Brave, Pixar's 13th feature-length film, is their first journey into the Fantasy genre (of the Fairy Tale kind), and their first with a female protagonist. It tells the tale of a Rebellious Princess named Merida in the mythical Scottish kingdom of DunBroch, who wants only to live as freely as she desires. Her father, the rough and boisterous King Fergus, has an eternal grudge against all bears since he lost his left leg to a demon bruin named Mor'du. Her mother, the restrained and graceful Queen Elinor, wants her to marry the eldest son of the head of one of the three neighboring clans, all brought together under her rule. When the mother and daughter have a falling out, Merida encounters a mysterious witch in the forest and buys a spell to change her mother, hoping to reverse her decision on the marriage. Said spell has unforeseen consequences for Merida and her family, leading to a race to undo it before the damage becomes permanent.While in development, the film was calledThe Bear and the Bow, and was originally directed by Brenda Chapman (The Prince of Egypt), but she was replaced by story artist Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell. Chapman, who is Pixar's first female director, has a co-directing credit.The film was released in the USA on June 22, 2012. The teaser trailer can be viewed here. The full trailer can be seen here, as well as one of the film's publicly released scenes here.The movie was largely well-received, though not as well than some of the more well-known Pixar productions. It would go on to win a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature during the 2013 award season (beating out fellow Disney movie, Wreck-It Ralph). Merida later became the first Disney Princess from a Pixar film.
During the tournament, Wee Dingwall handles the bow as if he's never touched one before the tournament. When Fergus gets tired of making fun of him, he screams for him to "Shoot, boy!" and Dingwall jumps and looses his arrow — into a perfect bull's-eye. Everyone is understandably shocked.
When Merida recounts the story of the four lords banding together to save Scotland from invaders.
Merida: And we all know how Lord Dingwall broke the enemy line—
Macintosh: With a mighty throw of his spear!
Dingwall: I was aiming at you, you big tumshie!
Action Dress Rip: Merida during her archery contest. Rather than the skirt, it's the shoulders and back that get ripped when she deliberately flexes to overcome the restrictive clothes. It gets further shredded after she is thrown off a horse and runs through the forest.
Adult Fear: The scene where Fergus finds Elinor's torn dress... just think what awful scenarios he must have been imagining.
And then running into the tapestry room and finding what looked like the same bear who killed Elinor attacking his daughter.
Merida is down in the abandoned castle and Mor'du shows up and tries to kill her. Elinor is helpless to protect her daughter who is trapped with this bear because she cannot fit through the hole.
The whole scene where Mor'du is relentlessly pursuing Merida and manages to trap her beneath him, snarling straight into Merida's face as he prepares to rip her apart and then likely eat her. And Fergus is laying off to the side, unable to reach his daughter in time to save her. It's this act that finally makes bear Elinor go ballistic and square off against Mor'du in a battle of Mama Bear vs. Evil Bear. The entire sequence is an amazing showcase of a frightened and vengeful mother desperately trying to protect her child from one of the most dangerous creatures in existence.
To say nothing of, in the beginning, when Fergus sees the giant demon bear Mor'du bearing down on his wife and young daughter, who are completely defenceless, when they'd been feeling completely safe, or what Elinor must have felt taking Merida and running away on horseback, leaving her husband and his men behind to fight the bear, with no way of knowing the outcome until after the whole affair.
Plus, what both Elinor and Fergus may have thought after realizing that they had sent their tiny daughter into the woods to fetch the arrow, alone, defenceless, with that very same giant bear stalking her the entire time, where he could have attacked and killed her without their knowledge.
When Merida runs off after the fight with her mother, her mother is clearly very relieved to see her again and voices that she had no idea when she'd be back or if she was all right — after all, her daughter was running on horseback in the woods, roamed by a monster bear, without her bow or any kind of protection. Even without the threat of a bear attack, there's still the fact that she could be hurt or killed in many other ways out there on her own, such as being thrown by her horse and injured with no one to help her. She was thrown, but thankfully wasn't harmed.
A more minor one: Elinor is hesitant about leaving the castle temporarily because she doesn't want to leave the triplets behind. Merida assures her they'll be fine. And they are...except they decide to sample the magic bear pie.
The fear of war breaking out if the marriage isn't arranged properly.
Almighty Mum: Queen Elinor can halt a full-blown mob brawl with a look and a few words.
Ambiguous Situation: At the end, did Elinor transform back to a human because the sunlight had to shine on the tapestry before it'd work ("mend the bond" literally), or did she transform because Merida finally acknowledged that she was the cause of her mother's predicament and tearfully told her she loved her ("mend the bond" metaphorically?) Or were both needed?
Amplified Animal Aptitude: Regular example: Angus the horse. The other examples were magically enhanced: the witch's crow, Mor'du the demon bear, and the enchanted Queen Elinor, also a bear.
The tartan (15th-16th century), kilt (18th century)note Scottish clans have been wearing kilts in the style as seen in the movie since the 16th century. Wearing the kilt was outlawed in the mid 18th century after some rebellions, and was re-legalised near the end of that century, just in time for it to be romanticised by Sir Walter Scott and woad warpaint (Iron Age); forks and tea (didn't make landfall in Britain till mid-17th century); Highland games (19th century, and Canadian); bagpipes (14th century); references to recently fighting both the Romans (1st-5th century), and the Vikings (8th-11th century); the carnyx (Iron Age) and bears (extinct in Scotland since prehistoric times) at the same time.
The sleeves on Merida's dresses are too tight to have existed before sewing technology developed in the 14th century (unless she sews them up each morning), and the slashes on the shoulders and elbows are a fashion of Renaissance Italy.
One mainly justified through Rule of Funny: the witch uses a welding mask when making the spell.
The castle has features not introduced until the very end of the medieval period, yet looks like it's been there for centuries.
Animal Motifs: The DunBroch clan symbol is three black bears. King Fergus hunts them for sport, too.
Animation Bump: The film is technically very impressive and improves on several aspects of Pixar's already impressive 3-D technology. They even rewrote their entire animation system for the first time ever.
Animorphism: Merida purchases a spell from a witch that will "change" her mother ... into a bear.
Annoying Arrows: Merida's arrows don't do much to Mor'du, who has arrows and weapons sticking out of his skin from all the other warriors he has faced. Mor'du isn't just a normal bear.
Arranged Marriage: The sons of the three lords compete in the Highland Games for Merida's hand in marriage. She prefers her freedom and does not want to get married yet, so she sabotages their chances by entering and winning the archery contest. And at the end of the movie the three suitors reveal that they weren't exactly thrilled at the idea of getting married just yet either.
Arrow Catch: The big guy from Lord Dingwall's entourage pulls this off at one point.
Ate the Spoon: The cauldron full of goop from which the witch's spell-cake is made.
Badass Fingersnap: The Witch does all of her non-potion related magic with snaps. Up to, and including, summoning a horde of flying knives, axes, and other sharp implements to threaten Merida.
Baleful Polymorph: Queen Elinor and the triplets are turned into bears, just as previously happened to the prince that became Mor'du.
Ballroom Blitz: The three lords and their clans gather at the castle for the Highland Games, in which their sons will compete for the right to Merida's hand in marriage. At some point a massive fight breaks out (including biting and at least one purple nurple). Fergus makes a feeble attempt to defuse the situation before diving into the fray, leaving Elinor to restore order.
Bears Are Bad News: The demon bear Mor'du, who is described by Pixar as "Moby-Dick on land". The curse threatens the kingdom by changing Elinor into a bear — and a target for those aware of this trope.
Elinor does the same for Merida, bursting free from the ropes tying her down and fighting Mor'du when said demon bear is busy threatening her daughter.
The Big Damn Kiss: Fergus and Elinor do this near the end of the movie... right in front of Merida and all the clans, no less!
Big Good: Queen Elinor. Her grace and wisdom are what holds the kingdom together and is the one doing the talking for the royal family. She's worried that Merida will not be ready to step into her shoes.
Early in the movie, Merida says she will buy all the carvings in the witch's house. After the credits, the witch's crow comes up to deliver all of them. The shocked guard who receives the delivery is the same one the boys were picking on earlier when they cut off his moustache. And once again, he's sleeping on the job.
After Elinor is turned into a bear and has to struggle to keep her dress on, Merida rolls her eyes and reassures her that she's not actually naked if she's covered in fur. Near the end, when she's turned back, she has to gently break the news to Fergus that she's naked under her blanket.
Helps that when the team at Pixar went to Scotland, they made sure to study Scottish Castles which Castle DunBroch is a near picture perfect recreation of in terms of building style; less extravagance, more utility.
Child Marriage Veto: Merida doesn't want to be married, so she pulls some Rules Lawyer stuff to get out of it by entering the contest, in which only the firstborn of each clan may compete. Fortuitously Merida is firstborn.
"I am Merida, first-born descendant of clan DunBroch, and I'll be shooting for my own hand!"
Circle of Standing Stones: Seen as a place where Merida keeps being drawn to, and where the curse on Elinor and Mor'du is broken.
Color-Coded Characters: The four lords have red (MacGuffin), blue (DunBroch, Merida's clan), green (Dingwall), and yellow (Mackintosh) tartans.
Comic Role Play: Fergus as Merida, helping Elinor practise patching things up.
"I don't want to get married, I want to stay single and let my hair flow in the wind as I ride through the glen firing arrows into the sunset!"
In some countries, they used Merida's name as the title, while in some it was "Merida the Brave".
In France it was Rebelle ("Rebellious" — feminine form of the word.)
The Foreign Subtitle: Some countries went for this. For example, in Spain the title is Brave (Indomable) ("Indomitable").
Compressed Hair: It is nothing short of miraculous how Queen Elinor manages to tuck all of Merida's profusely curly, waist-length hair under a small wimple that barely bulges and of course, when Merida reveals herself at the archery tournament, her hair flows as freely as if it had never been subjected to the accursed wimple.
Continuity Cameo: The royal family appears in car form on a tapestry inside a pub in Cars 2. Here◊ is the pic as it appeared in Cars 2, and here◊ is how it looks in Brave.
Almost like a berserker in fact. The name comes from the words for "bear shirt" (that is, the clothing they wore into battle), which means it just might be intentional.
Cue the Sun: Played with. The sun rising after the terrible, stormy night is symbolic of the defeat of Mor'du and the end of his curse but it's also a moment fraught with worry because of the need to change Elinor backbefore it happens. So it's both a relief and suspenseful.
Curse: A "beastly curse" is unleashed on the land as a result of Merida's wish, specifically Queen Elinor being transformed into a bear.
Interestingly, in a short film on the DVD, the witch explains more of the back-story for Mor'du and how he was given a similar clause. She made a small cauldron for him, which he could use to gain the strength of ten men as he wanted, or he could instead use it to heal the rift he caused within his family. As you can probably guess, he chose the former, slaughtered his brothers, and then his own men either turned on him, or fled in fear because they only saw a beast, not their leader. So unlike Merida, he ended up destroying his kingdom due to his wish to change his fate.
Darker and Edgier: Lee Unkrich has described the film as a "very gritty adventure", darker and more mature in tone than the typical Disney Princess movie. The trailer also breaks Pixar's tradition with funny gag-based teaser trailers and Audience Alienating Premises, setting the audience up for a story akin to that of a traditional High Fantasy. Still, they're mind-bogglingly aimed at the youngest crowds, choosing to focus on the comic relief and completely hiding the true premise of the movie, possibly because of its darker and edgier roots.
Death Glare: Merida and Elinor do this to each other right after the last arrow hits the bull's-eye.
Deconstructed Trope: To Tomboy Princess. While Merida's frustration at society's expectations of her is treated sympathetically, the negative consequences of her headstrong and selfish backlash are what set the plot in motion, forcing her to atone for her actions and find a compromise between her desires and her responsibilities.
Screw Destiny, too. "Changing one's fate" is not as simple as finding a loophole or asking for a spell; in real life, this sort of thing is complicated and there are serious consequences for doing it incorrectly. Merida's true journey will be centered not just on flipping the bird to rules and tradition and getting away with it solely because she's The Protagonist, but on seeing that forging one's destinyis more complex than one thinks and that you must face both the pros and the contras of such decisions.
Defrosting Ice Queen: Elinor may be a non-romantic version of this trope for Merida. A great deal of their problem was that Elinor is very prim and proper and exceedingly frustrated that Merida isn't; both of them have to change by the end but Elinor is notably much more relaxed in the end.
Deuteragonist: Although it's not given in the advertising, the movie's tale is just as much about Elinor learning to understand her daughter's perspective as it is about Merida learning to own up to her actions and face her (eventual) duties.
Did Not Get the Girl: Refreshingly, this is a Disney Pixar film in which the princess doesn't want to be "got" and succeeds in remaining single.
Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: In the climax, Fergus punches Mor'du in the face, but this only serves to enrage the beast. The one who finally takes him down is Elinor.
Died Happily Ever After: Mor'du's ghost, in human form, rises regally from the corpse of his crushed ursine body, nods respectfully to Merida and her mother and then vanishes.
Elinor's reaction upon seeing Merida's scratches mimic a human parent realizing s/he's become abusive.
Dramatically Missing the Point: Up until the last few seconds, after Elinor seems to have turned permanently into a bear in body and mind, Merida assumes that the tapestry is what needed to be mended as "torn by pride", and not her relationship with her mother and changing her attitude toward the situation from blaming the witch to blaming herself. Although it may be worth noting that the transformation back didn't happen until the sunlight actually fell across the re-stitched tear in the tapestry...and this in turn happened right after Merida's change and declaration. Whether this was mere symbolic coincidence or if there really was a connection between the tapestry and Merida's actions is up to the viewer to decide.
It's true metaphorically inasmuch as Merida repairing the tapestry to save her mother's life made her realise that in spite of everything, she still cared about her mother and desperately wanted to repair the relationship between them.
Dying Declaration of Love: Merida, to Elinor, at the end when mending the tapestry to reverse the spell doesn't seem to work, and Elinor will be a bear forever.
Empty Piles of Clothing: After the spell takes effect, Elinor's torn robes are left on the floor of her room. When Fergus eventually discovers this, he goes ballistic.
Endless Winter: According to the DVD Commentary, the film was going to do this as an addition to Merida and Mor'du's bear curse, but in the end chose not to.
Enemy Rising Behind: After Merida realizes the prince from her mother's legend is Mor'du, she then realizes that said bear has appeared behind her.
This concept art poster◊, which makes it appear that Merida is hunting while being stalked by a bear. She's actually protecting it.
Engagement Challenge: A contest is set up for the hand of Merida as part of tradition. Merida does not approve. She tries to fight it by competing in the contest for her own hand. She wins.
Escapism: Merida rides her horse, practices her archery and does anything she can to keep her mind off what she considers the boring lessons her mother is teaching her regarding etiquette and managing a kingdom. Things come to a head when time catches up with her and she has to actually deal with matters head-on.
Everything's Better with Princesses: Played with; in a refreshing twist, being a Princess is shown for what it is, a position of future power that requires genuine work and training as opposed to being simply free to do as one pleases.
Exact Words: Merida wished for her mother to "change" without specifying in what manner; the prince of the legend asked for "the strength of ten men". Merida takes advantage of this when the contest for her hand is declared among "the first-born of each clan".
When Elinor dresses Merida for the presentation, she shoves her hair into a wimple. It's fairly bursting at the seams, just like Merida's personality. When she defies her mother, she ditches the wimple and announces herself by pulling her hood off and revealing her wild, loose locks.
By the end of the movie, Elinor has let her hair down from its former tight braid into hanging loosely down her back. This is a subtle indication that she's mellowed out.
Face Palm: Lord MacGuffin does this after his son's arrow misses the bull's-eye.
They're frequently shown leading Merida away from danger. Twice they lead her away from Mor'du and towards help before she even knows he's there. They also lead her to the ruined castle so she can learn the truth about the legend of the princes, and the true danger of the spell, and in the end they lead her back to the stone circle so she can save her mother. If not benign, they are at least fairly neutral.
Feuding Families: The three lords don't get along with each other and are the leaders of their respective clans. It's up to the royal family to keep the feuding from escalating into war.
Fiery Redhead: Merida, her father, and her three little brothers are all red-headed and spirited.
Food As Bribe: Merida gets her brothers to help her and Bear!Elinor get out of the castle by offering to let them have all her desserts for three weeks. When this is met with a hard look, she revises the offer to a whole year of her desserts. They help her out after that.
At the abandoned castle, Bear!Elinor knocks over a large rock to keep Mor'du from getting her daughter.
When Merida is leading her mother upstairs after feeding her the enchanted cake, there is a shot where the two of them are framed right behind the stuffed bear Fergus was using for target practice on the throne.
The four (present-day) lords can't get along at all. "You saved me!" "I was aiming for you!" (laughter)
Averted with Merida and her three younger brothers. They are all shown to be very close and loving with one another, if a little manipulative when it comes to desserts, which is in direct contrast with the four princes of legend.
Just after the first major fight between clans, a sheep flies through the air behind Lord Fergus's shoulder.
When Lord Dingwall's son hit the bull's-eye, Lord Dingwall does a victory dance ending with him mooning the other two lords... and two little kids next to their mother in the crowd, causing the little girl to put her face into her mother's dress and start to cry.
Gag Boobs: Maudie, the castle maid, who has a cleavage in which you could quite literally lose a bear cub.
At the end after Queen Elinor turns back to a human, she wears nothing but the fabric that was needed to undo the spell. She announces quietly that she is naked to Fergus. His reaction? He proceeds to look her down with a perverted smile on his face. Her following reaction to tell him not to stare at her and do something (other men being around) sells it completely.
Girls Need Role Models: Merida and Elinor, depending on each viewer's opinion of what a good female role model is. Merida is athletic and fierce, while Elinor is intelligent and composed. Both of them are courageous, able to handle themselves in dangerous situations in their own ways, and are not dependent on male protectors, while still appreciative of the backup.
Glad I Thought of It: When Merida goes back to the stone circle, only to fail to find any wisps, her mother immediately begins following the direction Merida said she'd gone to reach the witch's cottage, logically assuming that, barring magic being used to conceal the path, it should still be there. Once Merida begins recognising landmarks, she immediately acts as if physically retracing her steps was her idea, and upon finding the cottage again cries, "I did it, I found it!" Her mother's expressions throughout all this are priceless.
When Merida gives Elinor's decision to let her marry for love instead of station, Lord Macintosh starts to exclaim how stupid the idea is. After everyone else agrees it's a wonderful idea, he changes his tune and claims "I'm glad I thought of it".
Gray Rain of Depression: During their night in the ruins of the witch's cottage, after Merida has learned her rash act of obtaining a spell to change her fate has possibly doomed her mother to live forever as a bear.
Guys Smash, Girls Shoot: Played straight for most of the movie where Merida's weapon of choice is the bow and arrow, while male characters mostly use swords. There is one scene, though, which shows Merida is a pretty good swordfighter, too.
Harpo Does Something Funny: Not much Scots dialect was actually in the script, but the Scottish actors were encouraged to add as much as they could think of.
Headdesk: One of the triplets drops his head on the dinner table while listening to Fergus retell his encounter with Mor'du. It would seem that the king is more impressed with the story than his sons are.
Later, when Bear!Elinor discovers that the berries she got were nightshade berries and the water was full of worms, she drops her head on the makeshift table, causing it to go flying.
Holding the Floor: In order for Bear!Elinor to get into the castle and retrieve the torn tapestry, Merida has to distract her father and the lords, who are all at the point of starting a war. She essentially fills in for the queen by giving an eloquent speech that ultimately restores peace; Bear!Elinor helps Merida out a lot by Miming the Cues.
Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Elinor isn't freakishly tiny, but she is thin, average-sized and married to a man so large that a small family could comfortably live inside him if you hollowed him out.
Hunk: The only guy Merida seems impressed with at all, if only because of his sheer size, is a guy who looks like this. Too bad he's not really Lord Dingwall's son. Also, that guy ends up being interested in Maudie, the maid.
Informed Ability: We're told that Fergus, the clan lords and their heirs are great warriors who won great battles against Vikings. What we see of their combat abilities mostly consists of mosh pit antics and getting flung around by bears.
Last-Second Word Swap: When Merida sees the witch's broom move by itself, the witch assures her she's mistaken: "You can't magically imbue wooden objects with life, and I should know, I'm a wi— a whittler. Of wood."
Late-Arrival Spoiler: The trailers and official website go to great pains to hide a number of details about the plot, but the toyline and at least a handful of pins (including one for Father's Day) are quite clear about the fact that Elinor and the boys are turned into bears.
In the tapestry Elinor works on, Merida is shown with her hair in a neat braid, her head under a coif — completely unlike the wild mane we see her sporting. This also happens when Elinor forces Merida's hair under a coif to present her to the heads of the clans; it's bulging out under the cloth and Merida performs a minor version of this trope by tugging out a lock of her fringe to hang in front of her face as a minor act of rebellion. However, Merida's hair is portrayed as wild and curly in the new tapestry Elinor and Merida sew together at the end f the film, showing, again, how Elinor's opinion of her daughter has changed considerably.
Loophole Abuse: The first-born of every clan competes for Merida's hand in a contest of her choosing. Merida's the first-born of her clan, and is really good at archery. She uses these facts to her advantage. (It ends up being pretty pointless, since, despite the fact that Merida won the competition, her mother essentially tells her "tough luck".)
The Lost Woods: The woods outside the town are home to a witch and spirits and an old abandoned castle.
Loyal Animal Companion: Merida is joined by a bear in her quest — it's loyal because she's her now-cursed mother.
Angus the horse, even when he doesn't agree with Merida.
Made of Iron: Everyone who fights Mor'du and doesn't die, especially Fergus. Even with a peg leg, he still tries to take him on, and survives being hurled against a huge rock at full speed without any noticeable injuries. Mor'du himself is peppered with scars and broken arrows from old encounters.
Mama Bear: You can't miss the literal example late in the film. Queen Elinor, as a bear, breaks herself free to save her daughter and Fergus from the dreaded bear Mor'du.
This is just prior to an inversion of the usual roles in the trope, in which the princess defends Elinor against her own father, who has no idea that the bear he's fighting is his own wife.
During a huge fight between Elinor and Merida, Elinor tosses Merida's bow in the fire. Merida leaves the castle in tears. When she hears the bowstring pop from the heat, Elinor suddenly realizes what she's done and desperately tries to dig it out of the fire before it's destroyed. Elinor holds the singed bow, her daughter's most prized possession nearly destroyed by her own hand, and collapses to the floor in tears. Before that, if you listen closely, you can hear her whisper, "What have I done?"
Later in the movie, Elinor gets it again when she snaps out of acting like a bear, only to discover that she's hurt not only her daughter, but also Fergus.
The latter half of the movie is one long case of this for Merida herself, as she fully realises what her own actions through the movie have brought to everyone and herself.
Naked People Are Funny: The result of the clans climbing down from the top of the roof using their kilt cloths as a makeshift ladder. Also the triplets, when they turn back.
This Japanese trailer tries really, really hard to make this movie into Pixar's Princess Mononoke by implying the renegade prince and Merida broke "the law of the forest." The only similarity to Princess Mononoke/Studio Ghibli films is a female protagonist, the wisps/forest spirits in appearance, and a forest setting.
The trailers never seemed to meet a middle ground on what the film was truly about:
Some of the trailers try to play up the "epic adventure" aspects of the story by focusing on natural panoramas, shots of Merida wandering through the wilderness, and taglines about taking journeys. In reality the farthest that Merida ever travels is to the witch's cottage (which isn't even that far from the castle), and there's far less action in the movie that the trailer seems to suggest. The bulk of the story is about Merida's conflict with her mother.
Some of the trailers emphasized Shrek-like slapstick, subversive humor (in the form of setting up for something epic and grandiose and making a lowbrow joke out of it for laughs), and comedy rather than the personal story of mother and daughter that it is. Some Christmas DVD advertising used almost every single appearance by the triplets getting up to mischief, plus a few token shots of Merida, to make it look like a "girl struggles to babysit her tearaway siblings" movie.
No Peripheral Vision: When Elinor as a bear sneaks into the crowded ballroom by backing against the wall and tip-toeing, Merida distracts everyone by having them focus on her. No one, not even the men who face the wall (but are further back) can see her large form moving around with their peripheral vision. The only one who notices is a guard who has his back to the wall and she just pretends to be a stuffed bear when he turns around.
Not This One, That One: Merida and her parents assume the big strong guy Lord Dingwall is pointing at is his son (and one of her possible suitors), when he's really pointing at the scrawny kid hiding behind him.
"Royalty Records presents 19 of the greatest bagpipe hits ever collected on one LP! Freedom Broch!"
Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Elinor mentions at one point that she and Fergus were betrothed. Despite her admitting she had misgivings at first (this is news to her husband), they are very happy together.
Plot Irrelevant Villain: Mor'du. The plot of the film concerns Merida reconciling with her mother and undoing the curse she accidentally brought about. Mor'du is only tangentially related to any of this — he's just a bigass warlord turned bear who wants to eat everyone because he's a bear.
Primal Scene: Downplayed at the end of the movie, when Merida witnesses her father and naked mother kissing fairly passionately in front of her. Oooops.
Protector Behind Bars: Near the climax, Fergus locks Merida in the tapestry room to protect her from a bear who he thinks killed Elinor. However, said bear he and the lords are trying to kill is Elinor, and Merida already has attempted to convince her father, but he doesn't believe in magic. With Merida locked up and stuck in the tapestry room, she is helples and unable to aid her mother.
Quirky Curls: Merida is definitely quirky in the context of the movie.
Rapunzel Hair: Queen Elinor's hair reaches down to the floor. Merida's hair counts, too. According to the Disney Wiki, if it were straightened it would be four feet long.
Reality Ensues: Merida thinks her Loophole Abuse during the contest will save her from marriage which is usually what happens when a character finds a loophole in fantasy. She actually makes everything worse. She pisses her mother off so badly that they get into a huge fight which results in Elinor burning Merida's bow and Merida running away, and her humiliation of the clans' sons brings everyone to the brink of war.
Revenge Before Reason: Fergus, who is so set on bringing down Mor'du, and later the bear he thinks killed his wife, that he won't listen to Merida trying to tell him the bear is his wife. In his defense, it's a bit much to believe out of nowhere.
Royals Who Actually Do Something: The royal family of DunBroch qualifies as a whole: Merida is a Badass Princess. Elinor is shown in the opening meal scene receiving letters of many sorts, thus implying she is the one handling matters of state. Fergus was explicitly chosen as their king after he led the other clans to victory against invading Vikings and whether it's evil monster bears or invading armies he takes care of it. Even the toddler triplets are crafty tricksters capable of distracting an entire castle. The other clan leaders and their heirs are also shown as being pretty battle-happy, especially against each other.
Rule of Symbolism: The rent tapestry / shattered carving of the four princes. Empathic Environment/Cue the Sun. Merida tearing her dress to win the archery tournament (just as she wants to tear free of her role / tear through the expectations) — a dress she earlier said made it so she "couldn't breathe". All the Foreshadowing. The scene where Elinor tells the legend of the four princes using a chess board and pieces to illustrate it. The burned bow. The ruined castle of the fallen kingdom versus Bright Castle DunBroch (both are located on suspiciously similar peninsulas above a loch). Bear!Elinor taking her crown off to indulge in bear feeding habits, then leaving it behind as she regresses. There's a lot of it — and it's all done right.
Rule of Three: The Three Lords, the three failing suitors and Merida's identical triplet brothers who only she's able to tell apart (even when they're bear cubs!).
Elinor: "Weapons off the table." "Weapons off the table!" As a bear: "Grrr-rrrr rrrgh RRR!"
Merida after discovering she turned her mother into a bear: "It's not my fault." "It's not my fault!" "I'm so sorry, it's all my fault!" which breaks the curse.
Say My Name/Skyward Scream: Fergus screams "ELINOOOOORRRRRR!" when he finds her torn dress and believes she's been killed by a bear.
Scary Shadow Fakeout: Merida's little brothers use a plucked chicken to make a shadow which looks like a bear to help lead the adults on a wild goose chase looking for the bear in the castle.
Finding Nemo: Aside from the "rebellious child and strong-willed parent learn to appreciate each other after a crisis" plot, there's Bear!Elinor's pupils widening into Black Eyes Of Animal-ity when she becomes a "real" bear, just like Bruce the great white shark's eyes go black when he goes into feeding frenzy-mode.
Silk Hiding Steel: Queen Elinor. Always polite, always well dressed, well-versed in every courtly art, and she can stop an all-out brawl simply by walking through the middle of it.Director commentary mentions a cut ending scene where the queen reveals she is also proficient in archery.
ACXIII. note Hint, it's a Roman Numeral version of A113, a common Pixar Easter Egg.
The Stinger: Earlier, Merida arranged to buy all the witch's woodcarvings if she got some magical help; as the witch promised, they are delivered to the castle by the crow — to the surprise of the guard ("Sign here, please").
A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: Merida's impatience and unwillingness to listen to her mother's advice, results in the situation that she has to fix in the first place.
Trailers Always Spoil: As beautiful as the "Mother's Day" trailer is, the trailer may have given away a few of the ending shots of the film at the tail end of it.
Some new trailers and in-movie shots also shows Merida walking with, saving or jumping to the rescue of a bear, which is pretty spoilerish when the first trailers shows the main antagonist, or one of the main antagonists, of the movie to be a giant grizzly. Apparently sources have already revealed the smaller, more timid looking bear that's seen with Merida to be her transformed mother.
Several movie tie-in books were released before the movie itself, too. Naturally, reading them spoils the whole plot of the movie.
A toy commercial also completely spoiled the bear transformation.
And now the movie is being distributed with trailers for a video game that offer minor spoilers.
True Blue Femininity: Elinor tries to invoke this with Merida before and during the contest, making her wear a tight turquoise dress. Merida doesn't like this, preferring her darker and less restrictive green dress.
The Unintelligible: Young MacGuffin has a brogue so thick that even the other Scots can't understand him. He's actually speaking a real dialect: Doric, spoken in the voice actor's native region of northeastern Scotland. He utters only a handful of understandable words throughout the entire film, and even those aren't enough to figure him out.
Was Once a Man: Mor'du, having asked for the strength of ten men, seems to have taken heartily to his new identity as a complete monster.
When All You Have Is a Hammer: The witch's bear motif is noticeably prevalent in all her professional dealings. The only spell she seems to know is turning people into bears.
"Where? Where?": In the scene where Elinor turns into a bear; Merida screams, Elinor turns and sees a bear's shadow on the wall, and attempts to shield Merida with her body because she hasn't realised yet that she is the bear.
White and Gray Morality: Both due to the main focus of the story being a mother-daughter conflict where both have their reasons, and the antagonist per se being a wild animal — though a vicious one who used to be human.