***1/2 (out of 5)
June 22, 2012
Kelly MacDonald as MERINDA
Billy Connolly as FERGUS
Emma Thompson as ELINOR
Julie Walters as THE WITCH
Robbie Coltrane as LORD DINGWALL
Kevin McKidd as LORD MACGUFFIN
Craig Ferguson as LORD MACINTOSH
Directed by: Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Pixar continues to amaze me. While some reviewers and critics out there are marking the downfall of the giant animation studio for this film, last year’s “Cars 2” and the upcoming “Monsters University,” I still marvel at how Pixar continues to make fine films. (I actually enjoyed “Cars 2” quite a bit, and I’m okay with the studio making sequels of pre-existing properties.)
Unlike these two aforementioned films, “Brave” is a bit of a gamble with the studio. Unlike its last couple movies, it’s an untested story. It’s not a sequel, and even then it’s a bit out of Pixar’s wheelhouse of odd anthropomorphic creatures like toys, bugs, monsters, robots and animals. In fact, with the exception of “The Incredibles,” and that movie’s superhero storyline leant itself easily to animation, “Brave” is the first film that is about people.
“Brave” is also the first Pixar film that is about a main female protagonist. Even lead female characters like Helen Parr (Elastigirl from “The Incredibles”) and possibly Jessie (the cowgirl from “Toy Story 2”), pretty much every female character in a Pixar film has been relegated to supporting cast status. And once you consider the smaller roles of Eve (the lady robot from “WALL-E”), Sally (the Porsche from “Cars”) and Colette (the love interest in “Ratatouille”), there are few female speaking roles at all.
In addition to “Brave” featuring a female lead, it is also the only Pixar movie to have been directed by a woman. While these facts don’t make “Brave” a good movie, per se, it makes it a different movie from their pedigree.
Considering the female influence, it makes sense that “Brave” falls more in line with the old-school Disney animation of fairy tales. In fact, “Brave” feels more in line with the canon of Disney Princess stories like “Sleeping Beauty,” “Cinderella” and “Snow White” than the Pixar films. And that’s okay because these are fine family films to emulate.
The story follows Merinda (Kelly MacDonald), a Scottish princess who is frustrated with being a princess. She’s destined to be married to the son of another clan leader, and her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) is constantly correcting her behavior so she is worthy of the princess rank. As teenage daughters tend to do, Merinda fights with her mother and eventually meets a woodland witch, with whom she makes a wish to change her fate. Unfortunately, the spell has unintended consequences, and Merinda fights to change things back.
The big difference between “Brave” and the other Disney Princess films is that the mother isn’t just very much alive, but an integral part of the story, and that’s refreshing to see. Instead of the daughter figure being oppressed by a wicked step-mother, she is struggling with the same challenges that face average girls all over the world. This gives the standard fairy tale line a nice twist.
The biggest problems that “Brave” faces in terms of story is that it is extremely derivative of that Disney animation pedigree, sometimes shamelessly so. If you’ve seen enough Disney films, you’ll recognize elements lifted almost beat-for-beat from other movies. The wayward teenager in Medieval times can be seen most recently in “Tangled.” The desire to marry whomever she wants comes from films like “Sleeping Beauty” and “Aladdin.” Even a unique and somewhat “out there” movie like “Brother Bear” offers some very critical elements to this film.
Still, if you’re going to be sampling your story ideas from somewhere, there are worse places to look than the Disney line of animated films. Setting the story in the Scottish Highlands gives it a breathtaking and beautiful look in a new location, and the character design is refreshing and unique.
As you’d expect from any Pixar movie, the animation is brilliant. Featuring gorgeous photorealistic nature sets, “Brave” is visually stunning and works great in 3D. It’s well paced and offers a nice dose of humor with a heartfelt serious message.
“Brave” may not be Pixar’s best film, but it is still a fine film for the whole family, and it shows the animation studio is stretching and trying new things for itself.