Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman; Co-Directed by Steve Purcell
Written by Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, and Irene Mecchi; Story by Brenda Chapman
Starring the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltraine, Kevin McKidd, and Craig Ferguson
Rated PG for some scary action and rude humor
Running Time of 100 Minutes
The trick that Pixar pulls off in Brave is quite a neat one, and it certainly pleased the heart of this longtime Disney fan. What Pixar does best is take familiar formulas and imbue them with their own wonderful flavor. The Incredibles was their twist on the superhero film, Monsters Inc. was their spin on the classic monster-under-the-bed story, Finding Nemo was their beautiful father/son bonding story, etc. What Brave does is a little more subtle, however, but also quite special. Brave is Pixar’s twist on the classic Disney fairy tale. Like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella before her, Brave’s heroine Meridia is a full fledged Disney princess, but one with great strength, humor, a bow and arrow, and determination. Her film, Pixar’s 13th full-length feature since Toy Story in 1995, is emotionally compelling, visually sumptuous, and at times surprisingly dark. It is a magical Disney fairy tale indeed.
What sets Brave apart is the intimacy of its story. Set in an unspecified medieval period in the Scottish Highlands, one might expect Brave to tell an epic tale. It is, after all, about the fate and unity of an entire kingdom. That description is perhaps somewhat deceiving, however. At its core, Brave is about the mother/daughter relationship and all of the strains and complicated dynamics that ensue. In that regard it makes an interesting counterpoint to Finding Nemo. By focusing on Merida and her mother Elinor, the film achieves a level of emotional complexity that is common in many Pixar films but always quite rewarding. These two characters are fully drawn, and voiced beautifully by Kelly Macdonald and Emma Thompson. Both actresses take the material seriously and deliver true performances, not just vocal caricatures. Their work, complimented by the stunning animation and some wonderful montages, sells the story and makes for a rousing and tear-soaked finish.
Over the past 17 years it has been an incredible journey to watch Pixar’s animation quality develop and evolve. With its lush greenery, waters, and tall castles Brave is one of their most gorgeous features yet. The animation is crisp, smooth, and incredibly detailed, down to each blade of grass and Merida’s luscious, curly red locks. Much of the film takes place at night, and it is because of this that I warn you to not see the film in 3D. Usually when it comes to animated features I am less against 3D than with live action, however the darkness of many of Brave’s scenes demands a fully lit picture that the 3D here does not deliver. It is a beautiful film with terrific visuals and whimsical character design that demands to be viewed in proper 2D.
Alongside the emotional intimacy, Brave also strikes a strange juxtaposition between its dark nature and its wacky comedy. The comedy works very well, it must be noted, and King Fergus (the wonderful Billy Connolly), Merida’s triplet, silent, classically slapstick brothers, and her various suitors are all quite hilarious. One must question if the tonal shifts, however, are a result of the behind the scenes shake-ups and the film having multiple directors. With a story conceived by Brenda Chapman, she was set to direct the film on her own. At a certain point, however, Mark Andrews (co-writer of John Carter, a Disney film from earlier this year that I enjoyed more than many). alongside co-director Steve Purcell, took over. At times, this makes the 2nd act of the film, which features a twist that I won’t mention here, somewhat muddled and stops it from reaching the heights of Pixar’s best work. There are intense scenes of action in which the characters face legitimate peril that may scare the younger viewers, and moments of silly humor that may turn off some of the older viewers. As a whole I think the balance is struck fairly well and the film is smoothly and cleanly composed and directed, but the middle of the film could have benefited from some smoothening. This creates a scenario in which the film’s story has to take center stage over some of the weaker elements, and unlike some of Pixar’s other films the story is quite simple. I do not use this as a negative criticism, however, but rather as a statement of fact. The simplicity of Brave is, to me, one of its stronger elements that allows for the strong emotional relationships that I alluded to earlier.
Brave is ultimately a magical film, aided by Patrick Doyle’s lovely original score and songs by Julie Fowlis and Mumford and Sons. The Scottish flavor is quite strong throughout and their culture is treated with respect and admiration. One must remember that the film is a period piece (Pixar’s first, in fact) and so some of the behavior and caricatures that some may find a bit too stereotypically drawn are indicative of the time period and all lend to the humor and design of the piece. The film plays on the many tropes of the classic Disney fairy tales such as wacky supporting characters, a mysterious witch, and a dark forest that makes it fit nicely alongside many of those classic films. And if it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Pixar’s best work, it is still a wonderful experience in its own right and a magical and emotionally compelling film to enjoy this summer.
Note: As with each Pixar film, a new short film proceeds Brave. La Luna, written and directed by Enrico Casarosa, is one of the most beautiful and affecting works Pixar has ever accomplished. Quite simply, it is stunning.