The biggest hurdle every Pixar film faces when it opens is the stratospheric bar its predecessors have set for it. So accustomed we have become to stone-cold classics from these guys that anything that doesn’t fit the mold is automatically deemed a disappointment. It’s quite unfair when you think about it. After all, not everything can be a masterpiece. Brave, the studio’s thirteenth full-length film, and the first to feature a lead female character, isn’t one of their greater efforts but that doesn’t mean it deserves to be criticized for not being a great film. It may lack the ambition and the brilliance of some of their previous works but what it lacks in those categories, it makes up in heart.
Set in a Scottish kingdom during the medieval era, Brave follows a rambunctious red-headed princess named Merida (Kelly MacDonald) who’d rather spend her days practicing archery and riding in the wild than being ladylike. This behavior comes in direct conflict with the ladylike traits her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) is trying to instill in her.
When her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), tells Merida that she will have to follow tradition and marry one of three bumbling princes from three neighboring clans, she rebels against her family by outwitting the trio in an archery contest – something that creates a rift between the clans. It also leads to a massive argument between mother and daughter ending with Merida fleeing into the woods, meeting a witch and begging the woman to change her fate. Unfortunately, as in all fairy tales, things don’t go as planned.
Like all of Pixar’s movies, Brave is a visual marvel. From the lush green hills and forests to the sparkling rivers and snowy mountain peaks, the technical artistry in this picture represents the zenith of computer animation – and exactly what you’d expect from Pixar. Merida’s fiery hair is in of itself a wonder to behold.
Where the film lacks pizzazz is the story department – which is an odd development since story has always been the pillar of Pixar. They’ve been pioneers on that front of delivering animated films that are not just for kids but for adults too. Brave marks the first time (outside its sequel films) that Pixar have given us a movie that marches to a beat we’ve heard before.
One explanation for this could be the film’s troubled production which is credited to two directors and four screenwriters. Brenda Chapman, the film’s original director was replaced halfway through production by Peter Andrews. Although it doesn’t crater the film, the final film does feel like the product of multiple cooks as opposed to something conjured by a visionary like Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) or Andrew Stanton (Wall-E, Finding Nemo). For one the tone of the film often veers between slapstick and serious, and the witty dialogues – now a Pixar hallmark is absent.
This isn’t to say the story is a weak one – it just lacks the ambition of Wall-E, The Incredibles, Ratatouille or Finding Nemo. Where it does succeed is with its two lead female characters – two of the best in a major motion picture this year. It’s not often that you see big American studio movies with strong female characters –especially one that emphasizes the importance of the relationships between mothers and daughters in a mature and thoughtful way. If there’s something visionary that Brave brings to the table, this is it.
Directed by: Peter Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Written by: Peter Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi, Steve Purcell
Starring (voices of): Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Kevin McKidd
Rated: PG (for some scary action and rude humor)