Film Review: Brave (2012)
Pixar Animation Studios faltered in their impressive run as the king of animated films last year with the childish Cars 2. This year, they tried to rebound with their long-in-production female-driven Brave, a clear homage to past Disney princess movies. Unfortunately, the resulting product is simply that – a product instead of the kind of pure entertainment for all ages that audiences have come to expect from Pixar films. Nonetheless, it is still a step back in the right direction, but it is simply one of the lesser Pixar movies and nowhere near as wonderful as their greats
(I could list a few but really aren’t they all amazing?). Thus, most adult viewers will find it a bit disappointing in the straightforward, less than inspired storytelling that seem more like echoes from Disney past rather than something original and innovative. With moderate expectations, though, Brave is still mostly a fun, visually fantastic and sometimes emotional animated feature that should certainly entertain younger audiences and amuse adults, particularly mothers and daughters.
In Pixar’s first female-centric story, Brave follows Scottish princess Merida. Ever since receiving a bow for a young birthday, she has grown into a headstrong, albeit somewhat spoiled, tomboy. When her mother, Queen Elinor, and father, King Fergus, attempt to arrange Merida’s marriage with the firstborn of one of their kingdom’s three lords, she flips out; she has always wanted to set her own fate rather than simply go along with her mother’s plans for her. One day while riding through the forest, letting off some frustrations, she runs into a witch, who she begs to help “change her fate.” Indeed, the witch’s spell makes some drastic changes to her life, but not in the way she initially hoped – this plot point is a major twist to the story, so I won’t spoil it in this review. Suffice to say, she spends the rest of the movie trying to mend the issue, not to mention survive the onslaught of suitors and a nasty black bear that has plagued the realm for years (and even took one of her father’s legs).
For an animated princess movie, Brave certainly makes some changes of its own to the formula, though not all successfully. Primarily, Merida has no love interest. There is no charming prince for her to chase and love. The key relationship is between Merida and her mother Elinor; in that regard, the movie is tilted towards females for various reasons (still, there is just enough chuckle worthy humor for males to enjoy). Secondly, the film lacks a clear villain. The witch, though she sets a sort of curse on Merida’s family, is just a nice old lady carrying out her customer’s deeds. Also, the ferocious black bear, known as Mor’du, is largely absent for most of the runtime and cannot be considered the primary villain. Therefore, the film lacks a strong main antagonist for Merida to fight against (though it could be considered she is her own worst enemy in some ways). Instead, she struggles with a series of inconveniences that she must overcome to reestablish relationships and peace in the kingdom. Without a clear, fervent opposing force to a story’s protagonist, Brave staggers a bit and becomes a little frustrating at times (moments where adult viewers are yelling in their minds, “just do this/that!” whereas children are easier to captivate and less worried about the logistics).
Although Brave lacks the amazing intellectual and emotional depth of some of Pixar’s greats (i.e. Up’s opening montage, Toy Story 3’s final act, WALL-E’s brilliance, The Incredibles’ sheer fun), it still contains a sufficient amount of depth to make it more than the purely kid-fueled, toy marketing venture that was Cars 2. The mother-daughter relationship is handled with skill, as it could serve as a lesson for both sides. The climactic moment may borrow too much from Beauty and the Beast, but pulling from something so magical and great is not a terrible decision. It may not have you in a pool of tears, but it still tugs at the heartstrings a little. However, the tonal shifts from slapstick to serious are not entirely smooth; this might be due to the fact story creator and initial director Brenda Chapman left the project midway through because of “creative differences” (never a good sign) as co-directors Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell took over. In the end, not a whole lot separates Pixar’s latest entry from the rest of the animated feature pack, which has caught up with a wavering Pixar. Even the visual aspect, while astonishing (especially Merida’s flowing locks of hair), is not quite as outstanding as it used to be considering other animation studios have learned to optimize the technology as well. Also, Patrick Doyle’s original musical score, along with Julie Fowlis’s occasional lyrical songs, is fitting but forgettable for the most part.
The voice-acting cast turn in solid, serviceable “performances.” The main requirement being that they all have or put on respectable (albeit comprehensible) Scottish accents. Kelly Macdonald and Emma Thompson are good fits for Merida and Elinor, as is Billy Connolly for the playful King Fergus. Julie Walters (Molly Weasley in Harry Potter world) has a small part voicing the charming little old witch. Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, and Craig Ferguson “play” as the three Lords: Dingwall, MacGuffin, and Macintosh. And yes, Pixar gurus, John Ratzenberger lends his voice as Gordon the guard (a very small part that could easily pass you by if you’re not fully paying attention/waiting for his voice).
Overall, Brave is a lower-tiered Pixar film, but even as such it is a pretty good animated feature by normal standards. The kids will love most of it (a few intense, darker sequences may not be their favorite but it at least fills the action quota), and adults will at least be entertained for a brisk hour and forty minutes; the latter just won’t get a typically exhilarating and intellectually and emotionally outstanding feature from Pixar. Check it out as a matinee (non-3D since most of the story has dark scenes, which render the technique blurry), or else wait for a VOD/rental. Here’s to their next feature, Monster’s University (2013), a prequel to the original, being a true and full return to form for the studio.
Extra: As usual, Pixar released a new short film at the start of Brave – “La Luna.” It is virtually a silent film (no dialogue) but as always quite entertaining and visually majestic for an animated short. It is well worth checking out.
Brave – 7.5/10