Not Quite On Target – A Brave Review
WITH THE VOICE TALENTS OF: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Craig Ferguson
DIRECTORS: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
STUDIOS: Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
RUN TIME: 93 min
RELEASED: June 22, 2012
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
***WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS A SPOILER FOR BRAVE***
No one ever said being Brave was easy. More than a decade and a half after Pixar Animation Studios changed the film industry with the original Toy Story, moviegoers have come to expect a lot from them, haven’t they? Audiences have been trained to expect films that will not only thrill kids, but have enough heart to speak to adults on some level. Heck, a few Pixar films have been known to make grown men cry. That’s a lot to expect from any movie. But it’s the standard Brave had to live up to. That’s what makes me feel sorry for some of the folks who worked on it. Brave is not a bad movie by any means, but it doesn’t measure up to the Pixar standards.
Set in 10th century Scotlnd, Brave stars Merida, the adventurous daughter of King Fergus and Queen Elinor. As part of an arrangement with allied clans across the kingdom, she must marry a suitor in order to preserve peace. But the free spirited Merida wants no part of it, longing to decide her own fate. This infuriates Elinor, who wants her daughter to do the right thing for the kingdom. After a blow up, Merida strikes out in her own to take matters into her own hands. She meets a powerful yet unassuming witch, and her actions proceed to put not only her family, but the entire kingdom in jeopardy. Now Merida must set things right, and perhaps change her fate in the process.
I normally steer clear of spoilers in my reviews. But I couldn’t resist using one for Brave, because something happens in this movie that’s so out of left field and so unexpected I just had to talk about it. Ready…?
Somewhere between the quarter and halfway marks, a witch’s spell transforms Merida’s mother into a bear.
Voiced by Emma Thompson up to this point, the elegany Queen Elinor is changed into a bear with anthropomorphic tendencies. She can only speak in bear noises, but she can gesture like a person, make most human facial expressions, even cut food with a knife and fork. Mind you they tie it into the family’s back story, as King Fergus is known as the “bear killer,” having had his leg bitten off by one when Merida was a small child. Naturally they use this as a “don’t let dad see you!” device. They’re also able to use it to create a nice amount of “will I ever get my mom back?” drama. They made the bear thing work. But the fact that they even went there threw me for such a loop. Incidentally, the spell later turns Merida’s triplet brothers into teddy bear hybrids.
Given the way the movie had played out thus far, we knew two things: 1. We needed to resolve the conflict between Merida and Elinor. 2. The climax was likely going to involve a bear given what happened to Fergus. I was expecting Brave to be more or less about Merida going out on her own and realizing what true bravery is, as her loved ones search for her. I was expecting more of an adventure movie with heart, as opposed to a movie where a poofy haired girl runs around with a bear.
That’s not to discount the Merida character, mind you. If anything, Brave‘s major contribution to the Disney/Pixar legacy won’t be that of a wonderful film, but of a film that did the young female hero about as well as it’s ever been done. Merida is young and pretty. But also independent, talented, brave and strong. This movie makes you believe she can stand on equal footing with any man in almost any setting, and change the course of her fate.
I’ve never complained about the animation in a Pixar movie, and I’m not about to start now. This is cutting edge stuff, as proven by how natural Merida’s fiery locks are for the entire movie. Some critics have said that fiery mane alone is worth the ticket price, and it’s easy to see where they’re coming from. It gives the character a very distinct look, which is fitting given her distinct personality.
Pixar has built its reputation on kids movies that are secretly for adults. Brave is just a kids movie, even if it was meant to be more. There’s nothing wrong with that, but this isn’t the Pixar we fell in love with.
Front page image, image 1 and image 2 from rottentomatoes.com. Image 3 from csicon.org.