Easily one of the most trusted names in animated filmmaking, Pixar is back with another original story for children and adults, alike. Following behind a pair of franchise sequels (Toy Story 3 and Cars 2), with Brave the studio is set to tackle its very first full-length princess fairy tale story – a staple of Disney’s hand-drawn animated classics. This round, Pixar alum and John Carter co-writer Mark Andrews is stepping into the director’s chair, after the film’s creator, Brenda Chapman (The Prince of Egypt), left the project following a series of creative differences.
After the mixed response to Cars 2, which received Pixar’s harshest critical lashing to date, has the film studio managed to produce an animated experience that successfully balances a new story, enjoyable characters and groundbreaking visuals for movie lovers of all ages – not just the juice box crowd? Following in the footsteps of films like Up and Wall-E, not to mention franchise threequel Toy Story 3, does Brave once again raise the bar for animated films?
Fortunately, Brave is a return to form for the studio and delivers plenty of fun for moviegoers from all walks of life. However, for anyone who was especially moved by the studio’s more “mature” films – namely the aforementioned Up and Wall-E - Brave could come across as somewhat less ambitious (and subsequently a little underwhelming) – as the core storyline relies on a lot of familiar fairy tale tropes. This isn’t to say that the film fails to deliver a competent narrative or charming characters – but, for some, the studio may not have provided as many memorable or thought-provoking story beats this round. But even though Brave may not soar quite as high as some of Pixar’s most celebrated efforts, the movie still offers plenty to enjoy – not to mention, a solid mix of traditional princess power coupled with the studio’s trademark charm and humor.
Brave (originally titled The Bear and the Bow) follows reckless tomboy Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) whose mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), has been diligently preparing her for a life of royal responsibilities. Unlike more traditional Princesses, Merida takes after her warrior father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), and would much rather be riding through the forest on horseback firing arrows, or climbing mountains, than dressing for a royal function or practicing proper etiquette. Her rebellious attitude comes to a head when the Queen invites three leaders in the kingdom to present their sons as suitors for Merida, and the Princess makes a deal with a local witch who promises to help change the girl’s fate. Unfortunately, the witch’s spell results in unexpected consequences, forcing Merida to rethink her obligation as Princess – for the sake of her family as well as the betterment of the kingdom.
As mentioned, while the Brave storyline is definitely entertaining, it’s not nearly as innovative as some of Pixar’s other works – relying heavily on familiar “be yourself” and “put aside selfish behavior” plot threads. Many of the story beats and dramatic setups will be familiar to most adult moviegoers – making it easy to predict events before they are revealed. Much like its Pixar predecessors, fans will no doubt defend the movie by reminding naysayers that, above all else, Brave is a kids movie – and without question, as a kids movie, the film succeeds. However, adults looking for a contemplative and “mature” animated offering may find Brave to be a bit on-the-nose and too predictable to provide anything more than moment to moment entertainment. As a result, there are plenty of enjoyable comedy and action beats that will appeal to viewers of all ages – there just isn’t a lot to unpack after the lights go up.
Those who can relate to Mother/daughter relationships will be able to draw a bit more value out of the onscreen character drama – since the conflict between Merida and Queen Elinor is the central motor of the story. This isn’t to say that Brave will only appeal to women, but it doesn’t take too long to see that nearly all of the male characters are designed to provide little more than comedy relief. Hollywood is overstuffed with male heroes, so it’s refreshing to see Merida (and Queen Elinor) take center stage in the film; although, with so many rash and downright knuckleheaded men running around in the kingdom, some male audience members might have a hard time connecting to the film’s emotional touchstones (even though King Fergus and the royal triplets are among the most entertaining players in the film).
That said, even with a number of predictable story beats and a lot of one-note male characters, Brave provides plenty of eye candy for animated film fans. The hair effects alone are incredible – not to mention the gorgeous rolling hills of the Scottish countryside. Additionally, the movie offers a solid story that, in spite of a heavy reliance on familiar archetypes, manages to put a unique stamp on the fairytale genre. Merida isn’t exceptionally different from prior Disney Princesses (who yearn to be free of their responsibilities and live a “normal” life) but the similarities won’t prevent audiences from identifying with the character or her personal journey.
Like most animated films, Brave is screening in 3D and, like most animated films, the movie looks sharp in the premium format – rarely relying on “jump out of the screen” gags. Consequently, either version of the film is recommendable – since the 3D effect is neither distracting nor essential to enjoying the onscreen action.
While it doesn’t break a lot of new ground, Brave is a beautiful and competent entry in Disney’s robust fairytale film pedigree – one that is sure to dazzle younger viewers. Princess Merida will, without question, have no trouble competing alongside iconic Mouse House heroines like Sleeping Beauty, Jasmine, and Ariel, as one of Disney’s best animated leading ladies. Nonetheless, even though Brave is solid from beginning to end, the experience might be a little underwhelming for older viewers who expect Pixar to continue pushing the boundaries of animated film storytelling with another “mature” offering. Ultimately, it’s an easy film to recommend, but some ardent cinephiles might want to temper their lofty expectations.
If you’re still on the fence about Brave, check out the trailer below:
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.
Brave is Rated PG for some scary action and rude humor. Now playing in theaters.