Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Disney-PIXAR "Brave" is Educational

Last night, my husband and I went to a late showing of Brave. Before I tell you about the film, let me start off by saying late shows during the week - particularly Monday or Tuesday - is the best time to see a movie. The audience is small, and very few parents take their children to late night movies during the week...even films that are marketed to that demographic. Monday and Tuesday night are quickly becoming my favorite nights to go to the theater.

Brave is Disney-PIXAR's latest creation, telling the tale of a Scottish princess named Merida who envisions a life different for herself than what her society dictates. When Merida comes of age, her mother, the queen Elinor, seeks to marry her to a son of one of the three clansmen. Merida does not want to marry, and insists that she is not ready to be married because she would rather explore and practice her archery skills than settle down and be a proper princess. Several arguments occur, each becoming more heated than the last, and eventually Merida rashly decides to try "to change her fate"...with unintended and terrible consequences.

What I most enjoy about Disney-PIXAR films is that they are more than they appear to be. On the surface, Brave is a tale about being careful what you wish for. Dig a little deeper and you can find some real gems in the story.

The first thing I noticed was that the film included a reference to woad, which is a blue dye that was commonly used in Western Europe until indigo became available. During the time of the Roman Empire, there was a group of Celts called Picts, a group of people established in the eastern and northern parts of Scotland. We assume the Romans gave them this name because they had blue tattoos on their bodies, but no one knows for certain if they actually did have tattoos, or if the blue dye was only used in art. Still, if you look up pictures of woad or Picts, you will see photos of women and men with blue tribal tattoos and smears on their bodies. If you'd like to know more about woad (and some opinions on whether or not the Picts put the dye on their skins) there is a great essay on the subject here.

Another element that I found interesting was names of the three clans that were competing for the privilege to marry Merida: Macintosh, MacGuffin, and Dingwall. All three names are tied to Scottish clans, with MacGuffin being a surname for Macfie and Macintosh being an alternate spelling for MacKintosh. Dingwall is also a location in the Scottish Highlands, where an important battle took place in 1411 between Clans Mackay and Donald. While I'm sure the Scottish history is part of the reason for choosing the names, I believe the team working on Brave wanted to include a subtle nod to film and to their particular industry. Take, for instance, Macintosh. It is well known that Pixar was once owned by Steve Jobs, and after he sold it to Walt Disney in 2006 he became a board member of Disney. The end credits for Brave dedicate the film to him. In regards to film, MacGuffin is an element that motivates a character a character and drives the plot...for example, the Heart of the Ocean in Titanic. While the term has been applied to many objects in film, Alfred Hitchcock was the one who named and popularized the term. In the movie Brave, the MacGuffin is the clans vying for the princess's hand. They are the ones who actively motivate Merida to alter her destiny from the role of demure princess to thrill-seeking adventurer. Still confused as to what a MacGuffin is? This site might help explain it and its sub-tropes better. As of yet, I don't know if Dingwall has a reference to film or PIXAR, but I will update if I find I link.

All in all, Brave is a fantastic film that is gorgeously designed, scored, and produced. PIXAR has always gone above and beyond the standard for CGI film, and Brave doesn't disappoint. The story is wonderful and wholesome, and further enhanced by a cast largely made up of voice actors from Scotland. Once again, Disney-PIXAR has produced a film that satisfies a younger demographic as well as the parents who brought them to the theater.

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