Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for some Scary Action and Rude Humor
Directed by: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman & Steve Purcell
Written by: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman & Irene Mecchi
Voices of: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Steve Purcell, Patrick Doyle & John Ratzenberg
Disney’s animation department has been upping their game recently (e.g. FROZEN and WRECK-IT RALPH). It’s highly ironic that Pixar (which used to be the biggest game in town as far as family entertainment went) has recently hit a decline in the quality of their films. In the last three years we’ve seen a bad sequel to an already iffy movie (CARS 2) and an iffy prequel to a good film (MONSTERS UNIVERSITY), but there’s at least been one semi-original effort. This was 2012’s BRAVE. It may have a somewhat creative plot, but the story strictly adheres to many ideas that proved somewhat successful in previous Disney efforts. In this sense, the film is a bit of a mash-up of other (in some cases, better) films. Pixar still appears to have some magic left, because this blended combination works pretty well as a good family entertainment.
Set in medieval Scotland, the story follows Merida, a young princess bound to living by the traditions set forth by her ancestors. Despite Merida’s urge to break free and form her own destiny, Queen Elinor is bound to keep her daughter on the path of becoming a proper princess. Neither seem willing to hear each other out and their relationship, which was once so strong, has become strained. Merida sabotages a competition to find her suitor and the kingdom is thrown into disarray. Desperate for a way out of the impending marriage, Merida seeks the help of a bumbling witch, who casts a spell to change the queen. Unfortunately, Merida wasn’t specific enough and Elinor turns into a bear. With a limited amount of time, Merida and Elinor (who is now in the body of a bear) must mend their broken relationship in a dangerous journey to break the spell before it turns permanent.
Taking visuals into consideration, BRAVE is a beautifully animated piece. Pixar has come along way from the humans in TOY STORY. Even though TANGLED and FROZEN both bear some similar resemblance to the designs in this film, BRAVE seems to have a more amazing three-dimensional aspect to the characters. Another notable point is that Merida does not bear the typical resemblance of what one might describe as a “Disney princess.” She sports a mess of tangled hair, lots of freckles, and is more active than most of the other Disney females. To put it bluntly, she might be seen as a physically active ginger wearing princess clothes. I respect this portrayal completely and think it’s refreshing. More Disney films, cartoons, and live-action movies in general might consider adopting more unconventionally beautiful (e.g. real-looking) people. Not to harp on it, but that’s a really admirable thing about BRAVE.
The use of a kingdom in Scotland and myths that surround that location make for another refreshing thing in a kid’s film. I wish more family films would explore other folklore and legends that haven’t been used much. This doesn’t completely excuse the frequent use of clichéd plot developments and a few scenes that could have been cut or replaced to make a better film though. In essence, we’ve seen the formula of a rebellious princess taking a journey to correct a mistake and we’ve seen the idea of a person being transformed into a bear in order to learn a lesson in the 2003’s mostly forgotten BROTHER BEAR (of all things). A good portion of the story does follow a by-the-numbers telling of this fable, but there are some surprisingly great things that pop up too.
One seemingly small detail comes back in a very clever and smart way in the last half. I’m not sure if most kids will catch exactly what it means in terms of the plot, but it was really cool to see things tie up in a smart way. There is a dark animal antagonist that may scare the crap out of younger viewers and I applaud Pixar for not dumbing it down. Sometimes, family entertainment needs a darker side to the danger, which only makes the conclusion that much more satisfying (e.g. the cruel villain in UP). In essence I might compare BRAVE to RATATOUILLE in the story being told is aimed at more mature audiences, but children will get a kick out of the more cartoony parts. It has silly moments, but the film is also complicated in points.
BRAVE is not Pixar’s best film, but it is far better than some of their other earlier efforts (A BUG’S LIFE and CARS) too. It feels much more like an older Disney movie than a full-on Pixar film, which could be seen as something good or a bad. Despite the clichés and overly familiar points, this somehow works out very well in other aspects that haven’t been tackled as much (especially in family oriented fairy tale films). It is because of these skillful touches that BRAVE works far more as a whole than as a sum of its parts!