Scotland’s Brave Princess

Merida is not a typical Disney princess. All this Scottish lass wants is to determine her own fate, to find love on her own time to who she wishes. None of the three goofball sons of the three other clans in Scotland appeal to her. There is no Prince Charming in this lot of awkward teens. Pixar also breaks the usual mold by the mother-daughter relationship being the real focus of the movie. Have you never noticed that  Disney princesses never have living mothers? Not Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, the Little Mermaid, Jasmine of Aladdin, or Cinderella, and if the others had mothers like Mulan, they were not part of the plot. The goal of all these motherless princesses was to get their guy. Merida just wants to pick her guy on her own time, not when her parents want (and not now).

There are many nods to Pictish culture in Brave, although it is probably not noticeable to people who don’t know about the Picts. The first stone shown in close up in the movie intro featured a Pictish beast and then next the broken arrow-double disk.  (I wonder if they are interpreting the Pictish beast as a bear? Bears are central animals in the plot.) Yet, the Picts are never named and these stones are not featured in the plot. On the other hand, the centrality of the queen and princess must have been inspired by Pictish matriliny traditions. The king is indeed the leader of the very rowdy clans but it is the queen who commands their respect and dignity. Queen Elinor is trying to teach her rebellious daughter that her power comes through her dignity and royal behavior. With lines like “Ladies do not put their weapons on the (dinner) table”, mothers will feel for the queen. Unlike the typical evil step-mother of Disney princess movies, Queen Elinor really is working for her daughter’s best interest and trying to train her to be a proper princess (Queen?). Interesting that the family tapestry shows the king, queen and princess but not her little brothers. All nods toward the centrality of the female line in Pictish culture? The great quest at the heart of this movie is that Merida must save her mother by repairing their relationship. I’m not going to spoil it anymore by telling you why or how.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. I would say that it is probably aimed primarily at girls about age 4-6. (As the first Pixar film aimed at girls, it’s about time.)  It was enjoyable enough for us older folks and had enough fast paced, rowdy action to keep boys entertained. There was a boy about a 4 years old sitting next to me with his father; it kept his attention and got a few giggles out of him. I did see the 3D version, but I’m not a big fan of 3D so I don’t think it really effected my enjoyment too much. 3D a little too in my face for my taste. The kids did chap at the end, so I think they enjoyed it as well.

The Secret of Kells

The Secret of Kells (2009)

I’m not afraid to admit that I am a big fan of animation.I appreciate the skill that it takes to create a good, artistic animation, and  when coupled with a good story it can be hard to beat. I’ve watched the Secret of Kells several times now. At first I was somewhat disappointed, but it is growing on me. I seem to find more to appreciate each time I watch it.

Why a little disappointed on the first viewing? Well, the story seemed a little simple. I know that animations tend to have simple stories, but still for a full length movie it could have been a more detailed. I was rather aggravated at the vague and minor references to Christianity. They used the phrase “bringing light to the darkness” and that the book brings hope frequently. Well, it brings the light of Christ and Christ is also the hope. Yet, the name Christ is never uttered once (although the pagan fairy and Celtic god are mentioned by name). Yes, there is a cross in the courtyard of Kells and several references to “the faith” and prayer but Christianity is never specified. The abbot tells Brother Aidan that the people will measure the strength of their faith by the strength of their walls. Granted the abbot is supposed to be a misguided figure but they imply that art is hope or the answer, which in itself, it is not. They also directly say that the book is meant to be seen by all the people to bring them hope. I really doubt that many people saw the Book of Kells in the Middle Ages. It would have been kept in a church and probably only available to monks and the select people they allowed to see it.

There are things I liked about it. Much of the artwork was excellent. I’m sure there will be shots of it floating around medieval blogs for many years. Some aspects of book production and monastic life were pretty good. The stress put on ink production and the use of the lens by master illuminators (though an apprentice using it is more doubtful) was nice. In a world without eye glasses it seems like that some kind of crystal/lens would have been used by master artists, otherwise their careers would be over when they reached middle age.  The Columba scenes were cute, playing on all of the exaggerated legends that built up around figures like Columba.

There is a lot of symbolism throughout the work. I think you really have to watch it a couple of times and watch the bonus features to catch most of it. The multi-ethnic monks reflect the movement of monks around Christendom and Ireland’s attraction for monks from throughout the west. The artists comment that these monks represent the different influences in the book is good for symbolism but I think much of that influence came from looking at books produced elsewhere rather than the movement of monks.

The illuminators comments are interesting. It is good to know that I’m not the only one who thinks that Brother Aidan looks and sounds like Willie Nelson (though that was not their intention), and that parts of it remind me of Samurai Jack, especially the Viking scenes. I also thought there was a Mackintosh design influence, and the illuminators admitted to looking at Mackintosh artwork for inspiration. I noticed it particularly in the views of the forest from Kells.

Overall, I think it is a good movie. I’m sure I will watch it again and it will bring more interest to the Middle Ages. Unlike most medieval movies, the hero is not a warrior.  A movie about beauty and medieval artistry will help counter all the movies that show only death and destruction.

Revenge of Grendel’s Mother

Well, I just spent a couple hours this afternoon at the matinee wasting the afternoon of a too rare vacation day. Its a good thing I went to see it in 3D because that was the most interesting thing about it (even in a regular cinema, not IMAX). It was sort of like watching a video game with a ten year old at the controls…

It had a rather unusual cast of characters: Beowulf the naked acrobat, Hrothgar the suicidal, and Unfrith the Christian. I really didn’t get the Christianity angle in the movie, was that just supposed to show that demons are stronger or what? Someone tell me what I have missed!

He is Beowulf! His fame is known for here to Vinland! Vinland? Shame that’s not in the old poem, it would have made it so much easier to date. Its also a shame that Beowulf never bothered to return home and be the last great king of the Geats. It did resolve the age old failure of the poem in that Beowulf can’t be a considered a good king without producing a son, but then again the dragon-son who burns and smashes up the kingdom is not really the ideal son. But I really must say that Grendel’s mother, a water demon, did steal the show… seducing Hrothgar, Beowulf and presumably Wiglaf in turn, bearing them sons who destroy their kingdoms, begetting a never ending cycle of destruction (personal and community). So in the end, Beowulf is just another hero who succumbs to her wiles and gets his just reward.