There are lots of resources out there for “How to Survive a Bear Attack,” but not much guidance about what to do if it’s a demon bear on your trail.
Run! No, wait… Play dead! Uh – try to cover your head a little. Got any magic spells…?
The Legend of Mor’du, a new short on the upcoming Blu-ray release of Pixar’s Brave, doesn’t offer many hopeful pointers, but it does dive a little deeper into the backstory of the movie’s fearsome, snarling villain.
Those who saw Brave already know Mor’du is the sinister monster bear whose true identity is a prince – although not the kind you kiss and transform back into a human. Years before, this selfish, angry royal sought a spell that would help him conquer his brothers for sole control of the family’s kingdom. But that power had the side-effect of shape-shifting him into a ferocious animal.
“It’s a cautionary tale,” says first-time director Brian Larsen, a storyboard artist on Ratatouille and story supervisor on Brave. “If you are selfish and not working in the right direction for the greater good you can destroy a huge part of your family — and yourself. A lot of tales and legends, like Grimm’s fairy tales, were like that. If you do some things, there’s a bad outcome, and not always a happy ending.”
The short is book-ended by Brave‘s cheerful witch (voiced by Harry Potter’s Julie Walters) recounting the tale of Mor’du for another, unseen customer seeking a potion that might change his fate. But as she flashes back to the savage prince’s backstory, we see it depicted in a kind of hand-painted, paper cut-out style.
“It’s got a stony edge to it,” Larsen says. “We wanted it to be very graphic in that way, with a lot of silhouettes. We wanted a 2-D look that still had volume and geometry to it.”
For The Legend of Mor’du, Larsen wanted the look of concept drawings that are created for an animated film, but rarely resemble the finished product. Such illustrations are typically very expressive, a little impressionistic, and a lot abstract. But instead of just using them as a way to convey a vibe to animators, the drawings themselves become the style of the Brave short.
Larsen said the work of artist Mary Blair, a frequent contributor to Disney films (and a legend in her own right) was a source of inspiration. “Going back to Mary Blair, we don’t get to flex those muscles all the time because we usually work in a 3-D animated world, so it just felt extra special that we could be in that painterly style,” the director said. “It gives it a texture — what you’re seeing is somebody’s imagination of this event, almost like a dream in some ways. It’s not real. It’s romanticized.”
As Brave evolved throughout its production, Mor’du the demon bear became a bigger and bigger part of the story, but ultimately the film explored only a bare-bones version of the legend – enough to tell moviegoers what they needed to know, while still keeping it mysterious and off to the side, to avoid detracting from the scarlet-haired heroine’s own story.
“Steve Purcell, the co-writer, came up with idea of a king turned into a legendary bear. As the movie progressed, people [from preview audiences] wanted more and more about Mor’du, so Mark [Andrews, who co-directed Brave with Brenda Chapman] started putting more backstory in, and we started linking together how the kingdom fell,” Larsen said.
Late in the process, they also inserted Princess Merida’s friendly, neighborhood witch into the origin story of the demon bear. “That happened pretty recently, that she had something to do with Mor’du,” Larsen reveals.
As they tried to devise spin-off projects for the home-video release, the monstrous villain was an unusual choice. “When talking about what kind of short we would do, I said I would love to expand on all these Mor’du elements, so let’s write this thing to touch on what’s in the movie, but come up with something a little bit deeper,” the director says. “This little short is filling in the middle part for you.”
You can find The Legend of Mor’du on the Blu-ray combo pack for Brave, out Nov. 13.
For more animation news