It's a beautiful film, but our reviewer says that Brave lacks Pixar's usual heart.
Pixar films have set the standard for computer animation. Surprisingly, they’ve also set a standard for storytelling. Watching a Pixar film is like opening a present. You see the pretty outside but as you unwrap what’s inside you find the real treat; the deft and rich story and character development that match the outer trappings of the film. Brave, Pixar’s latest animated feature has the exquisite outer wrappings you’ve come to expect from the studio but falls surprisingly short in its storytelling.
I’ve been a Pixar fan ever since the groundbreaking Toy Story was released nearly two decades ago. I watched the trailers longingly, excited about the latest, featuring a human Princess. The sweeping vistas of Scotland and cloying Scottish brogue of the actors were delivered but the "wow" factor was just not there. I feel almost guilty saying it was a letdown. Truth be told, I’ve come to expect Pixar films to deliver a package that is unique and profound. Brave was neither.
With five writers and three directors credited, it’s no wonder Brave felt fragmented. It’s as if this film was a training exercise for up and comers in the studio. When you compare the story to Up, even the first ten minutes of that film outshine the entire plot of Brave.
We follow the story of the headstrong Princess Merida whose life is controlled both by her status as royalty and her mother. We meet a dysfunctional family with an emasculated father and three terrors of little brothers who are given free reign and no discipline. Merida herself is flippant to her parents and longs for a less regal life. Throw in a few Scottish clansmen acting crass and you’ve got the first thirty minutes of the movie. With slap-stick, forced humor, the film lags in the beginning because there’s not much to like.
When Brave finds its stride, the enjoyable moments seem to go too fast. When we finally see mother and daughter let down their guard, we’re thrust back into life at the castle where it’s the same old Scottish testosterone fest. The overall story does invoke a few warm feelings and even a possible tear despite its simplicity. Themes of repentance and humility shine through.
The strongest part of Brave is what Pixar cannot fail at—impeccably detailed animation. I marveled at the poster before entering the theater noticing the fabric of Merida’s dress and cloak was wool—what they would have made the dress out of in Scotland at the time the movie was set. Cascading waterfalls and mossy forests felt so real I could swear it was a documentary with a little better lighting. Even the animated naked rear ends and exposed bosoms were lifelike—but I still wish they wouldn’t have been there.
Brave’s voice cast is fun and features the thick Scottish emoting of Emma Thompson as the Queen, Billy Connolley as King Fergus, Craig Ferguson as Lord Macintosh and Kelly Macdonald as Merida. Patrick Doyle who also composed Thor and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire lends a bright side to the film with peppy Scottish jigs and beautiful melodies.
Brave is a stunning film that lacks substance. The epic feel the trailers evoked wasn’t part of the story. There were also parts that made me cringe knowing kids were in the audience seeing the crudeness. Then again, who’s perfect? Pixar was bound to have a miss sooner or later when most of their work has been nearly flawless. Go in not expecting much more than your average animated movie and you won’t be too disappointed. Maybe just make it a matinee and save a few bucks for Finding Nemo in 3D.