Should I Watch..? 'Brave'
What's the big deal?
Brave is an animated fantasy comedy film released in 2012 and is produced by Pixar Studios. It came after the company's first film that was widely considered a flop - the disappointing Cars 2 - so expectations weren't as high as it normally was for a Pixar film. Unusually for a Pixar film, it feels much more like a fairy-tale than the likes of Toy Story and Finding Nemo although the film is a pet project of creator and co-director Brenda Chapman. There was also some controversy surrounding Disney's marketing of the film and specifically the decision to make heroine Merida part of their Princess range, including altering her appearance to match similar Disney characters. Nevertheless, the film was a critical and commercial success but remains one of Pixar's more underrated efforts.
What's it about?
In Scotland, the young princess Merida is given a bow and arrows by her father, King Fergus of Dunbroch. Despite her mother Elinor's protestations, Merida enjoys practising this and other pursuits deemed unworthy of a princess. As the years go by, Merida is distraught to find that she is to be married off to the first-born son of one of her father's allies who will be determined through traditional Highland games. Determined to remain her own woman, Merida competes in archery and beats them all - causing a furious row between herself and her tradition-respecting mother.
Merida flees the castle and encounters a will-o'-the-wisp, who leads her to a strange witch who promises Merida that she can change her future with the use of a magic cake. Unfortunately, the cake transforms Elinor into a fierce black bear which causes Fergus to believe that his arch-nemesis Mor'du has returned. As Merida tries to protect her mother from her vengeful father, she also realises that only she can return her mother back to human form before Fergus and the rest of the clans gather for a bear hunt...
Merida of Dunbroch
Queen Elinor of Dunbroch
King Fergus of Dunbroch
Lord MacGuffin / Young MacGuffin
Gordon the guard
Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman & Steve Purcell
Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell & Irene Mecchi *
Release Date (UK)
13th August, 2012
Animation, Comedy, Fantasy
Best Animated Feature
What's to like?
Despite continually producing CG-animated movies since 1995, Pixar have somehow managed the difficult trick of making each of their films feel unique. Certainly, there aren't many films as beautiful to look at as Brave which benefits hugely from the exhaustive research carried out by the animators. Every hill is covered with billowing grass, each loch has ripples that stretch out across its surface and every strand of flame-red hair on Merida's head flows exactly the way it should. As art, this is a stunning picture and puts many of its stablemates to shame.
It's also rare to find a movie with predominantly Scottish characters played by predominantly Scottish actors, meaning there is not a dodgy accent to be found anywhere. The eternally sprightful Macdonald plays Merida well against the bombastic nature of Connolly as her father. Although Connolly has his fair share of laughs (as is only right, after all), the majority of giggles come courtesy of Merida's three younger brother who are triplets and masters of mayhem, acting up in the background without saying anything. I'm pleased that such an effort was made to maintain the Scottish theme running throughout the picture, even developing a unique tartan for the clan Dunbroch. No doubt Scotland's then-First Minister Alec Salmond would have enjoyed the attention from Hollywood's premier animating outfit...
- The film contains several references to Steve Jobs who died the year before. Merida is constantly being interrupted before she can take a bite from an apple and one of the characters is called Lord MacIntosh, a reference to the Apple Mac computers. The film is also dedicated to Jobs.
- The first Pixar film to have a female protagonist as well as the first Pixar character included in the Disney Princess line, somewhat controversially given the character's desire to not be a princess.
- Reece Witherspoon was originally announced as the voice of Merida but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Kelly MacDonald then replaced her as the teenage princess, despite being in her mid thirties at the time.
What's not to like?
For all the effort put into producing Brave, I fear that not enough was put into the story. I have no doubt that Ms Chapman's vision was true but it feels a little derivative, especially compared to so many other animated movies of this nature. The film's underlying messages - be true to yourself, careful what you wish for, respect your elders, don't change yourself for others, etc - is essentially the same as the likes of Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon. Pixar haven't gotten to the top of the tree by copying other films - they stand out from the crowd as well as perfectly entertaining both kids and adults alike.
The other problem is that it feels safe, which is not something we associate with Pixar. Take the superb WALL·E as an example - a film that is broadly dialogue-free for about two-thirds of its duration and is about the global implications of mass consumerism and pollution whilst simultaneously showing two robots with no character-traits besides their own programming learning how to fall in love. Brave, for all its pretty visuals, is about a princess with a magic cake trying to undo a curse. This may sound like I'm doing the film a disservice but when WALL·E was released, the game changed completely. Suddenly, Pixar could do more than show us talking toys coming to life or a family of superheroes and I'm afraid Brave feels unimaginative by contrast.
Should I watch it?
Having said that, Brave remains a decent and entertaining way to keeping the kids quiet for a bit as well as giving the adults a good laugh at the same time, especially if at least one of them is Scottish like my wife! It's much better looking than most CG-animations and it takes most of the competition and tosses them away like a hollow caber. Fun, colourful and exciting - Brave marks a new visual chapter for Pixar but sadly, it lacks imagination and falls short of being a landmark picture.
Great For: Scottish viewers, children, red-heads, tomboys
Not So Great For: other CG-animation studios, Pixar's reputation as master story-tellers
What else should I watch?
Without question, Pixar's greatest film is WALL·E which is so good that it doesn't matter how many times I see it that I will drop everything to watch it again. Others may prefer the equally different Up which has a sledgehammer of a sucker-punch to begin with and tugs at your heartstrings throughout.
Pixar, of course, also provide plenty of regular family entertainment that doesn't have to be as deep as those films. Monsters Inc. is an imaginative tale which isn't as scary as you might think while The Incredibles is just about the most fun I've ever had in a cinema. Either are brilliantly entertaining pieces of animation that are as fun as they are great to watch.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox