I didn’t see Cars 2 so I shouldn’t pick on it, but lots of critics (including ours) skewered it for being more like an ADD Pixar clone, rather than a real Pixar movie with thought and heart. Whatever the case, Pixar is back with a movie that has everything their best work has: action, great story and more heart than 10 summer blockbusters–Brave.
Merida is a Scottish princess, daughter of the rough but kindly King Fergus and the elegant and loving Queen Elinor. Merida prefers to ride, explore and practice archery rather than take etiquette and elocution lessons, much to her mother’s discomfort. When Elinor follows tradition and arranges a tournament among the clans to win her daughter’s hand in marriage, the tension between mother and daughter explodes. Merida then makes a reckless decision that could destroy her entire family.
Let’s get the obvious praise out of the way. Even when you’re not thrilled about the story of the latest Pixar movie (Cars 2, ibid), they can always be counted on to look good, and Brave looks frickin’ tastic. The visuals are so good I want to roll around in them like a dog. The lands look lush, green and cool, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Scottish tourism gets a boost from this movie. The characters are expressive and fun to watch, and I love their designs. Merida’s fiery red hair waves in every direction, her little brothers continually wear devilish grins. The animation is excellent as always, and every character is charming. As usual with Pixar, I soon forgot I was watching an animated movie and just kicked back and enjoyed the story.
Speaking of, the story is both kid-friendly and very mature. The movie doesn’t really have a true villain, at least not in the Syndrome-Charles Muntz-Randall Boggs sense. The central conflict is between Merida’s desires, her mother’s expectations and the dire consequences of the two not being able to communicate. That will ring true for those rare families where the parents and children argue. Perhaps you’re acquainted with one.
Special kudos must go to Pixar’s writers for not making this a one-sided issue, too. Merida pushes for independence, Elinor pushes for responsibility. Neither agenda is wrong, but one has to temper the other. Through the course of the movie, mother and daughter learn from each other and even start adopting each other’s methods to get out of the bind they find themselves in.
Pixar movies can also be relied upon for their humour, and Brave has some pretty good Scottish-flavoured jokes without over-working the predictable gags, like the brogues or the kilts (that being said, there are some awesome kilt jokes). Performances have a lot to do with it; both the voice work and the animated body language. Scottish comedian Billy Connolly voices King Fergus and he’s perfect for the character. Kelly Mcdonald is excellent as Merida, her voice carrying both her teenaged frustration with her mother and her lust for life (anyone catch that reference?).
I don’t want to over-state this next observation, because a movie should just be a movie. However, it is great to see a fantasy film with a believable, relatable female protagonist and a mother/daughter relationship as the pillar of the film’s story (Merida’s mother is present for much of the movie, but not in a way the trailers indicate). Boys who think girls still have cooties and men who despise chick flicks don’t panic; there is still lots of action and fun, and the messages aren’t heavy-handed.
Perhaps I’m pre-disposed to liking the movie, being a son of Clan Macdonald of Clanranald, but Brave is a wonderful faery tale, full of lively characters, that’s both touching and fun. The Blu-ray is definitely going on my shelf one day.
Disney Pixar’s Brave: 9/10
As per tradition, Brave is prefaced by a short movie called La Luna. It’s a somewhat bizarre short, but it has some breathtaking visual moments and it manages to be an amiable story about family, virtually dialogue free.
La Luna: 8/10
-Review by Jason MacIsaac