I’m starting to worry that Pixar is losing it. First Cars, then Cars 2, and now Brave. Granted, I don’t mean to insinuate that Brave is at all as bad as those talking cars, but it’s nowhere near The Incredibles, Toy Story 1-3, Ratatouille, Finding Nemo, or my all time favorite, Wall-E. These were movies that took us somewhere special and lingered long after we left the theater. Movies that made us marvel at their storytelling as much as we marveled at the beauty we saw on screen. I just didn’t feel that way with Brave.
Of course it’s gorgeous. I mean, gore-g-ous. Merida’s hair has gotten a lot of press for a reason. It was almost a living thing itself, full of shades of red and gold, and every variety of curl and wave and corkscrew you could imagine. And that was just the sort of detail that the rest of the animation received. Scotland has never looked so green and lush and yes, magical. But for half of the movie, that’s all you get – something beautiful to watch but not much substance.
Pixar’s first movie with a female focus takes on the idea of independence and forging your own path, tradition be damned. This is a good solid message for today’s young ladies – or the young ladies of any day and age. Merida is a princess who doesn’t want to behave like one, no matter how much her mother tries. There is the usual montage of mother and daughter at odds with each other – “Princesses don’t do X” and Merida does X in a big way. It was surprisingly a bit disconcerting to have such an extended montage so early in the film.
All Merida wants is her freedom and a chance to follow her own fate. She uses these words so often they eventually lose their meaning. What does freedom mean to her? Is it just the freedom to choose her own husband, if she wants one at all, or is it something greater? (Seeing her choices for a husband you really can’t blame her too much on that front.)
Same with her fate – is it that she doesn’t want to be a princess? Who does she want to be?It’s not terribly spelled out and that muddiness just gets muddier throughout the film.
But the biggest problem I had was that the movie didn’t start in earnest until it was almost over. Merida visits a witch to get a spell to, yes, change her fate and it’s only in the aftermath of that spell taking effect and wreaking havoc that I felt the movie truly found its footing. Putting Merida’s desire for “freedom” at the forefront didn’t ground the film, but making the movie about her relationship with her mother gave it some real emotional heft.
Pixar seems to do better when dealing with family dynamics – even Ratatouille was about a rat making peace with his own life choice and that of his family’s. Wall-E is the exception to the rule. You might want Merida to be able to ride her horse and shoot arrows all day, but it is the moment when she and her mother fear they might lose each other forever that you really feel something is at stake.
The parent/child relationship is a never ending well of material and when it decides to plumb those depths, Brave becomes a true Pixar film. The second montage in the film of Merida and her now-changed mother in the woods is delightful and emotional without becoming too sweetly sentimental. The silent acting by the mother in these scenes is as well done as the opening scenes of Wall-E, telling a story through movement and telling it well.
Once Merida figures out how to reverse the spell, the solution is a little simplistic for my tastes, but you are so caught up in the drive towards to the film’s resolution you don’t realize it till later.
Brave has all the other things that mark a Pixar film – wonderful animation that picks up every texture and grain, fantastic voice work by Kelly MacDonald (Merida), the brilliant Billy Connolly (Merida’s dad Fergus), and Emma Thompson (mother Elinor) and a wonderful sense of humor – mostly in the form of Merida’s three red headed brothers Hamish, Harris, and Hubert and the competing clans that have come to claim Merida’s hand in marriage.
A special call out to Julie Walters’ character, the Witch. In a turn of events with witches, she isn’t evil as much as slightly scatterbrained. Her wood workshop is a wonder and the “bear” theme is carried through wonderfully. I would buy several of her trinkets. The entire sequence from the start with the magical will o’the wisps to Merida getting the spell manages to meld being funny with moving along the story – something I think Pixar can forget at times. The Witch’s “voicemail” scene is also pretty great with some great animated effects.
I know I sound like I didn’t love the movie, and I didn’t. I wish I did. But I did like it very much; I just wish there were MORE to it than there is. You will enjoy watching it, but don’t expect to leave floating on air as you have after so many of Pixar’s films.
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