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Brave and Celtic Culture and Folklore

As someone who takes strong pride in their Celtic heritage (particularly the Irish part) I was really interested in the new Pixar film, Brave. The original trailers for the film strongly highlighted the idea of Celtic culture and folklore, and bringing the Pixar feel to it. By the time it was released in theaters, the end product had been changed and the final result, in my opinion, was disappointing. It largely is out of place with its source material and reeks of a ‘Disneyfycation’ of Pixar’s storytelling style.

Before I talk about what I found to be disappointing I wanted to point what I thought the film did well. Easily, the strongest element of the film was its focus on gender, especially the mother-daughter relationship. Brave is a film where the men are present and seen the most of the two genders, but are essentially sidelined in place of a focus on the women. While the relationship is not very complex and can be a tad cliche, it’s a nice change of pace for a focus of the film. The film also does use the element of liminality often throughout the film. For those unfamiliar with the term, liminality is the space between objects, places, things, etc. where there is access to the spaces that are in between, but doesn’t belong to them. For example a doorway is liminal, so is the beach, a bridge, dawn/dusk, birth/death, etc. (I think you get the picture now). It is in these places, according to Celtic beliefs, that the powers of the universe are at their strongest. So, when I was watching Brave the use of liminal space was one of the things I was looking for the most and something I found somewhat often. It was the strongest element owing to traditional Celtic folklore and culture. Other than this I was found myself only disappointed at what was left in the movie.

Stone ring circles are important as liminal spaces because of their position as gateways between our world and the ‘spirit’/other world

The most minor of these errors is the fact that the cultural placement of Brave seemed like a synthesis of Celtic cultures in Scotland (the location of the film) and ‘generic’ images of European medieval culture. The sports they play, their dress, and the stories they tell to one another feel like they borrow select parts of Celtic culture and substitute it with traditions of mainland Europe which the casual viewer would more easily identify. But I consider these minor things, compared to my two biggest issues; popular cultures references and a failure to immerse itself in its subject material.

The first part is something that is highlighted in three different ways in the film. The two most immediately noticeable forms of this are two of the clan names, MacGuffin and Macintosh. Get it? They’re puns. The filmmakers choose to go with pun clan names instead of using authentic clan names. Secondly, there is a scene that invokes Aladdin-esque pop cultural references, where a witch uses a wielding mask for her brew.A bad attempt to make a joke. And lastly, and the most irritating part for me, is the use of multiple songs that sound like they were written by and for the Disney teen crowd. They feel incredibly out of place in a story that is supposed to be set in a medieval Celtic kingdom. There is one song in Scots-Gaelic (the ‘Celtic language’ of Scotland) in the film, which initially delighted me, but was only mumbled and not given the same attention as other songs in the film. By doing so these films pay a special attention to a current audience rather than convey a past subject material. The filmmakers in this regard were more interested in pandering to typical Disney audiences and viewers than their own subject material for the story.

While there was a use of liminal spaces to signify transitions in the tone of the plot and and the direction of the characters. The film seems afraid to delve deeper into Celtic folklore. The incorporation of mainland European images and archetypes dominate the film. Again, these are images more easily accessible to the typical Disney animated-film audience. But by catering to this the filmmakers forsake the image and story they want to tell. It seems silly to me that they even took the route they did, because it would be simple to show a Celtic-influenced story. It would also serve as a fantastic introduction to the subject for most people. This wouldn’t even require altering the gender positions of the film either, as plenty of myths, stories, and legends are focused on women and their strengths (Celtic cultures were typically more gender balanced and had a far more open sexuality than other European cultures). The film is weakened by its pandering. While there was an excellent source material to work with, it wasn’t tapped for its fullest potential. Because a true mixture of Disney/Pixar storytelling and Celtic culture/folklore would have been amazing, But in the end, the Disney side won. And the final result is an interesting, if a tad bland, product.

If you’re interested in a good example of the mixture of animation and Celtic folklore and culture I highly recommend The Secret of Kells. It knows what it’s doing.

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  1. Robyn
    October 20, 2012 at 10:54 am

    HEY, i’m completely obsessed with Irish and Scottish folklore and their celtic cultures but i can’t seem to find proper links for them i was wondering if you could help me out? I’ve started my own book and its set in “Ireland or/and Scotland (not sure yet)” and i want to be familiar with its legends 😉 please and Thank you!

    • October 20, 2012 at 11:28 pm

      There’s a folklore book by Yeats on Irish stuff. I don’t know much about Scottish Gaelic folklore. I know more of the trends and themes of them.

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