If there is any movie studio in the business that has earned the benefit of the doubt, it’s Pixar. Again and again the studio has swung for the fences, and again and again it doesn’t just hit a homerun, but makes the ball explode as stunned fans drool over what they were witnessing. Pixar and Disney have enjoyed a fairly stunning string of successes, both commercially and critically. And because of that, Pixar may be its own worst enemy.
After years of setting the bar so high with movies like Up, WALL-E, and the Toy Story series to name a few, any Pixar film that doesn’t instantly become a classic is tinged with just a bit of disappointment. Naturally, that isn’t fair, but it is unavoidable. Just look at last year’s Cars 2. It wasn’t a bad movie, but neither was it anywhere near the same level as The Incredibles, Monsters Inc., or one of the several other groundbreaking films bearing the Pixar logo. It became the first Pixar film not nominated for any Academy Awards, and many critics called it a failure, even as it went on to earn well over half a billion dollars. Granted, a big box office haul doesn’t mark a great movie, but Cars 2 was at least decent. People just expect more from Pixar than decent.
Brave won’t blow minds, but it will entertain, especially younger audiences, who will enjoy the fairy tale yarn. And adults will still find plenty to like in the humor and the tender mother-daughter relationship that lies at the heart of the film.
Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is the daughter of the jovial King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and the loving, but controlling, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Merida has been herded toward a predetermined destiny her entire life: wedding one of the sons of a local Lord. Despite rebellious tendencies that often put Merida at odds with a mother that constantly wants her to be more “ladylike,” Merida loves her deeply, even while fundamentally disagreeing with her about her fate.
On the eve of the decision on who she will marry, Merida runs away. Led on by Will O’ the Wisps who are said to lead people to their fates, Merida meets a witch who gives her a spell to use on her mother, allowing her to change her destiny. Naturally, it goes badly and the spell has unintended side effects that lead the Queen and the Princess to flee the castle and seek a way to undo what was done.
The relationship between Merida and her mother lies at the heart of the film, and by extension Merida’s place in the world. It is a fairy tale, after all, and like most fairy tales there is a moral lesson at the core.
The moral of Brave will definitely resonate with children, even if most adults find it a bit obvious — not in a bad way, just a familiar one. There is no traditional “bad guy,” so to speak; instead the conflict comes through a series of circumstances.
Pixar has taken a great deal of effort to include 3D, and it works well, but retains the same inherent problem that all 3D movies face — it makes the picture darker. Generally you can overlook this, but the art and colors of Brave are so vibrant that the muted hues caused by the lenses of the glasses are almost a shame. It’s a tradeoff. The 3D technology is well used and it adds depth to the world, which is how the technology should be used. But skipping it won’t affect your enjoyment.
The same sharp sense of humor that permeates Pixar’s other films will keep adults happy through Brave, though the tenderness of the relationship often takes precedence over the jokes. It isn’t quite as laugh-out-loud funny as some of the previous offerings, but it is smart and entertaining, and and the endearing artwork mixed with the best animated technology in the industry help to sell it.
Brave is not on par with some of Pixar’s more groundbreaking works, but it is still a good movie, packed with the smart humor you would expect from Pixar, and presented with animation that is always enjoyable to watch. The voice cast is also top notch, and there is real effort behind each of the actors’ performances.
Brave is the type of movie that will improve on the second viewing, after you shake the lofty expectations that Pixar fans will unavoidably carry in with them. It is far more predictable and traditional than most of Pixar’s other works, but the writing, dialog, and humor are still very good. Brave is a quality film, and will likely be another feather in Pixar’s crowded cap.