The title of Pixar’s latest release is fitting. Not only for the film itself, but for the animation studio that made it. Pixar is under a lot of scrutiny these days: they’re faced with a movie-a-year release schedule courtesy of Disney, and their thirteenth picture Brave is the first to feature a female character in the lead role. Fans of the Pixar folks don’t want to see their movies take a turn toward “Disneyfication”, and become formulaic, so how does Brave measure up?
The good news is that the medieval Scottish fable about the flame-haired princess Merida is still well within Pixar’s standards of quality. Brave doesn’t take the same risks in its story as recent Pixar flicks like Up or Toy Story 3, but it eventually finds its voice, combining genre-leading visuals with the work of Scotland’s most talented voice actors.
Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a girl living well before her time. A fearless adventurer and warrior, her independence doesn’t mesh with the traditional role of a woman in an 11th century Scottish court. Her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), is obliged to give Merida’s hand in marriage to the firstborn son of one of the other clans, much to the dismay of Merida.
Adding to Merida’s predicament is her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who wants to groom her wild daughter into a lady suitable for marriage. Merida’s fear of growing up leads her to seek a witch’s help to “change her fate”, a decision she ultimately has to reverse if she wants to preserve peace in her young nation.
These story points all form a solid fairy tale basis for Brave. For the kids in the audience, it’ll be easy to follow and maybe even learn from. But Brave glosses over most of the material that would usually keep parents and other adults hooked on a Pixar film. Brave sticks pretty closely to the “Disney princess” form, and it left me wanting a more complex narrative.
Instead, Brave favours slapstick humour and jokes, finding a number of chances to include funny chases or exaggerated expressions in place of subtle themes. Take, for example, the two separate sequences based around smuggling a huge bear in and out of a castle. There are only so many shots of broken furniture and terrified servants that make sense before it all gets too silly.
What Brave excelled in was the relationship between Merida and her mother. The back-and-forth between the two will feel remarkably genuine for any mothers and teenage daughters seeing this movie together.
Director Mark Andrews deftly handled the depiction of women in medieval Scottish society, and found a number of clever ways to weave the culture into the way the two characters interact. We respect Merida for her independence, but in the end, she has to embrace her more feminine side if she’s going to maintain balance in the kingdom.
Some reviewers are complaining that Brave marks the first obvious “Disneyfied” Pixar film since the studio was bought by the Mouse House. I can see the influences of the classic Disney princess film in Brave and happily, it doesn’t hurt the movie. Granted, there are a few more songs (but none performed by characters, thank goodness) and the story does follow the strictly linear path of a fairy tale. Pixar, however, seems to have held on to creative control over Brave, and I’m glad.
So breathe easy, Pixar fans. Disney may have the keys, but the spirit is still there in Emeryville, California. Brave gets three stars out of four.
A quick word about screenings of Brave in 3D. I saw Brave in the extra dimension, and I was disappointed. It didn’t have the depth that Toy Story 3 did in the format, and overall the glasses only darkened a picture that should have popped with colour, especially with Merida’s fascinating hair. See it in 2D if you can!
What did you think of Brave? Was it another standout entry from Pixar, or did you leave disappointed? If you found the movie lacking, what you think it needed to bring it to Pixar quality? Are you excited for their upcoming Monsters University prequel? Leave a comment down below, and check out some of my recent reviews:
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