To me, the team at Pixar is right next to the directors Peter Jackson and Christopher Nolan. They’ve never made a bad movie. Even their ‘weakest’ titles are good movies with great composition and interesting ideas on some level. For Pixar, I’d say their weakest title is probably Cars, keeping in mind I’ve never seen the sequel. Pixar is owned by Disney, and the guys have taken a stab at adding a new princess to Walt’s long-lived pantheon of young ladies. The result is Brave, a story about the heiress of a Celtic kingdom.
The kingdom is ruled by Fergus and Elinor, and their first-born is a girl named Merida. Ever since she was little, Merida has been raised with high expectations, especially from her mother. While she craves adventure and freedom, she has traditions and obligations to uphold. When she reaches the age at which she can be married, she is to be betrothed to one of the heirs of the three smaller fiefdoms that make up the bulk of her father’s kingdom. Merida really isn’t interested in boys, though, let alone getting married. She seeks a way to change her fate, but her search for the means to do so could spell doom for her family and the entire kingdom.
Time and again, Pixar shows why they are the bar by which all other modern animated features are measured. Brave is yet another example – it’s absolutely stunning. I understand dedicated teams were assigned to Merida’s wayward crimson tresses and how her body should move in relation to them. This sort of attention to detail coupled with the breathtaking scenery and Celtic elements that ring with authenticity make the story come to life.
Best of luck, boys. You’ll need it.
As for Merida herself, I imagine Pixar is pretty pleased with how she turned out. She’s a well-balanced character with complexity, plenty of charm, and a number of flaws to make her more human and interesting. She’s capable, determined, funny, and mostly polite, but also somewhat uncouth, scornful of tradition, short-sighted, and a little insensitive and tactless at times. In the end, she’s a great protagonist and a worthy role model in spite of her flaws.
Her parents are not one-dimensional characters, either. In Disney movies with a princess as the main protagonist, fathers tend to be largely absent or at least somewhat tangential to the main story. Fergus, by contrast, takes an active hand in shaping and supporting Merida from the beginning, eager to share in his adventures and do what’s right, even if he’s a little clueless now and again. Elinor does get more screen time, as this story is about mother and daughter bonding, and while she’s focused on Merida following in her footsteps, it’s clear she’s very proud of her daughter and wants what’s best for her, though at the start she wants what she thinks is best for the girl rather than lending an ear to what Merida has to say.
They’re actually both pretty good parents.
Another thing that struck me about Brave is that there’s no malevolent antagonist. The two opposing forces in the way of the protagonists, the witchy woodcarver and the demonic bear, are not so much villains as they are other characters with their own agendas, feelings, and quirks. I think it would be very difficult to dislike the witch, and when the truth about the bear that takes Fergus’ leg early in the film is revealed, I for one was far more sympathetic towards it even as it was trying to get its claws on Merida. I was very glad to have characters with complexity on just about every level.
I’d love to say Brave is a perfect production, but it does have some flaws and doesn’t quite measure up to the very best Pixar has to offer, such as Wall-E and Up. However, most of the nitpicks I have are minor. Given that the story is set up and aimed as it is, it tends to be a little simplistic, even predictable at times. As much as our protagonists are challenged throughout, I never really felt like any of the danger had true weight to it. Sure, there were tense moments here and there, but the outcome felt fairly predictable. I’m not saying every story has to have deep complexity and unforeseen twists, though, and when it comes to this sort of straightforward storytelling, Brave is excellent. And while it may not be Pixar’s very best, it’s still head and shoulders above a lot of the other dross out there for young people, especially young women.
Stuff I Liked: The various Celtic elements, from tossing cabers to mentions of haggis. Billy Connolly’s voice never gets old and fits Fergus perfectly. The triplets are a hoot. And I could really appreciate giving the demonic bear a tragic backstory rather than letting it be a fundamental evil.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: A little more time on the second act of the movie could have helped. At the same time, it takes a little while for the main plot to actually begin, and as much fun as the various clans and their leaders are, less time setting them up would have meant more time for the central story and the ladies within it.
Stuff I Loved: Merida. Merida’s relationship with Elinor. Elinor & Fergus’ relationship. Elinor’s struggle to adapt to her circumstances. The witch’s workshop. And there’s a scene involving the men’s kilts that had me laughing my ass off.
Bottom Line: Brave is definitely worth your time to see, especially if you’re the parent of young girls. Minor nitpicks aside, it’s a very strong entry into Pixar’s library, introduces a Disney princess cut from a very different cloth from Snow White or Cinderella, provides plenty of humor for all ages, and manages great characterization and relationship drama while remaining light in tone. The fact that it’s gorgeous to look at is just icing on the cake.