Pixar has had an illustrious run of stellar movies. Their one-and-only stinker coming with last year’s dismal Cars 2. Brave somewhat restores Pixar to its lofty stature, but many people will recognize it as being a second-tier Pixar film. While it’s beautifully animated and has a decent story attached to lively characters it feels like it’s missing that connective emotional tissue which runs through most of their movies.
Most of Pixar movies speak to all ages, there’s usually something in there that everyone from the tiniest tot to the most hardened parent can enjoy. Brave has less in the way of grown-up humor and more in the “kids will laugh at naked bums” type of humor. That’s not to say that Brave is a bad movie, but it simply has a hard time stacking up to the likes of Toy Story or Wall-e.
It’s easier to think of Brave as a fairy tale that a mother might tell to her daughter before bedtime. A lesson-learned Once Upon a Time about a young princess, Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), who wants desperately to escape her perceived shackles of royal life. She doesn’t think that her husband should be chosen for her, she believes that she should be able to follow her own path. Merida is a tomboy who enjoys riding her horse and perfecting her archery skills. “Princesses don’t need weapons!” her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) exclaims. Elinor is dead set on making her daughter the perfect princess without listening to anything she has to say. Like so many mother/daughter relationships in so many movies before, Elinor and Merida find themselves at an impasse.
Kudos goes to the people who made the trailer to Brave because I didn’t see the second act coming at all. What happens is surprising, so I won’t spoil it here. What I will say is that Brave is very much worth seeing even if it isn’t one of the best movies Pixar has come up with. What they’ve done is taken a simple fairy tale and made a simple movie out of it. Sure, the beginning of the film goes for the obvious laughs. Sure, it doesn’t feel as emotionally layered as previous Pixar movies. Sure, the middle of the film feels oddly rushed like they’re hurrying toward an ending before they’ve really established the crux of the story. Even with all that it still turns into a movie that is well worth taking your children to.
This is the first time Pixar has helmed a film where the central protagonist is a heroine. Merida is a strong female character. Her flowing red hair is gorgeous and just as fun to watch as Sully’s hair was the first time you saw Monsters Inc. The movie is astoundingly animated. The animation transports you to the highlands of Scotland with its lush, green landscapes.
Even though I didn’t feel as connected to the characters and their plight as I have in preceding Pixar films, I must say that the emotional impact of the last five minutes snuck up on me without me realizing what was happening. The weight of the story finally sinks in at that moment; don’t be surprised if you shed a tear or two.
I’d like to issue a warning though. I would resist seeing this one in 3D, simply because most of the movie is set against dark backdrops. Once you put on those glasses it gets even darker (like trying to navigate low-lit hallways with sunglasses on). Many of the crucial action scenes toward the end are quite unintelligible, even if the projector is as bright as it should be.
Also, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the splendid short La Luna which plays before the feature. I enjoyed Brave, and thought it was decent, but one has to wonder what type of movie ‘Brave’ could’ve been had the same boundless imagination and energy that was applied to ‘La Luna’ been injected into Merida’s tale.