Recent films such as Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman demonstrate that it is interesting to watch Witches doing things (even Wicked Villainess Witches, performing Evil Villainous Witchcraft); Pixar Disney’s recent Brave shows that it can be funny to watch Witches as well. The catalyst to its very-Celtic storyline (which involves a quintessentially Celtic-Shamanic Animal-Transformation) occurs in a Trip Between Dimensions, as the heroine Merida follows a series of Will o’the Wisps on a trail from a Stone Circle, to a Witch’s enchanted Barrow-Cottage in a forest-glen (which cottage seems to come and go, Brigadoon-like, as Merida initially cannot find it again). The next scene is predictable- but anticipated, and hilarious all the same: Meeting the eccentric old woman who lives inside, Merida begins to form a fearful suspicion. As the Witch’s broom grows Magickally inanimate the instance before Merida spots it, and as the Witch’s raven-familiar goes “stuffed” as soon as Merida turns its way, Merida slowly starts to develop the alarming thought: “You’re a- a- a- a- WIIITCH!!”
“No, dearie,” goes the old Hag. “Just a Wood-carver.”
One of the most delightful things about Brave’s Witch (I can’t really think of a Pop-Culture Witch-parallel to this) is: she’s an artisan Witch. She carves out beautiful wood-cut pieces (and Brave takes the concept to its logical conclusion, by presenting wonderfully imaginative in-the-Magickal-Brave-world examples of her Carving Craft). To this end, she reminds of such a Type familiar to every Festival-going Pagan: she’s a Crafts-Pagan, such as any Pagan will encounter at a Neo-Pagan Gathering or Festival or Meet-Up, modestly exhibiting their marvelously-wrought wares. (Ah! If I had $1000 as discretionary cash, at every Festival I attended, just to accept such wonderful objects as my own!)
The Pagan Craft-Vendor Thing is apparently further sealed, when the Witch departs to the Wicker Man Festival (in a seeming-Pagan shout-out, such as to make me wonder: who connected with Brave has such a sense of modern Pagan Festival-Culture?)
Whatever anachronisms might be discerned in the Witch-sequences (such as the- I thought- Brilliant answering-message that she has “programmed” into her cauldron, including an option for “that wee red-headed lass”) reflects what Disney learned with Aladdin: a Supernatural Being can transverse ages through their reality-shifting Magickal Powers. Hence, all sorts of comic possibilities, as the Magickal Figure warps eras and times together, as per the logic of the piece.
This tendency towards moving realities in and out of focus, is further seen as the Witch shifts the contents of her Magickal Space in and out of dimensions, as per her will (my favorite line: when she is ready to Do Magick for Merida, she leads the lass outside; snaps her fingers; and leads Merida back inside her cottage, to discover; it has now been transformed from a wood-carver’s cottage into an awe-inspiring Magickal Space, with an impressively boiling cauldron. “Never Conjure where you Carve,” is the Witch’s explanation to the Wee Red-Haired Lass).
For being such an agreeable, amusing Witch, the Crafty Carver of Brave seems to me to make a break-through in Witch-Films that few others have achieved: an inviting portrayal of a Witch, derived through that most pleasant of Ambassadors- the Art and Craft of Comedy.
One further observation (I started noticing this when I was a kid, and I guess it forms a sort of standard for me today): based upon my childhood impressions, it seems to me that a good way to judge a positive or effective media-portrayal of a Witch, might be the degree to which you can imagine yourself as a kid, wanting to go home after the movie, and start pretending to be that Witch in that movie for real- because she opened up something in your little kid’s mind that responds to Witches.
After Brave, my little six-year-old self would so be romping in my backyard, trying to figure out how to “be” that Witch, as best I might.