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Moviejay’s Review of Pixar’s ‘Brave’

Brave is the highly-anticipated new title from Pixar, the little studio that could, and it’s a winner.

Mostly.

I wouldn’t say it belongs in the same stratosphere as Toy Story, Ratatouille, or Up, but more in the middle somewhere around A Bug’s Life and ahead of Cars and its sequel. In comparable terms, Brave stands within its class where Pocahontas does in the pantheon of modern Disney movies, Pixar’s parent company. Pocahontas isn’t where The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast are, but it’s ahead of Hercules or Lilo & Stitch.

I suppose none of that really matters though, since children all over the world will be dragging their parents, grandparents, guardians and older siblings to the movie this weekend. I can report that it passes the adult sniff test, meaning that if you are an adult who is forced to see this, you won’t feel your time is being wasted. Indeed, you may even find yourself recalling other Disney titles, particularly Bambi, with its story that zeroes in on mother-daughter relations.

Like all of the Pixar and Disney titles in the last two decades, audiences have come to expect top-notch voice talent from popular actors. The same holds true here, this time with a scattering of voices almost entirely from Scotland or the UK. Kelly Macdonald (Josh Brolin‘s wife in No Country For Old Men) stars as the voice of Princess Merida. In the movie’s wonderful opening prologue, we see her as a natural born Scottish tomboy who takes after her burly father, Fergus, a King who’s voice was meant to be played by Billy Connolly. One of Merida’s first birthday gifts is a bow and from that point on the young lass becomes determined to be the best archer in the kingdom.

Flash forward to the present and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) informing her daughter that since she is now of the marrying age, she will soon have to choose between three suitors from different clans in the country. Merida is understandably repulsed by the whole idea of it, having to choose as well as being given away to a life of eternal servitude to some strange man. She may still be young, but she’s convinced that love doesn’t work that way. The early sequences involving the three suitors can’t help but make us feel even more for the young princess since one of them is a short, timid nincompoop, the other a snob that is full of himself, while the third is a giant, mumbling dufus.

Queen Elinor is not a bad mother. We can sense deep down the empathy she has for her daughter, even if the surface remains all about matters of protocol, tradition and duty. Nonetheless, Merida takes to her horse and flees into the forest. With the help of will-o-the-wisps, she is guided to the house of a little old lady who turns out to be a witch. Voiced by Julie Walters (Molly from the Harry Potter series) the witch takes offense to the stigma related to her species, so she conceals her true self underneath the facade of a nice old woman with a gift shop out in the middle of nowhere, as if no one would suspect. She gives Merida a potion that she eventually uses on her mother in the hopes that she will change her mind.

The young princess yearned for the self-reliance and independence of adulthood and now she’s given herself the grown-up task of figuring out how to deal with the consequences of her actions, and she has but two days to get the job done.

Brave is a fine film, well-voiced and beautifully rendered to the screen with a color palette between the kingdom and the forest that allows you to just drink in the imagery. The humor in the film I’d say is more on the level of cutesy-poo than it is sharp or perceptive. The characters in the periphery evoke some good laughs, from the three dumb suitors to Princess Merida’s brothers, triplets that are flame-haired just like their older sister. I also enjoyed Connolly very much as King Fergus, although by the end you wonder if a better screenwriter could have dug beneath the surfaces here of both father and daughter.

Don’t get me wrong, Merida is a strong female character, but she’s in constant reaction to the next plot point while the movie never really gives her much time to just be a girl.

I recommend Brave. It’s a solid enough entry in the Pixar pantheon, gets the job done, but is a little more lightweight and underdeveloped than the rest.

*** (out of 4)