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)
Pixar Animation Studio is known for its impeccable body of work; in the short time that the studio has been around, they’ve created some of the most iconic and loveable characters of this generation. In a time where Hollywood is struggling to tell poignant stories, Pixar makes this task seem effortless. And what’s perhaps most worthy of praise is they don’t simply rest on the success of their franchises – they continue to take risk after risk, while consistently making great films.
For their latest, instead of talking animals and autonomous objects, Pixar has chosen to tell a distinctly human story set in a fictional 13th century Scotland negotiating interesting themes as it explores themes of gender roles, parental expectations and fate. In classic Pixar form, this is a story that appeals to audiences, young and old with a narrative told simply but with great effect.
The trailers for the film set up the basic premise of the film, but don’t give away much more, as this film is abundant with surprises. Princess Merida is a tomboyish and rebellious young woman (with a head full of tangled red hair) who has been in training to be queen, begrudgingly, for her whole life by her mother. As part of her ascent to the throne, the next step is that she’s to pick a suitor as per a very long tradition. Of course, she is resolutely opposed.
Merida runs away from home and meets a witch that is able to change her fate by “changing her mother” as Merida wishes. Well, perhaps Merida should have been more careful with her choice of words, as the spell gives her want she wants, maybe a little to literally. As the film progresses, we see Merida deal with the consequences of her actions and learn the lessons she needs to right the wrong her stubbornness has created.
Instead of going for the lighthearted feel of Pixar’s other films, this film presents a surprisingly rich drama, but with plenty of comic relief to buoy the tone. The story of a relationship between mother and daughter is refreshing to see on screen, as films have typically focused on father and son relationships in the past. It’s interesting to see Pixar extend itself this way and be successful at it.
But in focusing on this distinctly feminine narrative, it seems that Pixar has whittled down the male characters to caricatures. In the short time that the men in this movie are presented, they are highly competitive or childishly at war with each other. Oafish and hungry to prove their manliness, this side of the gender roles themes is somewhat two-dimensional, but it also has its funny moments.
What’s also worthy of mention is that this film is quite a bit darker than your average animation film. Kids that are easily scared or subject to nightmares should probably wait to see this on DVD as the big screen may overwhelm them.
Brave is an ambitious film that is successful in its aims. The risks taken have paid off once again and this film is undoubtedly worthy of Pixar’s budding legacy of great films, which is saying a lot.
Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios have teamed up together to produce a stunning film in their latest, Brave. Aimed at mothers and daughters, especially of the tween age, it forgoes trying to making a thoroughly modern heroine and sticks with emotions. Pixar once again shows it is unequaled in creating a visually stunning film. The once unique and fresh storytelling that they are also renowned for is there, but not as strong as it once was.
In a mythical kingdom, we find Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) a young girl just at age of marriage. The precocious girl has a yearning for un-princess like activities, such as riding and archery. Upon discovery that the other clan leaders in the kingdom plan to gather to have their eldest sons compete for her hand in marriage, she is determined to keep her freedom and make her own choices. A very upset Princess Merida finds herself out in the woods, running from the prospect of marriage. Upon entering a clearing, some sort of ruin-like Stonehenge structure, she begins chasing a will-o’-the-wisp leading her further and further into the woods where she discovers an old woman. Thinking her a hermit, who carves wood, Princess Merida finds the woman’s true nature and soon strikes a deal that, she hopes, get her out of her marriage. What she does to stop the impending marriage not only breaks convention, but sets about a series of events that may well destroy them all.
Visually, this is a very bright, colorful and rich wonderland of ancient Scotland. From the opening shot where the camera descends upon a young Princess Merida playing with her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), the film has a quality and freshness that Pixar has made across all its films. From being able to see individual strands in Merida’s hair, to raindrops, to the leaves on the trees, it’s the level of detail and the outstanding quality of those details that has one’s attention from the moment the film starts. Even in the darkest of scenes, there is a vibrancy and quality of rendering that shines through, making this feel as if it is the Disney of old, remade with modern technology. Many of the shots and an aesthetic that light up the imagination the way Fantasia, or perhaps Snow White, once did. The voice acting is also well done, which also includes Billy Connolly as King Fergus and Julie Walters as The Witch.
While this has been marketed as a kid’s film, some of the scenes might be too emotionally intense for some of the younger viewers. In particular, the attitude Princess Merida has toward her mother might be a bit complex for small children. The minutes leading up to the resolution are both visually and emotionally intense. The nature of the relationship between Merida and her mother that is the focus of the film, and this particular film seems to pull the safety net out from under smaller viewers. Having said that, this would be well suited to just about or tween girls, as the message would resonate quite well with them. At its core, this is a film about mothers and daughters, about girls becoming women, and the women who raised them giving them freedom and space to be who they are. While an upbeat and compassionate story about the complexities of mother-daughter relations, it does take some dark and violent turns in explaining the dynamic.
There are several musical interludes, though the emphasis on humor is not lacking. This is quite a funny film. The jokes come early and often, stemming from the oafish way men are portrayed, to a running gag about bears, to the three red-headed Princes who make off with sweets and make merry mischief for their nanny. Alternating between the emotions of the characters and many humorous situations and events, allows the story to keep a lightness about it that might otherwise be lost otherwise. It has a very amusing setting of visual and quips that intertwine throughout the film gracefully.
Employing the visual magic of Pixar should have seen the story more charming than it was. Parts of it seemed to aspire to a higher quality than what was seen. This is mostly is due to the story not being as vibrant as earlier efforts by the studio. While overall the film is well done, these moments are strong enough to give a lower outcome the entire project. Giving focus to Princess Merida as she finds her way, Pixar gets a bit noble with its aspirations about how far to go with the message of the film. Unlike Finding Nemo, where the message is underplayed, they seemed to have gone a different route. Seemingly more like WALL-E, this film uses a heavy hand to push its message, rather than a clever story.
Despite this, it is a funny and well crafted film.
While an overall entertaining film, it may be too emotionally intense for younger viewers. Fans of Pixar’s work will enjoy this immensely, as will anyone who enjoys modern animation. Recommended for the above mentioned, as well as tween, and young teen girls to see with their mothers, or to snuggle down with their boyfriends with.
The teaser for Pixar‘s next film Brave dropped a few months and it did what all Pixar teasers do, make us really damn curious. The company has a ridiculously amazing and solid track record so a first glance at the company’s latest offerings is always something of interest here at Xavierpop.
The full trailer just dropped and it is pretty damn awesome.
As usual, the animation is fantastic. Coupled with that Pixar magic, we are in for something special. I really dig that this is not your usual Pixar story. That just makes me want to see it even more.
Here is the Official Synopsis:
Brave is set in the mystical Scottish Highlands, where Merida is the princess of a kingdom ruled by King Fergus (Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Thompson). An unruly daughter and accomplished archer, Merida one day defies a sacred custom of the land and inadvertently brings turmoil to the kingdom. This was originally being helmed by Pixar’s first female director, Brenda Chapman (of Prince of Egypt), but they have since brought in co-director Mark Andrews (of the short One Man Band) to take over and finish up the movie. Disney has already scheduled Pixar’s Brave for release next summer on June 22nd, 2012