Film Theory · Postgraduate Study

Film Overview – Brave

Year: 2012
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios
Directed by: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman

Summary: Merida, first-born of clan DunBroch, refuses to be betrothed in order to strengthen family’s alliance with other clans and accidentally turns her mother into a bear while trying to change her fate.

Review: Brave is an animated feature film produced by Pixar that ideologically follows Disney’s tradition of fairy tale feature films, focusing on princesses as their lead characters. Unlike similar films produced by Disney, Brave is not based on one particular classic fairy tale but has its story developed by Brenda Chapman, one of the two directors of the film, who drew inspiration from her relationship with her 6-year-old daughter. Interestingly, Chapman is the first female director to work on Pixar feature film and Brave is the first animation feature to have female protagonist, which resulted in Brenda Chapman bringing a unique approach to female character representation and development in the film as well as story that is different to previous Pixar films.

First of all, Brave is arguably the first Pixar animated feature that undoubtedly passes Bechdel-Wallace test, which indicates active female presence in the film. Both of the lead characters are female and, breaking the tradition of Disney princess films, where main focus of the story is romance, Brave draws viewers’ attention to mother-daughter relationship. This radical shift from stories with male protagonists to focusing on a non-romantic relationship between two female character was undoubtedly influenced by women starting to take on roles in highly men-focused environment in Pixar studios. The release and success of Brave signified that the idea that male audiences are not interested in films with female protagonists no longer holds true and encouraged film creators to take on stories that do not necessarily follow decades long rules of animation feature films.

However, apart from its importance in challenging stereotypes in animation feature film creation, Brave shows great visual advancements in Pixar animation. Most obvious example of technology developed for the film is used to create hair and fur for the film. Specific tools and calculations developed for curly and straight hair to approach hair creation that meets technical and artistic needs of Brave resulted in breathtaking hair of the main character and realistic fur of her horse, and the most state-of-art CGI hair simulation system of its time. It was partially influenced by the decision to make Merida’s hair curly, which proved to be much more technically demanding than animating straight hair and research and technology had to be developed to accommodate for balance between stiffness and softness of the curls that look believable but allow for artistic stylisation to fit each character’s design. The successful result is obvious when comparing each of the characters’ hair, like Merida’s red locks and her mother’s straight brown hair, as well as evaluating the realistic composition of different hair types on Angus, Merida’s horse.

All in all, the release of Brave signified changes and innovation in both ideology and technical aspects of animated feature films. Important changes like including female director in the creation and development of Pixar feature films lead to exciting new ideas and perspectives on human experience that have not been explored in Pixar films before. Furthermore, technical developments resulted on spectacular visuals that created vibrant world for the story, with hair simulations being one of the noteworthy examples.

Why it is interesting: Main character in film Brave, Merida, owns a horse that up to this day is one of the most realistic equine characters in feature animation films. Angus is a great example on how horse characters can stay close to real horse anatomy and looks without relying on hyper-realism and sacrificing engaging character animation.



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