Pixar’s 13th full-length feature, BRAVE, is something of a departure for the studio – it’s their first movie with a female hero character and thematically it’s a movie that Pixar hasn’t really attempted before. In fact, it’s fair to say that there aren’t many family movies dedicated to the mother/daughter relationship, which is unfortunate. I admire that Pixar not only made a movie for young girls but for their mothers as well.
For many young girls and their mothers, it’s a constant search for characters to identify with in family movies – most of the time the mother is out of the picture entirely, with a father trying to figure out their way on their own. I think this is due to so many screenwriters and directors being men, which isn’t their fault; that’s just the way the film industry is. But BRAVE doesn’t have an agenda to be a feminist family movie or to right the wrongs of the films of yesterday. As always, Pixar is concerned with story, story, story and if the movie addresses this disparity in the meantime then so much the better. Brenda Chapman was inspired by Scotland and her relationship with her own daughter and began this story; Mark Andrews, inspired by Scotland and his own family dynamic, finishes it.
Merida (Kelly Macdonald) strains against the bonds placed upon her by her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Elinor and King Fergus (Billy Connolly) rule the land, and Merida is expected to know her place and behave like a proper princess. But her heart is in the wind, and in the arrow, and on horseback. If only she can make her mother understand her, then Merida would truly be free, and not have to worry about suitors, or getting married, or being Queen. One day after a fierce argument Merida storms off on her horse, follows a trail of will o’ wisps and finds a way to change her fate. But her choice threatens to destroy everything – the tenuous truce between the clans, her father’s reign, and the fragile bonds of family. Meanwhile, the demon bear Mordu lurks in the darkness, ready to consume all he comes across. How everything intersects and comes together shouldn’t be spoiled, but I’m pleased that the trailers and commercials only hint at what the movie truly is about.
BRAVE was a much unexpected movie for me, in all the best ways. From the marketing campaign, it seemed that BRAVE would be along the lines of BRAVEHEART or MULAN, but it’s a far more intimate story that director Mark Andrews is telling here – the best Pixar movies come from a place of truth and familial bonds and BRAVE is no different. It’s a shame that Disney didn’t release this for Mother’s Day, because this is a movie that cherishes that special relationship between a mother and daughter. It’s quite beautiful and moving.
It’s also stunningly gorgeous to watch – this may be the best looking Pixar film yet, and that is saying something. Lush greens and blues fill the screen, and the color palette is rich and varied. Less gorgeous is the 3D, unfortunately – normally Pixar has the 3D aspects down, but because much of the movie is set at night, the 3D only serves to make it more difficult to see what’s going on, as the glasses dim the screen entirely too much. Most computer animated movies use 3D in the best possible way, so this came as a surprise; BRAVE is probably better realized in 2D since many of the scenes are fairly dark to begin with.
The voice acting is superb, especially from Macdonald and Thompson; their relationship is adversarial as Merida and the Queen each stand her ground, but as cracks form in their respective armors, they bring real reserve and emotion to the movie. Patrick Doyle’s score is tremendously great – Doyle finds the heart of the piece and makes it soar. It’s probably one of the single best scores in Pixar’s library – only Michael Giacchino’s INCREDIBLES is more iconic.
As a Pixar fanatic, I’d say BRAVE is a middle tier movie for me. It doesn’t reach the heights of TOY STORY, THE INCREDIBLES or FINDING NEMO but it’s more satisfying than the CARS films or A BUG’S LIFE. I was especially touched by the mother/daughter relationship, and I think there probably won’t be a better movie this year that mothers and daughters can bond over. There are issues, but those are mostly to do with the second act, where the fantasy of the piece comes into conflict with what so far was a fairly realistic movie. It’s where magic enters into the story that BRAVE seems to falter a little bit – not enough to derail the movie, but it’s a noticeable tonal shift and the movie has a little difficulty getting back on track. The humor of BRAVE lies mostly in pratfalls and slapstick, but it’s effective, especially with Merida’s precocious younger brothers, three pranksters who find elaborate ways to avoid eating their haggis and stuffing themselves silly with sweetcakes. Billy Connolly is also funny and charming as the father who loves his daughter but is too caught up in his kingdom to give her much attention.
The short that opens BRAVE, LA LUNA, is one of the best Pixar shorts yet, a beautiful little tone poem that is, interestingly enough, also about family relations of a sort. The 3D for that short is spectacular, and paints a tapestry of light and wonder. As for BRAVE, it’s yet another movie in Pixar’s roster that proves that they are still the best family film studio around, and I think it will deeply resonate with mothers and daughters everywhere. At times, there’s genuine magic in it, and while there are moments that don’t quite gel, BRAVE at its best hits those grand notes that Pixar is known for.