Review: Brave

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Some have wondered whether Pixar would succumb to a kind of creeping “Disneyfication” after the corporate binding of the two studios. I skipped Cars 2, but I can say that Brave is perfectly acceptable animated Disney film, but as Pixar goes, it is only fair-to-middlin’. In many ways, there is nothing that much different about Brave from any recent non-Pixar Disney cartoon.

For the first time, Pixar has wandered into the main domain of Disney–the fairy tale. Set in medieval Scotland, Brave is concerned with a rambunctious princess, Merida (Kelly Macdonald), who has a mass of fiery-red curls and a talent for archery. Her mother (Emma Thompson), is constantly trying to correct Merida’s behavior, getting her to behave lady-like, but Merida bucks authority often. Her father (Billy Connolly), the warrior king, has a soft spot for her and indulges her behavior.

But when Merida is offered as a betrothal prize for the sons of three rival clans, she has had enough. She runs off and finds a witch, who will cast a spell that will turn Merida’s life upside down. I won’t spoil and go into details, but when dealing with witches, jinns, or any other being that grants wishes, make sure you are very specific about what your are asking for.

Brave was directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, at least that it is who is credited. Chapman, who conceived the project, and was going to be the first woman to helm a Pixar film, was booted some time ago for creative differences, but retains a director credit. This is also notable for being the first Pixar film that features a female protagonist, and in that respect I appreciated it, especially since it focuses on a mother-teen daughter relationship, which is usually always problematic.

The film is beautiful to look at, and I marveled at the minute details, such as how every strand of Merida’s hair seemed to be acting independently, or how the fur of a bear shimmered in the sunlight. The Scottish Highlands and forests looked absolutely wonderful. I didn’t see this in 3D; I don’t think I needed to.

But the story of Brave is lackluster. Much of the action is slapstick, involving trying to hide a bear in the castle (the King is known for hunting bears–he lost his leg to a demon bear called Mordu, who of course will show up before the film is over). The message of the film is kind of trite, and there is little depth to the characters. The voice acting is good–it seems that every Scottish actor of note was rounded up for a role–but the dialogue isn’t very special.

As Pixar films go, this is way toward the bottom of the pile, ahead of only the Cars films.

My grade for Brave: B-.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

5 responses »

  1. Saw this last night and I don’t really have anything to add – I pretty much agree with everything said here.

    Not to bemoan days gone by, but I found myself thinking that a Pixar movie with this quality of animation would have been really special 5 years ago.

  2. I liked the short, too.

    One thing I will quibble with from the review is that I’d tentatively rank it ahead of A Bug’s Life, also, and maybe Toy Story 3, which seems to sink further down the list as time goes by.

    But it’s definitely lower middle tier, if that makes sense.

  3. I might have liked Toy Story 3 more if it hadn’t been Toy Story 3. By which I mean, if it had been about original characters instead of the Toy Story group. But as it was, it felt like mostly warmed-over Toy Story 2.

    Brave has a very familiar story, but with an original setting and a different (if not exactly original) set of characters. Makes it a little more palatable.

    I actually thought that Brave was similar to A Bug’s Life in terms of structure and message. They’re both about rebel types who have to learn to assimilate their individuality within the greater social structure (and as with A Bug’s Life, this makes for a somewhat muddled message). But Brave is far more attractive visually.

    One other thing that I’ll add in the movie’s favor is that I’m glad they didn’t force a romance on Merida. There’s thankfully no Prince Charming figure, and while the fairy tale/princess angle is all too typical for a movie with a girl protagonist, I didn’t feel like the filmmakers were overly condescending about it.

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