It’s time for the yearly offering of family entertainment from Pixar, an annual tradition that almost always goes off without a hitch. It used to be that each year, a new classic was guaranteed to be born with titles like Finding Nemo, Wall-E, The Incredibles and Up all being essential viewing for kids and adults alike. Last year, Cars 2 was an unheard of miss for the studio, and now they’re trying to make people forget all about that hiccup with Brave.
Pixar has always prided themselves on being able to create truly original stories like those in the films mentioned above. That’s why on the surface, a princess story seems to be going a bit backward toward it’s Disney roots where EVERY new film of theirs had to have a tiara on the head of the protagonist.
But this is quite a bit different for Pixar. A few have complained that the lead in every single one of their other films is male, human or non-human, and it’s minorly eye-rolling that when they finally do get a girl to star, she’s a princess.
The gingers get their due.
They have, however, done their very best to make sure that Merida (Kelly MacDonald) is the most un-princessy princess in movie history. So much so they’ve even made the entire plot revolve around the idea.
In a fictional version of ancient Scotland, Merida’s father Fergus (Bill Connolly) rules the land with his queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Merida takes after her father, and would rather shoot arrows and ride horses than knit tapestries or practice voice lessons. She’s as tomboy as tomboy gets, and three little mischievous brothers aren’t helping matters either.
Needless to say she’s exceptionally upset when it’s revealed the three other clans are traveling to her kingdom to submit their leaders’ firstborn sons for a contest to win her hand. Marriage isn’t the most appealing idea for any preteen, but when she discovers her suitors are downright repulsive, she loses her cool. She grabs her bow, channeling Hawkeye and Katniss Everdeen from earlier this summer, and wins the archery contest where she’s meant to be the prize.
If this was Prometheus, she’d stick her face in it.
After a vicious scolding from her mother and the four kingdoms about to go to war over her disrespect, she flees to the forest where she finds a witch who promises she can change her mother’s mind about the matter with a spell. Well, at the very least, change her mother. What happens next has been kept a secret in the trailers, but the gist is that Merida must find a way to bond with her mother in a manner she would never have expected.
It’s an anti-princess tale of sorts, and the grand pursuit is not of the affection of a boy, but rather reconciliation between a mother and daughter. Not a bad play for Pixar’s first female-led feature.
That said, it’s hard to say the Brave achieves the instant classic status that so many other Pixar films have. Gorgeous animation aside (seriously, Merida’s hair is the star of the entire film), the plot is a touch ordinary for Pixar, and the film is outclassed by its similarly-genred rivals from Disney (Tangled) and even Dreamworks (How to Train Your Dragon). Tangled was quite a bit more fun all-around, while Dragon’s dragons made that feature one far more exciting than what we see here.
Oddly, this scene never exactly happens.
There’s just that X-factor missing to make Brave truly great. A princess movie isn’t Pixar’s style, no matter how much they try to differentiate it from other such films. And jetting from castle to forest and back again, it also lacks the scope of more it’s more ambitious projects. It’s more like a beautiful work of CGI art that happens to have a mildly heartwarming plot attached. In truth, it feels more like one of their shorts stretched into a full length feature. When the grand plot is finally seen, it all seems a bit…small.
That said, Brave is a fine film and of course it’s vastly better children’s entertainment than a third Madagascar sequel or a fourth (fifth?) Ice Age installment. But Pixar films are held to a higher standard than just whether they please kids. If movies beloved by children were automatically great, Alvin and the Chipmunks would have a few Oscars.
Brave is pleasant enough for the rest of us, but I doubt you’ll find many who would place it among Pixar’s best efforts, and even putting it in the middle of the pack would be a tough sell. It’d be best if they left the princesses to Disney and kept thinking outside the box instead of being safe, and ultimately forgettable.
3.5 out of 5 stars