Brave

Much has been made of the fact that Brave is the first Pixar film to spotlight a female lead. Considering they’ve been making movies since 1995, I suppose this is somewhat of a surprise. Despite the alleged innovation, the irony is that Brave is the safest, most thematically bland feature Pixar has ever done. The protagonist is a throwback to every Disney princess of the past twenty years. Coming off the critical thrashing that Pixar received for Cars 2, I had hoped this would be a return to form. While there are glimpses of the old magic, the overall feeling of Brave is sadly a disheartening one.

Our young central figure, Merida, is a princess who lives in the highlands of 10th century Scotland. In flashback, Her father King Fergus of DunBroch gives his daughter a bow and arrow for her birthday and over the years becomes quite skilled in archery. You see Merida isn’t your traditional princess. She would much rather climb mountains and shoot arrows in the woods than learn embroidery like a proper princess. Cut to the current day in which our story takes place. The Scottish lords are presenting their first-born sons to compete for Merida’s hand in marriage. But she doesn’t want to get married. Her mother, Queen Elinor is mortified at her behavior and pleads with her to accept her fate. Merida whines that nobody listens to her. It’s the age old battle of tradition vs. “get with the times, Mom!“ That’s a valid notion to explore. The problem is that Pixar does nothing fresh with it.

Princess Merida is an uninteresting heroine. Anyone who is familiar with Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Princess Jasmine from Aladdin or any other Disney star from the past two decades will find little originality here. At least those individuals were charming. To add insult to injury, Merida is a wholly unpleasant personality. I get she’s supposed to be plucky and ultramodern but she comes across as selfish and disrespectful. Her sinful pride is the purpose – I get that. However at one point she commits a heartless act against her mother and I couldn‘t (no pun intended) stomach it. Merida’s narcissistic self obsession over her future coupled with her utter lack of concern for others made it hard for me to care about the princess’ predicament.

Brave is a mixed bag. An overwhelming focus of the narrative is spent on slapstick while people are running around attempting to undo a spell. None of it has anything to do with advancing the plot so it gets a little tiresome after awhile. There are some amusing moments. To begin with, the animation is as gorgeous as it’s ever been. Merida’s long flowing tresses are a wonder to behold. Julie Walters (Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter films) is a delight as the Witch. She provides the catalyst for the story’s most fascinating development. The Lords Macintosh, McGuffin and Dingwall are also engaging characters as they introduce their sons as potential suitors. All six of them are humorously animated. For example, the Lord McGuffin’s son speaks a strange Scottish dialect that is completely incomprehensible. I almost wish the adventure focused on them because they’re a lot more likeable than our protagonist. In the end, Brave is ultimately a disappointing reflection on traditional versus contemporary values. It’s a passable fable, but a superficial treatment of a well worn idea that Disney has done better countless times before. If only Pixar had delved as deeply into the concept as it did in animating Merida’s beautiful red locks of hair.

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16 Responses to “Brave”

  1. Shame, sounds like a big missed oppertunity, will have to wait a couple of months to find out for myself as it’s not out here till then.

    • For an animated film, it’s fine, but it’s not even in the same league as classics like Toy Story or Finding Nemo.

      • Finally saw this (i actually could have seen it a week earlier but didn’t get the chance). Pretty much agree with you on most points, it’s just lacking the heart that a Pixar movie normally has. I laughed as did most of the audience, but i just wasn’t invested as much as i should have been. One of the things i have a problem with is that the human features are just too simple and don’t convey much emotion as previous Pixar movies. There’s also an issue with the 3D as some of the movie is visually very dark so suffers from the glasses making it harder to see. My review: http://wp.me/p1LZxf-Lm

  2. Can’t say I’m terribly surprised by how you assessed this one. I predicted a 2.5 and was met with a 3, which isn’t too far off. Nice review. I’m going to see this today, so I’ll have my expectations set low.

  3. Good review, honestly I had my expectations set lower coming into it after the huge disappointment of Cars 2 so I wasn’t expecting it to be up to Pixar par. I still think it’s a good movie for people to see to form their own opinion on but my guess is most people will like it but few will love it.

    One thing I did like about it was that it focussed on the mother/daughter dynamic rather than the princess and her love interest. It wasn’t enough to make it feel fresh but when combined with the voice talent of Emma Thompson and Kelley MacDonald I felt like it kept me invested more than anything else in the movie.

    My only hope is that this is a step in the right direction for pixar on the way to a return to normalcy, I’m a little worried about Monster’s University ending up like Cars 2 but Pixar has proved it can make great sequels with the Toy Story series so my fingers are crossed.

    • True. The mother/daughter dynamic was explored with depth and I’ll admit the voice actors were strong. I liked those very same things. I’m optimistic about Monster’s University. I think Monster’s Inc was a stronger film than Cars and, like Toy Story, give ample opportunity to make a sequel could be very very good. Really well thought out comments there. Thanks!

  4. I can pick parts of the movie, I really enjoyed, not to mention the amazing look of the film, but overall, it was a major disappointment. For a heroine, she was a selfish brat. Sorry Pixar, you should have done better.

  5. Totally disappointing considering it’s from Pixar, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. It’s just not anything special especially when you put it against everything else that Pixar has been putting out for the past decade, except for last year with Cars 2. That can be forgotten. Good review Mark.

  6. Great review as always. I’m a little bit bummed that this wasn’t very good. I really thought Cars 2 was just a glitch and that they’d be back to making amazing animation. We’ll have to wait, I guess 😦

  7. sanclementejedi Says:

    Good but far from great. I expect more from Pixar, although, as you mentioned the animation was top notch. People would not be missing much if they waited to rent or watch this when it is available for streaming.

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