Pixar has been waiting to take a beating for a while now. When you spend fifteen years making great movies, you’re bound to disappoint, and their sequel-friendly attitude and Cars 2 has led some to suggest the glory days are over. But how is Brave? It’s good. Maybe no masterpiece, but it does offer a subtle and clever variation on Disney’s Princess films.
- Director: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
- Writer: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi, Brenda Chapman (story)
- Cast: Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson
- Original Music By: Patrick Doyle
Merida (MacDonald) is a fiery, spirited young princess whose mother Elinor (Thompson) controls most aspects of her life. She’s to be married to one of the sons of the neighboring towns to bring peace to Scotland. Her father Fergus (Connolly) is less concerned, and hates bears because one took his leg. As the three contestants for Merida’s hand arrive, Merida breaks the rules by fighting for herself, and that sends her running off to the forest where she runs into a witch who offers her a solution. But like all magic, it isn’t exactly what she wanted.
- Feminism: Brave is saddled with being the first Pixar film that features a female protagonist. Though Disney has asked that we don’t reveal the parts of the film that the trailers haven’t, there is a big turn in the film that’s been kept in the dark (mostly) that will become rapidly apparent to those who’ve watched the ads and TV spots. There’s something off about the spell and it forces mother and daughter to connect in a way they hadn’t before. But though there are men in the story and the threat of marriage, this is a film about women, and women taking control. When the finale happens, it’s great to see the female characters act assertive and control the narrative. And as a film that could be seen as a re-write/commentary on some of the more boring and passive Disney princesses, this does a good job of reconstructing that narrative for a new generation.
- Characters: From Merida and her mother, to Merida’s three little brothers – who act wordlessly as mischief makers – there are people to care about in the film, and the movie takes some unexpected twists and turns along the way that makes that pull stronger. The leads are well drawn (pun intended).
- Mothers/Daughters: the film is about how mothers and daughters behave and react to each other, and – though it’s been explored in live action with some frequency – this is new terrain for animated features. Their relationship is interesting and believable.
- The Reveal: Once the potion works its magic, the film sets up the rest of the film with little grace. It’s hard not to predict where things will go, and though it has grace notes, the film can leave you thinking to yourself “Just do X!” Where the best of Pixar creates ever growing tensions based on new but organic problems, it becomes evident early on what the protagonist needs to do to right wrongs, and in some ways the film becomes a waiting game.
- Gear Shift: The opening thirty minutes of the film has become the focus of the advertising, and there’s word that the film went through a rough development period that wasn’t totally resolved until the last possible second. The problem with the film is that the first act of the film feels almost like its own film as everything that happens after doesn’t integrate as easily the better Pixar films. The film does a good job of setting up the conflict, but it feels like part of the story is done for a long section of the film, and sections feel more like pieces than the more organic whole of a great film.
Brave is far from a bad movie, but it shows a rough development process that – eventually – delivers a great familial conflict that will hit home for those who’ve ever been at odds and/or later found peace with their parents. Depending on how you feel about Pixar, this puts it in the middle of their output – nowhere near their best works like Toy Story 2 or Finding Nemo, but not near the dregs of Cars 2.
Brave opens everywhere June 22.