The nominations: Animated Feature
The film: Fergus of Clan Dunbroch, King of Scotland and his wife Queen Elinor love their fiery haired young daughter Merida. On a family outing the little princess receives a bow for her birthday from her father. While practicing in the woods, Merida sees a will-o-the-wisp. Enchanted by the ghostly light Merida follows it deeper into the woods and encounters Mor’du the giant demon bear. King Fergus fends the beast off but loses his leg in the process. Years pass and Merida becomes a spirited teenager with a passion and skill for archery as well as an older sister to adorable triplet baby brothers. Merida wants nothing more than to follow her own will, but her mother is insistent that she learn to be a proper lady by teaching her etiquette, dress, embroidery and such as to set her on the path of becoming a queen. Merida loathes the idea of having to marry a son of an allied clan though her mother reminds her of a prince much like her who ruined his kingdom, and warns of the harm not wedding could do to Dunbroch. The clans MacIntosh, MacGuffin, and Dingwall arrive at the Highland Games and present their first-born sons to compete for Merida’s hand in marriage. Defiant to the end, Merida stakes a claim in the competition that she can compete for her own hand and decimates the competitors. After a horrible argument with her mother who threw her beloved bow on the fire after she tore her mother’s long-labored needlework tapestry, Merida runs off into the woods where she comes across a will-o’-the-wisp like when she was a child. The light leads her to the home of a witch. Desperate to change her fate, Merida bargains with the witch for a spell to change her mother; the witch gives Merida a cake and tells her to get her mother to eat it. Merida gives her mother the cake and her mother apologizes for her mistake and anger, but before Merida can stop her from eating the cake Queen Elinor eats it and transforms into a large bear.
Realizing her own mistake Merida, with the help of her brothers, sneaks her mother out of the castle and goes looking for the witch. The cottage is deserted but they discover that if they don’t “mend the bond torn by pride” by the second sunrise, Queen Elinor will be a bear forever. Though neither know what the riddle means mother and daughter reconcile. Merida watches her mother become more wild bear and less queen and becomes increasingly worried and guilty. In the woods they see the will-o’-the-wisps again and follow them to ancient ruins where they encounter Mor’du, who they discover is the prince from Elinor’s legend. Merida promises her mother that she will not become like Mor’du. Merida develops a theory that mending the torn tapestry will fix the spell. But when they try to sneak back into the castle they realize the clans have gathered arms to save Queen Elinor whom they believe has been kidnapped by Mor’du. Now Merida must figure out a way to get her mother past all the armed men unnoticed before the sunrise of the next day lest the spell become permanent.
The odds: Since the creation of the Animated Feature category in 2001, Pixar has had eight films nominated with six of those having won the award. With a reputation like that it would be east to assume that Brave would have better odds than most to take gold if not everything but assurance that it would come out on top. The first of Pixar’s films to feature a female main character, the story is deep and bright and unlike the company’s past movies, taking on more a traditional Disney façade instead of the vivid and unique creations of Pixar; Merida’s amazingly detailed head of brilliant red hair makes her prime to stand with other Disney princesses …except both of her parents are still alive and a positive presence, so she may not be a candidate. The film is a testament to female heroism especially the choice to not have Merida gain romantic interests in spite of herself – another trait that should bar her from joining the princess line-up. The emphasis on self-discovery and learning the power of sympathy towards what you don’t understand also gives the story a boundless and resonant quality. Instead of glossing over the parental issues of the willful child the film focuses directly on that relationship between the teenager with burgeoning dreams of personal freedom and the parent working hard to keep her child close and their difficulty relating to each other on an emotional level for fear that either will lose their inner sense of authority. But the groundbreaking company that made CGI cartoons the last word in animated filmmaking has stumbled a bit in recent years though. After the abominable conundrum Cars 2, it makes little sense to have made Brave as it grossly lacks the dimensionality of its predecessors. It’s such a fun movie and well worth seeing, especially with the kids, though its chances of beating out heavy hitters like Frankenweenie are slim if not.