

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film 2012, Disney & Pixar's Brave, was directed by Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman. They got the Oscars. Steve Purcell was Co-Director and sadly did not get an Oscar statuette.  Brenda Chapman is also credited with coming up with the story for Brave. She and all of the other directors and co-director wrote the screenplay along with Irene Mecchi. Additional Screenplay Material was provided by Michael Arndt. The wonderful Celtic-style music was written by Patrick Doyle, the composer who wrote the score for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Starring the voice talents of Kelly Macdonald (Merida), Billy Connolly (Fergus), Emma Thompson (Elinor), Julie Walters (The Witch), Robbie Coltrane (Lord Dingwall), Kevin McKidd (Lord MacGuffin & Young MacGuffin), Craig Ferguson (Lord Macintosh), Steven Cree (Young Macintosh), and Callum O'Niell (Wee Dingwall), Brave is about a rebellious princess who prefers shooting arrows to learning how to be a proper princess as her mother, Elinor (Walters), tries to teach her. Their conflict with each other is what pushes the story forward.

Merida learning to Shoot

The movie starts out with beginning credits on black saying who made the film then we fly over trees with the camera and find ourselves in the midst of one of Young Merida's (Peigi Barker) birthdays out in the forest with her mother and father. Young Merida receives a bow and arrows from her father and proceeds to try and shoot it. When one of her arrows misses and flies off into the forest her mother sends her to get it and as she leaves Elinor tells Fergus (Connolly) that a bow is not a proper present for a lady. Young Merida ventures out into the forest looking for her arrow and when she finds it she pulls it out of the tree it was in and hears a wispy kind of sound behind her and she turns around to see a will-o’-the-wisp, a tiny blue-colored, floating, flame-like piece of cloudy air. Young Merida goes to it and tries to touch it but it vanishes. Then we see a trail of them leading off into the woods back to where her parents are. When she reaches her parents she tells them, “I saw a wisp.” Elinor, her mother, replies, “A wisp? You know, some say that will-o’-the-wisps lead you to your fate.” Young Merida’s eyes go wide in wonder before her father adds, “Or an arrow,” And then he laughs. Elinor scoops Young Merida up and says, “Your father doesn’t believe in magic.” She replies, “Well, he should. Because it’s true.” Then she looks back into the forest and screams. A huge scar-ridden, black bear named Mor’du comes out of the forest and heads for Elinor and Young Merida but her father turns to fight it and yells for them to run. They do and Mor’du heads to Fergus who points a spear at him that he breaks with a swipe of his paw. Fergus holds his sword and yells, “Come on, you!” and we go to his Point-of-view (POV) as the bear opens his mouth and comes towards the camera with a roar.



The film cuts to black with the word “BRAVE” written in a Celtic font over the top of it. Then we crossfade into fog and see and pass over from an aerial point of view the mountains and dales and glens of the kingdom as we hear Merida (Macdonald) give this narration: “Some say our destiny is tied to the land as much a part of us as we are of it. Others say fate is woven together like a cloth. So that one’s destiny intertwines with many others. It’s the one thing we search for or fight to change. Some never find it. But there are some who are led.”

The camera comes to a castle courtyard where we see Fergus practicing his sword skills with some of his men while wearing a wooden leg that replaced the one that Mor’du bit off of him. This scene is many years after Merida’s birthday in the forest. Merida continues narrating as we see a montage of her with her mother telling her what to do and what not to do to be a proper princess. Merida obviously hates being told what to do and loves to escape on the few days that she doesn’t have to be a princess. “A day I can change my fate,” Merida calls it. Then we see her on her horse riding through the forest while shooting her bow and arrows at many different targets she has placed there over time. An awesome Celtic song that sings of chasing the wind and flying and touching the sky starts to play over this montage. Merida has come a long way from her first bow shooting lesson on her birthday and now hits the bull’s-eye every time she shoots. We see her climbing a large rock island and drinking from a waterfall that falls beside the “Crone’s Tooth” rock she’s on.

Merida on the Crone's Tooth in front of Fire Falls
When she comes home she tells her family that she “climbed the Crone’s Tooth, and drank from the Fire Falls” and her father says “They say only the ancient kings were brave enough to drink the fire.” Her father laughs with Merida while her mother, who was obviously not listening, reads a letter and asks while still concentrating on the letter, “What did you do, dear?” Merida frowns and says, “Nothing, Mum.” They continue their dinner and their maid/nanny for her 3 little brothers brings Elinor 3 letters. Then Elinor tells Fergus that the clans have all accepted their invitation. Merida is confused as her mother tells Fergus to tell her what they’ve done for her. Fergus halts out a few words before Elinor explains what the letters meant. Merida finds out that her mother and father, but mostly her mother, have invited the three other Scottish clans in their kingdom to each bring their firstborn son to compete in the games for her hand in marriage. She has a fit and storms off to her room. Her mother soon follows and enters the room where she sees Merida chopping at her bedpost with a sword (this has obviously been used before so she is not shocked to see Merida doing this). Elinor begins to tell the story of an old kingdom that fell into war and ruin after an old king died and left the kingdom split up between his four sons. One son was not content with his share and wanted to rule the whole kingdom by himself.
Elinor, “He followed his own path and the kingdom fell to war, and chaos and ruin.”
Merida, “That’s a nice ‘story.’”
Elinor, “It’s not just a story, Merida. Legends are lessons. They ring with truths. I would advise you to make your peace with this. The clans are coming to present their suitors.”
Merida, “It’s not fair!”
Elinor scoffs and says, “It’s marriage, Merida. It’s not the end of the world.” And then she leaves and Merida slams the door shut behind her.

We cut to Elinor sewing a tapestry of her and Merida holding hands with Fergus on Merida’s other side. Fergus comes in and convinces her to pretend he’s Merida and try talking to her. So she starts to have a “conversation” with Merida who we cut to in the film where she is mucking out her horse’s, Angus’s, stall and feeding and watering him as she pretends to talk with her mother. So the two have a “conversation” finishing with the same line “if you would just listen.” Then we cut only to Merida and Angus where she says, “I swear, Angus, this isn’t going to happen. Not if I have any say in it.”

We cut to the sound of Scottish bagpipes and drums as the ships carrying the 3 separate clan lords come in. One clan leader, Lord Macintosh (Ferguson), looks like “Braveheart” with his blue tattoos on his face and bare chest as his ship heads into port. On one side of him is another ship with Lord MacGuffin (McKidd), who has blonde pigtails and on his other side comes another ship with Lord Dingwall (Coltrane) who has white hair and beard. They all look at each other and then race to port.

Meanwhile Merida has been put into and extremely tight dress that she can barely move and breathe in. The family gathers in the throne room and the clans come in and talk and show off their sons. Young Macintosh looks like a doppelganger of his father except without the face tattoos. Young MacGuffin is pudgy, blond, and beardless and he shows that he can breaks a log of wood in half. Wee Dingwall is a huge scar ridden, bare-chested warrior who…wait…no…that’s not his son. Dingwall’s son is standing behind the warrior. He is very short and skinny and air-headed, looking around in his own little world. But when Lord Dingwall calls his son’s attention he attacks Lord Macintosh like a dog and starts biting him on the shoulder. Then all the clans start fighting over who is better until Elinor has to step in and remind them why they are all there.

Each clan, by the rights of their heritage, can submit ONLY the firstborn to compete for the Princess of Dun Broch’s hand in a tournament of her choice. Merida chooses Archery because she is an expert archer and we can see in her face that she has a plan in the works. Elinor says, “Let the games begin!” and we are suddenly in the middle of the highland games with caber tossing and shot putting going on and different booths selling food and fair-like things. We move to the Princess Merida and family seated under a tent facing 3 archery targets. We see, behind Merida’s chair, her bow hidden out of her family’s sight. Each young lord stands before one of the targets. First to shoot is Young MacGuffin who misses the bull’s-eye and barely has his arrow on the target, stuck on the upper edge of the fabric. Then Young Macintosh shoots his arrow and hits the ring right beside the bull’s-eye but then crumples down in tears because he didn’t get in the very center of the target. Then Wee Dingwall is called out of his own little world to shoot the arrow and he does and somehow it ends up in the very center of the bull’s-eye. Merida then gets out her bow and arrows and declares that she’s fighting for her own “hand!” She then proceeds to rip her dress so she can move and then go and hit each targets’ bull’s-eye, splitting Wee Dingwall’s arrow in half when she hits that target.

This causes her and her mother to have a big fight back in her room in the castle ending with Merida using her sword to cut the tapestry her mother has sown tearing the fabric right where their hands are intertwined. Elinor then grabs Merida’s bow and throws it in the fire. This broke Merida’s heart and she runs from the castle to her horse and rides him down the same target path she did in her first celebratory freedom ride but now everything is dark and she has no bow to shoot arrows at the target. The branches rip at her as she rides crying on Angus as he dashes through the woods until he stops abruptly and Merida is thrown into a mysterious circle of rocks that Angus refuses to enter. Then Merida sees a will-o’-the-wisp and then a trail of them that she follows until she reaches a witch’s cottage. The Witch (Walters) poses as a woodcarver until Merida is able to convince her to sell her a spell to “change her mother.” The witch gives her a small cake and sends her off. The minute Merida turns back glance at the cottage she is in the center of the ring of stones.

 She and Angus then return and Merida goes into the kitchen and prepares a tray with the cake on it for her mother. Her mother finds her there and is so relieved to find her there that we see Merida’s plan to give the spell to her mother waver until she says that Merida has to go and make a choice and tell the clans. Then Merida gives her mom the cake as a “peace offering.” Her mother takes one bite and puts the cake down because it tasted so badly. The cake has made the queen suddenly feel very ill and asks Merida to help her to her rooms. Merida then starts to ask, impatiently, her mom if she has changed her mind about the marriage several times as they travel to her mother’s bedchamber. Elinor asks Merida, “What was in that cake?” as she moans and groans and the rolls off the other side of the bed. Merida goes around and the blankets are completely covering Elinor and we see her stand up and as the blanket falls we see the back of a big black bear. Merida screams and the bear sees Merida and then sees her own shadow and “screams” too. 

It takes Merida a second to see that this bear is her mom. When she realizes that then she starts to curse the witch for giving her a “gammy” spell and she tells her mom it’s not her fault she only asked the witch to “change” her mom. Elinor yells/roars angrily at Merida and we cut to the throne room where everyone’s watching Fergus who heard the roar, reenact his battle with Mor’du. Fergus stops and hushes everyone and then says “something not right.” We return to Merida where she is getting a talking-to from her mom but since her mom’s a bear the words don’t make any sense as growls. Merida continues to blame the witch and finally decides that they should go find the witch’s cottage and get her to undo the spell. After doing some fancy hiding to keep her father from catching the “bear” as he hunts it through the castle and enlisting the help of her three little brothers they escape into the forest after Merida tells the boys to take whatever they want as dessert from the kitchen as a reward. We see the three boys spot the cake and they gather around it. 

We find ourselves next at the circle of rocks Merida had been in and she’s calling for the will-o’-the-wisps to come and show her the way to he cottage but they aren’t obliging her. She points at the direction she thinks she travelled in but doesn’t think they should go without the will-o’-the-wisps leading the way. However, when she turns around her mom is walking down that trail. Merida follows after and they find the cottage but the witch is not home. In fact the cabin is empty except for a cauldron and a table with 5 vials on it. Merida sets of the shop’s bell and the witch’s face appears above the cauldron. After telling Merida which vial she should put in the witch says that she forgot to tell Merida that there’s something about the spell that she should have mentioned. The spell will be permanent after the second sunrise unless Merida can remember these words: “Fate be changed, look inside, mend the bond torn by pride.” The witch repeats the words and disappears. Merida frantically dumps the rest of the vials into the cauldron causing it to blow up the cottage but Merida’s mother/bear shields her from the explosion. It starts to rain as they lie down under a few beams they pushed together and go to sleep lying several feet apart with their backs turned to each other.

Merida has a dream of a time when she was little and her mom was there for her singing a Gaelic song when there was a thunderstorm. Then she wakes up in the forest where her mom has put together a breakfast of berries. Merida watches her mom start to eat them and tells her they are poisonous. Her mom spits them out and drinks tons of water that Merida sees and tells her mom there are worms in. Her mom spits that out. Merida gets her bow and takes her bear-mom to the creek. She shoots a fish and holds it up for her mom but then pulls back saying, “Oh, wait. A princess should not have weapons, in your opinion.”  Her bear-mom nods then stops and then Merida holds her sit up and says, “There you go.” However her mom makes her cook it first and then it’s so good she requests more using her claws to show how many fish she wants. She asks for 2 more and music starts playing behind the montage of Merida getting the 2 fish, cooking them, her mother requests 4 more and Merida points to the stream basically indicating that her mom can get them herself and proceeds to take her into the creek and show her how. Elinor takes off the crown before she gets into the water. They splash and have fun together for the first time in a long time as they try to fish by hand.   Elinor finally catches one and eats it raw and then gets out on the opposite side of the bank from Merida. Merida calls after to wait up and grabs her cloak and comes up behind her still laughing. Then her mom turns around growling and stalking towards Merida, as a real bear would do. Merida sees that the bear’s eyes are all black and not her mother’s brown ones as they had been before and she starts backing away from her. Then the bear stops and it’s her mom again. They are both confused and worried but then a will-o’-the-wisp appears and her mom, crazily tries to catch it but Merida finally stops her and a trail of them appear.

Merida and her mom follow them to a lost and ruined castle where the symbol for the lost and ruined kingdom, mentioned earlier, is carved in rock over the entrance. It’s the same symbol that was on the trinket the witch was paid by the other customer she sold this spell to. Merida falls through the roof of the building into the throne room. There is much rubble and bones down there and Merida calls up to her mom and asks if she thinks this might be the kingdom she was telling the story of when she was lecturing Merida in her room. Then she finds a carving that is split, “split like the tapestry.” On one side are 3 men and on the other side of the split is only one man.  She slowly realizes yes this is that kingdom and that the spell that turned her mother into a bear must have turned the prince, who asked for the strength of ten men, into one too and that that brother must “have become…” Merida hears a growling behind her and turns to find, “Mor’du!” 

Merida jumping towards her bear-mom and away from Mor'du

Then Mor’du tries to kill Merida who shoots him with her bow and arrows but it doesn’t stop him and she escapes with the help of her bear-mother.  Merida rides on her mother’s back as they run from the deserted kingdom into the fog and suddenly they are back in the circle of stones and they slam into one of the rocks and we can hear it crack a bit but it doesn’t fall. Merida explains to her mom that she will become like Mor’du if they don’t undo the spell. She then realizes that to “Mend the bond torn by pride” she must stich up the tapestry to undo the spell and so they need to get back to the castle. They hurry and enter under the bridge into the water system so the guards don’t stop them. But to get to the room with the tapestry they have to go through the throne room which is occupied by the clan lords who have finally lost patience with Fergus and are demanding the matter of the betrothal be settle and he, as king, should choose which son will marry his daughter, now! Fergus yells, “None of your sons are fit to marry my daughter!” The clan leaders yell that there will be war between them. Merida tells her bear-mom that she has to stop them from going to war but Elinor gestures to herself showing that she’s a bear and that Merida must be the one to stop it. So then Merida goes in to stop the fighting and to distract the men from her bear-mom sneaking through the back. Luckily there is a stuffed bear by the door and her bear-mom freezes in the position that that bear is in whenever someone looks her way. To help her mom sneak in she get’s the people’s attention and she starts to tell the story of the lost kingdom that fell into war. As Merida is doing this she is realizing her mistakes and admits that she was wrong and that she has come to the decision that she must do as her mother had planned. But as she had been talking to the men her mother had stopped to listen and then as Merida starts to say something about accepting the… her mom gestures at her that she should “break tradition” and that “we should be free to write our own stories and follow our hearts and find love in our own time.” Merida asks the lords “Might our young people decide for themselves who they will love?” The older lords start to grumble until young Macintosh says, “it’s a grand idea! Give us our own say in choosing our fate.” Wee Dingwall agrees, “Aye. Why shouldn’t we choose?” Lord Dingwall, “But she’s the princess…” We Dingwall, “I did not pick her out. It was your idea.” Lord MacGuffin says to his son, “And you… You feel the same way?” Young MacGuffin speaks unintelligibly and ends with the word “good?” Lord MacGuffin nods and says, “Well, that settles it. Let these lads try and win her heart before they win her hand. If they can.” And for once all the clan leaders agree. 

Suddenly Merida sees a guard poking her bear-mother and yells for all the men to go to the cellar and break open the king’s special liquor. The men stampede down and leave the throne empty except for Merida and her bear-mom who go and get the tapestry but then her bear-mom turns into just a real bear like before and Fergus finds his wife’s torn clothing from her transformation and then finds a bear in with Merida and he starts to attack but Merida get’s scratched by her mom’s claws and then the bear turns back into her bear-mom. Elinor sees the scratch she did to Merida and runs from the castle with Fergus and his men chasing her. He leaves Merida locked up in her room to keep her safe and leaves the key with the maid/nanny and tells her not to let Merida out. Merida meantime is trying to get out of the room to save her mom from being killed by her father and his men. She is looking down the hall through the small window in the door when she sees 3 bear cubs and realizes they’re brothers. She tells them to get he key and after a bit of chasing they do.

They release Merida and she gathers up the tapestry and needle and thread and with the boys they get onto her horse Angus and start to ride after the men. Merida gives control of the horse to one of her brothers while she sews the tapestry. Meanwhile the men are gaining on her mother and get to the circle of stones. Elinor gets trapped there by the men and dogs and they start to tie her down with ropes until she can’t move. Then we cut to Merida who finishes the tapestry but they pause for a second sort of los until a will-o’-the-wisp trail appears and they canter down it. We cut to Fergus advancing on the bear with his sword but as he swings his sword down Merida shoots an arrow that knocks the sword out of her father’s hands. She then gets in between them holding her bow ready to fire. She looks back at her bear-mom to see if she’s ok but then Fergus knocks Merida out of the way and raises his sword again to strike the “bear” down. Merida grabs a guard’s sword and swordfights with her father and cuts off his wooden leg, he falls to the ground, and says, “I’ll not let you kill my mother.” Her three bear-brothers then jump on Fergus and Fergus sees them and says, “Boys?” Then we hear a real growl and suddenly we are behind the real bear, Mor’du, as he roars at them but we are in front of him when he finishes roaring. Fergus says, “Kill it!” and a fight ensues in which everyone is struck down and Merida shoots him with arrows and he turns on her. Her bear-mom sees this and breaks free of her binding to fight Mor’du bear-to-bear. She finally beats him by hitting him against the pillar that she and Merida had cracked earlier repeatedly until it falls and crushes him. Then we see a blue spirit, in the form of the man who had become Mor’du, come out of the stone that crushed the bear. He looks at Merida, nods, then becomes a will-o’-the-wisp and flies off.

Then the second sunrise comes and Merida throws the mended tapestry over her bear-mom and waits for the spell to break but it doesn’t. Her mom’s eyes change into the all black eyes of a real bear. Merida crumples before her crying. She says, “Oh, Mum, I’m sorry. This is all my fault. I did this to you. To us.” Merida hugs the bear saying as she continues crying, “You’ve always been there for me. You’ve never given up on me. I just want you back.” All the clan leaders and their men look on somberly as Merida continues to weep and the sad music plays. Merida sobs, “I want you back, Mummy. I love you.” And we see the sun finish coming up on Merida who is hugging her bear-mom behind the tapestry where we can’t see her mom anymore. The sunrise crosses the mended tapestry and we see the picture that is sewn together of Merida and her mom holding hands. Then we cut back to Merida hugging under the tapestry and then we see a human hand touch the back of Merida’s head softly. Merida gasps and looks up to see her mother’s human face crying and laughing. Merida says, “Mom! You’re back. You changed!” Elinor says, “Oh, darling, we both have.” Then Fergus runs in and hugs and kisses his wife who is covered ONLY with the tapestry. Fergus tells the men to avert their eyes but then sees his three little naked boys run over to them and the whole family is hugging and laughing together. Fergus tosses one of the naked boys into the air and the camera follows him as he falls back, clothed, into his father’s arms back in the castle where Merida and Elinor are working on a new tapestry of Merida holding her bear-mom’s paw. The whole family runs and waves the clan lords off. Then Fergus realizes his sons are no longer with them and he looks to see them hanging onto the mast of one of the boats sailing away. He groans and then we see him rowing a rowboat out to get the boys with his two dogs sitting and barking in the front of the boat.

We cut to a wide shot of Merida and her mother horseback riding and we follow them with the camera as we hear Merida narrating, 

“There are those who say fate is something beyond our command, that destiny is not our own. But I know better. Our fate lives within us. You only have to be brave enough to see it.” 

Merida and her Mother, Elinor, riding in the Epilogue

They gallop by a large rock that has a will-o’-the-wisp on our side of the rock so they don’t see it as the go by but we do and the camera stops here. The wisp gives a small baby-like giggle and then flies off and we cut to the credits playing over stone carved with Celtic symbols for the first part of the credits then the background changes from rock to snowflakes then on to green leaves and pink/purple flowers the dusty pine straw floating until we pause on a black screen upon which a will-o’-the-wisp appears above the following words:

Dedicated with love and gratitude to
Steve Jobs
Our partner, mentor and friend

Then the rest of the credits play over a black screen in its list form. At the very end of the credits we find the Witch’s Crow (Steve Purcell) delivering all of the woodcarvings Princess Merida got when she bought the spell to a snoring guard. And she bought all of the carvings in the shop so the wagon has a massive amount of carvings in and on it. 


The voice actors and animators more than exceeded my expectations, they surpassed them all. I was shocked at what it is now possible to do in animated films. The water looks real and the earth and ground look amazing when I think back to what it was like back when Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was created. When I first heard the trailer for this movie I was a little worried about the Scottish accent that Merida has might be to distracting to understand what she's saying but my fears were groundless.

The film techniques in this film were awesome but here are some of my favorite things: I loved the little will-o'-the-wisps. They we so cute and I loved the way they made the "wispy" sounds. I liked he crossfades that encompassed using fog to connect them. So it made the scene seem seamless even when it was taking them to a totally different setting on the other side of the country or from the lost kingdom back to the circle of stones. The POV shots during the scenes with fighting bears and watching them roar from right in front of you as if they were going to attack you was one thing that made the movie more intense and real. I absolutely LOVE the music in this movie. I wanted to buy the soundtrack immediately after just one time watching it. I have always loved Celtic music and as a musician I love to play an instrument to the rhythms that Celtic music requires.

My decision on Thumbs Up or Down is easy. 2 THUMBS WAY, WAY UP for BRAVE!
There's a reason it won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film of 2012 so go see it and you'll find out why!

I'm also uploading my Powerpoint Presentation to this blog if my computer can do that. So hopefully it will work but if not I'll try to insert the slides and info into this post. See you later!



















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