Review: "Brave"

Over the last 17 years, Pixar has provided the world with some of the very best animated films that the genre has to offer. From Toy Story to The Incredibles to Up, the studio has put together a ridiculously impressive stable of films and basically didn’t miss between 1995 and 2011. Cars 2, though, was a huge disappointment and at the same time, only served to highlight just how good this studio has been over the years. If that film had been a DreamWorks or Sony Animation release, it would be considered a decent-enough throw away family film and no one would think twice about it. But because Pixar has set its standards so incredibly high, it seemed like a tremendous flop because it didn’t have the strength to match up against everything else these people have ever given us. Essentially, Pixar has become an entity that is judged more by its failures than by its successes. So the question is, to which side of that equation does Brave fall?

For lack of a better term, Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a tomboy. The heiress to a kingdom within the Scottish Highlands, Merida has little patience for the duties of a princess and prefers to spend her time riding horses, climbing mountains, and shooting arrows. When her father King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) arrange for a competition among the suitors of the kingdom to win the princess’ hand, Merida takes her rebelliousness to a whole new level and upsets the careful balance of power her father resides over. Anxious to prevent the arranged marriage, she sneaks away into the forest and stumbles across a witch (Julie Waters) who creates a spell to change Queen Elinor’s mind and thereby Merida’s fate. But when the princess delivers the spell, Elinor is transformed into a bear, leading to a desperate race to find a cure before the queen is left a bear for eternity.

Brave is by far the most traditional film Pixar has made to date. From talking toys to a robot love story, this studio has always stayed away from fairy tales and the like instead choosing to push wholly unique visions that consistently hit the mark. As such, it took me a few minutes to adjust to Brave, which is much closer to a Disney movie than one from Pixar. That’s not a bad thing, mind you; Bravewould fit nicely alongside Tangledand the current Disney animation style. It isn’t, however, what you expect when heading into a Pixar movie and requires the viewer to adjust accordingly. Once I accepted what I was being presented with, my initial sense of disappointed faded away and I enjoyed myself immensely. And while Brave doesn’t quite stack up to most of the other films from the Pixar universe, it is still an excellent, if not entirely fresh, take on the fairy tale.

As always with a Pixar film, the visuals presented within Brave are stunning. There is less realism to the human characters than what we’ve seen in the past (that the studio could make Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest look so incredibly REAL in 1995 is still uncanny to me), the work done on the bears, which play an increasingly important role in this film, is impeccable. There is no animal that fascinates me more than the bear (nerd alert, I know) and at times I was absolutely blown away by the lifelikeness of the creatures presented in Brave. It is a beautiful film with an impressive and subtle score that highlights the emotions of the film’s subjects wonderfully. The choice of setting, too, is a big check mark in the film’s favor, though perhaps I’m a bit biased toward the awesomeness of Scotland. There’s just something cool about the accents, music, and what have you. Behind the camera, Macdonald, Connolly, Thompson, and the rest of the cast provide a steady if underwhelming hand at the wheel of the film. None of the voice actors deliver a particularly stellar performance but all do their part to effectively balance the humor and seriousness required by the film.

Really all Bravelacks is the patented magic that I usually anticipate from Pixar and which the studio almost always delivers on. It seems to me that the filmmakers may have backed themselves into a corner from which they could not create a unique world in which to operate. There has been pressure for quite some time now for the studio to make a film with a female protagonist and I think perhaps that pressure forced their respective hands a bit, resulting in a storyline that really didn’t have as much range as the ones contained within the other Pixar films. In addition, there’s no novelty to Braveand I feel that hindered the development of both narrative and characters some. In The Incredibles for example, just by building a world in which superheroes are real and have been outlawed, you create a reason for serious development and for the audience to pay close attention and Brave doesn’t quite have that quality. Still, though, it is a strong entry into the genre and plays almost as a throwback or homage to the Disney films of the past, such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.