jason stives takes aim at the new pixar film…
With the release of Cars 2 last summer, Pixar finally broke its trend of critically acclaimed, box office juggernauts, a streak that had lasted some 15 years. While the film did perform well at the box office and scored the company’s 12th consecutive number one film, many viewed Cars 2 as a step down material-wise after the colossal commercial and critical success of Toy Story 3, and was perceived as nothing more than excuse to sell toys.
At the end of the day though, Pixar still provides the best family entertainment even if the cracks have started to show in its perfect union of family friendly CGI films. Pixar’s 13th animated feature, Brave, is a step up from Cars 2, bringing the more traditional stories of old back into the fold but stammers along the road to greatness. With an engaging female character that breaks the stereotype normally associated with Disney princess pictures, Brave is a heroic tale of growing up and facing fears and indefinable danger but it falls over itself in creating a strong story that is timely and relatable.
Brave tells the uplifting tale of Merida, the young red headed princess to the kingdom of Dunbroch, who spends her days practicing archery, riding her horse, and participating in un-lady like conduct, all at the displeasure of her mother, Queen Eleanor. Her father, King Fergus on the other hand sees the heart of adventure that lies in his daughter and at an early age presents her with a bow and arrow that forever becomes her most treasured possession. One day, the various clans of the Kingdom inform Queen Eleanor and King Fergus that they will be visiting their kingdom to compete for the hand of Merida. This doesn’t sit well with the rebellious Merida, who after fleeing the kingdom after upsetting her mother in front of her potential suitors comes across a witch who creates a potion to change the Queen and make her change her mind about the marriage. What transpires literally changes the Queen and Merida must find a way to mend the ties she has broken both physically and personally before it’s too late.
So far it sounds like a strong, traditional Pixar family film, but from here the narrative spirals in the predictable, a strange turn of events considering the company’s history with original and empowering stories. The story of Merida and her mother is strong no doubt but it runs a course very familiar to many a fairy tale let alone a Disney fairy tale. The moral lies in the respect and love between a mother and her daughter and allowing one to grow at their own course not forcing beliefs and what you believe is right on them. The set up works find but the course the film takes to resolve it his humorous and bold but very out of left field making the resolution almost predictable and not as interesting. Coupled with the anti-princess spirit of our main heroine, this creates a very untraditional princess film, a bold move that if given a better narrative would have given it true high marks. That isn’t to say this ruins the film, it just makes it feel less heartfelt and far more forced than it is. The film is chocked full of some great voice performances and a lot of funny scenes, normally involving King Fergus and Merida’s three little triplet brothers.
On the technical end, Brave is an absolute marvel and as always Pixar continues to improve the capabilities of their craft by creating a vibrant and enchanting world. The highlands of Scotland have never looked more vivid with rolling hillsides, majestic waterfalls and the always ominous dark forests of any story like this that separates the real world from the worlds Pixar creates. The character designs of our human friends have really given a glossy, perfect look to them that has taken about a decade to really develop the right look for human characters that is both believable and still grounded in its animated ideals. Gingers have never been more vibrant than this film as Merida’s hair is a wondrous sight when in action, a mop of curls that flows perfectly in any situation and is almost real enough to touch.
After seeing the film, my friend noted looking at the closing credits that Brave didn’t provide a very noted cast but that’s not entirely true. One thing Pixar films aim for are actors not noted by name but distinctive by voice and Brave covers the gauntlet on all identifiable Scottish/English actors. Kelly MacDonald, known by most HBO subscribers as Margaret Schroder on Boardwalk Empire brings a teen guise to the role of Merida. Her soft, Scottish accent comes off surprisingly younger than she is and adds the little immature nuances that a rebellious teen would have but also levels a lot of sensitivity when the time comes. For those who know their Scots, the likes of Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, and the grand Poobah of Scottish comedians, Billy Connolly are all present (with Connolly playing Merida’s caring and boisterous father King Fergus). Emma Thompson brings the scorn and authoritative balance to this ruckus world as Queen Elinor, Merida’s mother who despite her daughter’s objections shows concern over the un princess like path she is looking to take.
Despite the short comings of its narrative, Brave is another endearing, and beautifully mapped film that holds its traditions together well regardless of an unoriginal moral dilemma. It’s a wonderful film no doubt but without the heart and relatable nature to the characters that most great Pixar films holds, it’s a film that falls in between the company’s recent output, but has far more merit than some may feel fit to give it.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)