Animation Cel-ebration
June 2, 2023 posted by Michael Lyons

“Bear” With Her: A Celebration of Pixar’s “Brave”

“Mentor. Inspire. Move forward.” These could be words to describe the story of Disney and Pixar’s Brave, but they are also words written by the film’s director Brenda Chapman in a 2012 article in The New York Times entitled, “Stand Up for Yourself, and Mentor Others.”

The back story of the production of Brave is one fraught with challenges, but the result is a unique, rousing film, as well as an original offering in a realm that was wholly new for Pixar and for animation itself.

The film would be a first for Pixar, as it would be a fairy-tale-like story, set in medieval Scotland, center on Princess Merida. She defies an age-old custom of being betrothed, and her mother, Queen Elinor, is transformed into a bear when a curse is awakened. This leaves Merida to undo the curse to save her mother and the kingdom.

Chapman conceived the idea for Brave (which was initially entitled The Bear and the Bow), blending elements of Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, and her relationship with her own daughter. Chapman, the first female to co-direct an animated film from a major studio, with DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt, would be Pixar’s first female director for a feature.

With Brave, she gave us the character of Merida (voiced by actress Kelly Macdonald) as a truly independent spirit.

When other clans bring suitors to compete in an archery tournament to see which one will win the hand of Merida (in a beautifully choreographed and very funny sequence), Merida stands up at the end of the competition and declares, “I am Merida, firstborn descendant of Clan Dunbroch and I’ll be shooting for my own hand!”

She then tears her dress to allow for a better shot with the bow and arrow and, defying her parents, proceeds to shoot bullseyes at all the targets, including one through an arrow that had already landed there.

It’s a beautiful character moment, showing not just a rebellious nature but also courage and confidence that makes her a fascinating character to watch from beginning to end. Like Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, and many before her, Merida is a new, welcome version of the Disney Princess.

McDonald does excellent voice work with Merida, and there is an equally strong supporting cast, including Emma Thompson as Queen Elinor, Billy Connolly as Merida’s father, King Fergus, Julie Waters as The Witch who helps Merida, and Robbie Coltrane as Lord Dingwall and Craig Ferguson as Lord Macintosh, from the other clans.

The computer animation brings the landscape of Scotland to life in all its lush beauty and fog-covered mystery, at times taking on a stunning, photo-realistic look.

Unfortunately, during production, after “creative differences,” Chapman was taken off Brave and replaced with Mark Andrews (they both receive co-directing credits on the film). In her New York Times article, Chapman openly wrote about this, stating, “It has been a heartbreakingly hard road for me over the last year and a half. When Pixar took me off of Brave – a story that came from my heart, inspired by my relationship with my daughter – it was devastating.”

Despite this challenging path to the screen, Brave was (and still is) embraced by audiences and critics. It debuted on June 22, 2012, as the number one movie at the box office during the crowded summer season.

Variety’s Peter Debruge wrote, “…adding a female director, Brenda Chapman, to its creative boys’ club, the studio Pixar has fashioned a resonant tribute to mother-daughter relationships that packs a level of poignancy on par with such beloved male-bonding classics as Finding Nemo.”

In the spring of 2013, Brave would take home the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. A decade later, this is a fitting finale for the movie that teaches us all to “Mentor. Inspire. Move forward.”


  • I think you mean “…firstborn descendant of Clan Dunbroch.” “Decedent” is a legal term for a dead person.

  • Great job mike as always you have a way with words,telling a story.Disney never disappoints,look forward to seeing this one of these days!

  • I remember when Brave first came out. I felt it was one of Pixar’s most unique films being a fairytale and having such a relatable female protagonist. Fittingly, I went to go see it with my mom, making the movie going experience even more meaningful.

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