Since 1995, Pixar Animation Studios has produced thirteen feature films, some of which have become instant classics and have left such an indelible mark on our culture that they will be discussed forever as seminal works throughout film history. And then there’s Cars 2. However, Pixar’s latest film Brave represents something of a landmark for the studio in that it is the first time they have had a female protagonist. Unfortunately, making her yet another Disney Princess™ turns out not to be such a brave move after all (see what I did there?). If they had spent as much time working on the story and characters as they did in animating Merida’s absolutely stunning curly red locks, Brave could have been another instant classic for the studio instead of just the beautifully average film we got.
Brave is the story of an unruly, young Scottish girl named Merida (Kelly Macdonald) who has been groomed since birth to be a proper princess by her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson, who seems to show up in every other movie that I see). Unfortunately, Merida would rather shoot arrows while riding her horse at breakneck speeds than do her princessly duties, much to the chagrin of her mother and to the merriment of her pushover father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly). Despite Merida’s protests, Elinor insists the girl must become betrothed to one of the firstborn sons of the other three clans in order to unite the kingdom, which will be determined through an archery contest. Merida rebels, first by participating in the contest to win her own hand, and when that doesn’t work, by running away to the forest where she encounters a witch who offers her a spell to change her fate, but perhaps not in the way she wanted… There’s also an evil bear that ate Fergus’s leg in the beginning of the movie and it shows up again at the end to be, you know, scary.
This movie is Colbert-approved
This film is absolutely gorgeous. The exterior shots and landscapes are so detailed that it’s sometimes hard to believe that they’re actually animated and not filmed. The character designs aim for a highly-stylized realism, since these characters are human, and are pitch-perfect (although I did get a distinctly How To Train Your Dragon vibe from King Fergus, which could also be due to both having Scottish accents). And I know I mentioned it earlier, but Merida’s hair is breathtaking. I felt that I could practically count the individual strands as they seemed to move realistically in the wind. Her hair is so well-done that it’s almost distracting.
Another aspect that Pixar always seems to get right is the heart-warming, touching emotional connections. There are several scenes here that will make you appreciate the family you have and perhaps even get a little misty-eyed, unless you’re like me and don’t have a heart (hey, where do you think I put the beers I’m sneaking in?). It’s not Up-level, full-on sobbing, but that’s probably for the best because, come on, that was ridonk.
The first 10 Minutes of Up turns you into this
Sadly, the story is all over the place. First it seems like it’s the story of a strong, independent young girl who challenges tradition and fights for her independence by proving women are just as capable as men. But then it seems like it’s the story of a spoiled brat who puts her kingdom on the verge of civil war by running off simply because she didn’t get her way. But then it’s the story of Merida and her mother learning to communicate again, after Elinore gets turned into a bear due toMeridaenlisting a kooky old witch to come up with a spell to change the girl’s fate. Then it’s the story of trying to figure out how to reverse the spell before Elinore becomes a bear permanently, while avoiding King Fergus who holds a deep grudge against bears and will kill one immediately on sight. And then it’s the story of finally getting revenge on that evil old bear that took daddy’s leg.
There’s simply no real focus to the film and because of that, it can lose momentum. And even when there is momentum, it’s simply because there’s a temporary goal to achieve (hide mama bear, escape from locked room, get mama bear upstairs without being spotted, repair tapestry, stop Fergus from killing mama bear, etc). With no romantic entanglements and no clear villain (the evil bear gets shoehorned in as a sorta-villain, but it has no real personal connection toMeridasince she doesn’t seem all that interested in seeking vengeance), the story meanders at times and makes the movie seem overlong.
At least you would expect it to be funny. And it is, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t really funny enough. The three brothers are cute and humorous, as is Billy Connolly as King Fergus, but you will not bust a gut during this film, so leave your stitches at home. The Mama Bear/Merida interactions are also pretty funny, but there’s always a hint of darkness underneath it as she could turn into a dangerous, real bear at any time. This sort of darkness is persistent throughout the film and may be too much for younger viewers. A little girl behind me in the theater said “Scary!” out loud at least five times (I tallied) before asking her dad if they could go home in the middle of the movie. While I was happy that they left since she was talking out loud a lot (saying things like “Can I have the poppycorn?” and “Why is that bear?”), it also made me wonder who this film will really appeal to as I don’t see kids really connecting with Merida and thinking her multiple stories might be confusing. In a theater packed with kids seeing an animated movie, I expected a lot more laughter than I heard.
Sorry kid, not during this movie.
Overall, this film could have used a more focused story and a lot more levity. While it’s not Pixar’s best, it is an ok movie and a good afternoon time-waster. The visuals are stunning, and the (matinee) ticket might be worth the price of admission just to see Pixar’s animated short La Luna which runs before Brave. All in all though, if you want a lot of laughs and a general good time for all ages, go see Madagascar 3 instead. Sorry Pixar.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every bare ass and every bear ass on display (there’s quite a bit of both)
Take a Drink: every time the story completely changes directions
Chug a Beer: whenever you catch yourself staring at Merida’s hair and counting the strands