Latest from near unrivaled story telling masters at Pixar wins out in the long haul but is slow in getting there. With Brave there is a marked departure from almost all of Pixar’s previous outings. Rooted in equal parts fantasy and past, Brave is the first film from the mouse house owned studio that resembles a film Walt Disney himself may have made, or at least one the studio bearing his name is most commonly associated with, the Princess Fairytale. To be sure Brave is a wholly new tale but it’s not necessarily covering any new ground. The heart string tugging wizards at Pixar draw from a story by Brave Co-Director Brenda Chapman aided in the screenplay by three other Pixar writers. The story they’ve crafted is one that only the most cynical and jaded would find hard to not go all soft and misty eyed over by the time the film reaches the end of its quick one hour and forty minute run time.
Brave is the tale of Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) a feisty independent young woman who’d rather play with bows and arrows in the forest than prepare for the life of a princess her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) tries so hard to groom her for. Not helping is the family’s King, Fergus (Billy Connolly) who takes a carefree approach in the raising of his children. Fergus often encourages Merida’s Archery skills and allows his three, too young to yet speak triplet boys wreck all manner of havoc on the family’s servant Maudie and the entire kingdom. The triplets actually offer up the majority of hardy belly laughs and comedic relief Brave offers up.
This all builds to the moment when the three other Scottish clans in Brave’s world battle for a chance at Merida’s hand in marriage. Being the strong-willed independent young woman Merida has become she has no interest in the vain, insipid brute, and flat-out vacant “men” the three clans leaders first-born sons bring to the table. She seeks to change her fate from that of a sit around, do-nothing pretty queen to a life of adventure. Encountering a rather funny, not scary at all, nor-villainous wood carving Witch (Julie Watters) she obtains a potion that certainly changes not only her own, but ultimately everyone’s fate by the time Brave is done.
It’s not until meeting with the Witch that Brave really starts to become its own tale. Up to that point the setup all feels very familiar and I felt that these might be some of the weakest characters Pixar has yet to offer up. It’s not until dramatic changes and peril are introduced to the characters and their world that I found myself actively engaged in watching Brave. Once Brave does hit its stride the film becomes a pleasure easily breezing through its second and third act to a conclusion that is equal parts modern, and throw back to those more traditional fairytales Disney once built their animation empire upon. It’s certainly a strong, always welcome message for young girls and women to take on in a world where politics still seem hell-bent on interjecting themselves into what a woman is and isn’t allowed to do. More so Brave does it with elegance and grace never getting heavy-handed or preachy.
I suppose the biggest fault I have with Brave is that this just doesn’t feel like all new ground for Pixar. Given the still young studio’s limited output it’s hard to not compare each yearly release from the animation studios previously released brothers and sisters. And while anything Pixar does is nine times out of ten better than anything Dreamworks Animation could hope to put out their closest rival is quickly nipping on their heels. That isn’t to say that there are any fundamental faults with Brave. I’ve just gotten to a level of expectation from Pixar that I always expect the bar to be raised. If Cars was the first strike, and Cars 2 was strike two, Brave teeters on a rain slicked precipice of being strike three. It’s unfortunate as if Brave was coming from Dreamworks or anyone but Pixar I think most would give it a pass. It’s just that Pixar has established themselves as the preeminent voice in story telling of rather simple tales with interesting characters in whimsical fantastical locations. Brave just ends up feeling like a safe choice from a studio that is usually known for better, less obvious fare. It’s a tough situation for a film that ultimately can live up to certain standards of what has come before it, and is still leaps and bounds ahead of what others attempt and fail to do, I’ve just come to expect a little more.
I give Brave 3 “bare asses” out of 5
By John Coovert