Original Release: June 10, 2012
Directed By: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Screenplay By: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi
Starring: Kelly MacDonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Waters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd and Craig Fergusen
Hello and welcome back ye wee lads. After taking last week off to visit Disney World, I’m back to watching Pixar movies, and with only a few left to go, the stakes are high. Well, they aren’t really. This week’s offering is one that I hadn’t seen in a while. The words that come to my mind the most while watching Brave are “beautifully quirky.” It’s not at all the film you expect it to be. Often times that’s a great thing. Sometimes it strays a bit. But overall, it’s a film which weaves a tail of a young woman daring to defy the status quo and learning to live her life her way. So get on your horse, follow your wisps. Let’s take a closer look.
Originally announced in 2008 under the title The Bear and the Bow, Brave is the first Pixar film with a female protagonist and was almost the first to have a female director, though Brenda Chapman was replaced before the conclusion of production for creative differences. The film was also considered Pixar’s first fairy tale, taking cues from the tales of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm.
The interesting thing about Brave is that it is a completely different film 20 minutes in than it is an hour in. At first, it could be completely devoid of magic. It’s a tale about a mother and daughter that don’t get along. The Queen wants Merida to get married for the sake of tradition and she believes in teaching all the essential princessy type things. Speaking formally, curtsying and not putting your bow and arrow on the table. Nothing here suggests that this is being told in the realm of fantasy. And to be honest, I found the first part of the film to be filled with the best story-telling.
Eventually this all leads to a witch and a spell and bibbity-bobbity-boo, Merida’s mother is turned into a bear. This is where the film sort of gets off track. On one hand, the Queen prancing around as a bear and standing on two feet and trying to be proper is hilarious. Pretty much all of the best laughs are in this portion of the film. The trouble is that the actual story starts to take a backseat to this cat and mouse chase of getting the bear out of the castle and then trying to turn her back. When Merida finally, with her mother’s help, comes up with a solution to the Kingdom’s problems, i.e., everyone should marry who they want to, it doesn’t feel earned, because she and her mother haven’t even had a chance to talk all of this out. It’s hard to imagine her mother having a change of heart when she’s dealing this bear crisis.
Because of this, the film seems to exist in two entities that don’t quite mesh with each other. And the upsetting thing is that I like the two halves on their own, but together they’re like a poorly sewn together tapestry. The beautiful parts don’t quite add up to a full-filling whole. The other thing that hurts all of this is the fact that I’ve seen many of these elements before. I’ve seen someone turn into a bear to learn their lesson in Brother Bear. I’ve seen a scottish/Irish backing filled with a magical tale in How to Train Your Dragon and The Secret of Kells. And I’ve seen a rebellious girl with crazy hair fight with her mother in Tangled. While Brave is quite different from all of these, it often fails to feel that way.
Taking a step back, there is one aspect of this film that soars and that is Merida. She’s a really great character and quite a role model for young girls. I love how progressive she is and how much fun her character is to watch. She’s brilliantly animated and like many have noted before me, I adore her imperfections. She’s not pencil thin. Her face isn’t this perfect shape. Her hair isn’t perfectly groomed. She feels like one of the most human females in any Disney film ever. Sorry Snow White. Despite all her imperfections, however, I love that she is so strong. She’s a fierce character and one who I truly believed could take on her father or even a bear. She’s a bit like Pixar’s Wonder Woman.
And regardless of the fact that Brave’s story doesn’t always stick to the perfection of other Pixar films, there is no denying that this film is easily the prettiest Pixar film we’ve seen in this project so far. It is jaw-droppingly gorgeous at times and in the opening it’s hard to believe that the forest we are seeing is not, in fact, real. The movements of the characters are smooth. The landscapes are vast and once again, Merida’s animation is beyond top-notch.
While not perfect, Brave stands as a flawed quilt made up of many beautiful squares. There is so much great about this film, it’s just a shame that all of that doesn’t quite mesh together. In no way is it the worst Pixar film, but it certainly falls short of the best. With children that turn into bears, amazing horse chases, bear queens and lots of Irish Men, there are all kinds of things happening in this film. It’s certainly a lot to take in and despite being strangely reminiscent of other films, it always manages to hold a surprise around everyone corner. Often times, I watch one of these films and instantly think “Perfect” or “Blah.” Brave is a film that I am happy to say has kept me pondering its many levels for days since viewing it. I can’t make up my mind about this one so I will simply say that Brave is beautifully quirky, and if not the the best in the canon, certainly one of the most interesting to ponder.
NEXT UP: Monsters University