Brave – Movie Review
Itcan be said that Pixar is one of the most successful, popular and beloved movie studios of all-time. Credited with inventing the computer-animated film back in 1995 with Toy Story, the Disney-owned studio has been riding the road to both commercial and critical success ever since. Well, at least until Cars 2 was released last summer. Sure, it made crap tons of money at the worldwide box office, but that film was the first of Pixar’s to receive mostly mixed reviews. After that, I feared that one of my favorite film studios would fall to ruin, releasing failure after failure with critics. However, my faith was rekindled when the trailers were issued for Brave, Pixar’s latest film which is also their first fairy tale. It should also be made clear that this is the first film of theirs to have a female protagonist, so I guess it can be said that Brave is a fresh change of pace for Pixar. Could Brave possibly be the perfect turnaround that the studio desperately needs to get back on track?
Merida (Kelly MacDonald) is the young princess of the Scottish kingdom of DumBroch, ruled by her parents Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Elinor (Emma Thompson). On Merida’s 5th birthday, Fergus gives her daughter a new bow much to Elinor’s chagrin, and on the same day a bear attacks the family. Many years pass, and we learn that Fergus lost his left leg in the attack, and now the headstrong Merida has three mischievous younger brothers. She also strives for independence from her strict and regal mother, who has constantly tried to govern her life in such a way in order to prepare her for eventual rule as the queen of DumBroch. One fateful day, the family learns that the three other clans of the four-clan kingdom, Dingwall, Macintosh and MacGuffin have agreed to sail to the castle for a contest forMerida’s hand in marriage. Each of the three lords (Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson and Robbie Coltrane) will present their firstborn sons for participation in a competition in which the victor will be awarded with marriage toMerida. Although she is completely opposed to the idea of this,Merida soon sees the games as a way for her to gain her freedom, escape from her authoritative mother and eventually change her fate for the “better”…
The main thing I was hoping for Brave was that it would be a better film than Cars 2 was (it wasn’t a bad movie, I just didn’t feel it was good on Pixar standards). Thankfully, Pixar has returned! However, Brave still isn’t as great as some of Pixar’s recent masterpieces including Ratatouille, WALL●E, Up and the great Toy Story 3. There are numerous things to point to in order to explain that, but I suppose the biggest reason why is because Brave is more Disney than Pixar, if you can understand that. While most of Pixar’s films have been appealing to both kids and adults, Brave is definitely more of a kids’ movie in how it approaches its thematic material and humor. Pixar has also been well known for creating stories that are wholly original and creative, and although this still rings true with the world established in Brave, the story unfolds in a similar way to most of Disney’s animated films and has that sort of essence to it. Nevertheless, Brave marks a return to quality for the studio.
Although I generally try not to draw comparisons between Pixar films since each has their own genuine qualities, this film reminded me of Finding Nemo. In that film, the story explores the relationship between Marlin and his son Nemo when he is captured by a diver, and it is can also be argued that it is more of a fable on parenting since the story focuses more on how Marlin tries to overcome his excessive fears and become a better father for his son. Brave touches on many of those similar themes, except that Merida never gets technically separated from her family. This film does place plenty of focus on how Merida changes her feelings about her mother, but thankfully the story explores both Merida and Elinor’s perspectives and presents both with challenges they need to face in order to mend their relationship. In relation to that, after the first act of the film, the story takes a rather surprising and ironic twist that sets up how these characters deal with such things.
On one side of the coin, this twist can lead to some disappointment since the story takes plenty of time to build up tension (believe me, the beginning is great) towards something grand and epic such as an inter-clan war, but then it takes a turn that is much more predictable in the vein of traditional fairy tales (it involves an old witch and a spell that presents a conflict for the rest of the film). In that sense, there is where some adults may not enjoy Brave as much since the plot progression at that point definitely shares many similarities to much older, childish Disney films.
Does that mean that Pixar dropped the ball on its first fairy tale then? Of course not, because the creative geniuses at that studio were still able to craft a story that is original and entirely their own (this project was conceived by co-director and writer Brenda Chapman, who previously wrote and directed The Prince of Egypt). One reason is because despite it having all of the Disneyesque and kiddish elements (which isn’t bad, it’s just that Pixar films are usually more distinguishable than strictly Disney films and are generally oriented towards adults), Brave is still a film that caters to both kids and adults. The story is nonetheless a good one, and it’s well told because it has elements that will appeal to both age groups (such as the cleverly-handled mother-daughter relationship). I also think it’s interesting that pretty much every single one of Pixar’s films have touched on the importance of family and friends, and the same is definitely here. As usual with Pixar films, it is also gut-wrenchingly emotional, exciting and then funny.
Yes, this film is very funny, although many of the jokes are more child-oriented just like the story. Even still, the screenplay is clever enough to the point that myself and the other adults in the theater I was in were laughing much harder than the throngs of kids present (especially in the scenes that Merida and Elinor share together in the middle of the film). Don’t expect a laugh fest in the vein of some of other Pixar’s films, though, because Brave certainly took a much more serious route as opposed to their previous work. The characters are also memorable, although I think that Merida may come across as annoying and whiney to some people (if you see the film though, it’s hard to not sympathize with what Merida’s going through).
Even so, Merida is a very different Disney princess because although she shows that defiance in the way that Ariel didn’t want the mermaid life, she is in no way interested in boys (or at least, she seeks for the opportunity to find her own love) and just seeks for adventure. The interesting thing though is that the story explores how Merida is a genuine human being and not strictly a tomboyish figure, and I think that’s something that Pixar does very well since they’ve always succeeded at defining any main character as someone that is truly human in how they think and act. Elinor is as much of a dynamic character as Merida is in this film, for she is certainly is that controlling (although well-meaning) mother who is tied to tradition, but when the twist that I mentioned earlier comes along, her journey towards change is one of the highlights of the narrative. In all, the well-constructed story allows for them both to see eye-to-eye and their journey together is certainly an emotional one. Fergus is not the most dynamic character ever written, but at least he’s consistently funny and plays a major role here; I won’t reveal what sort of role he plays towards the end, but let’s just say that his grudge against the bear that chomped off his leg in the beginning leads to some very intense moments that greatly build up tension to a particularly interesting climax. The Lords and their sons aren’t that deep either, but at least they provide some genuine comic relief.
The show-stealers here are Merida’s three younger brothers, who don’t exactly have words to say but are pretty hilarious at times. In fact all of those characters are mainly in the film to be comic relief, and although the writers of Brave succeed at this, the supporting cast of characters is thinly written in comparison to Cars and Monsters, Inc. rather than the troupe of characters in the Toy Story trilogy, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. There are two last things I’d like to mention about the story of Brave; although there is a pretty malicious bear that will scare the living crap out of children, there is no true villain here, which is another fresh direction that I was glad that Pixar took.
This is a mother-daughter story, which means that there is mainly internal conflict going on here, and I appreciated how the writing team handled that. Lastly, it’s interesting that this movie is titled Brave since it is indeed a mother-daughter film, but there are three things that can be taken away from this film’s standalone title. First, someone should be brave enough to do what is right. Secondly, everyone should have the bravery to chart their own course in life (or in the words of Merida, “change your fate”). Last but certainly not least, I think it shows that Pixar was bold enough to take a new narrative direction. Despite the fact that the story is undoubtedly similar to most Disney princess films, Brave is at least distinguishable from them, and once again Pixar has delivered a story that is well-told, poignant and funny.