Film Review – Brave
It has been far too long since the last original, non-sequel Pixar movie, Up, came out in 2009. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Toy Story 3, and I’m a bit of a Cars 2 apologist, but original ideas are what has established Pixar as what they are today. Finally, one of my most anticipated movies of the year and their newest creation, Brave, arrives in theaters.
Brave tells the story of Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a teenager who is going to be betrothed to one of first-born sons of the clans in her kingdom. Desperate to determine the direction of her own life, she makes a deal with a witch that has unimaginable consequences and forces her on a harrowing journey to return the kingdom to its original state.
It is amazing to think that of all the major Pixar releases, this is the first time they’ve had a female as the central character. It is also amazing to think that this is the first time a woman has been a co-director on one of their movies (brava, Brenda Chapman). This had been a smudge on their otherwise pretty much unblemished record, and in classic Pixar style they have not only surpassed expectations, but they have blown the doors right off.
Despite the title being Brave, to me the most important theme of the story seemed to be that of understanding. (And that certainly wouldn’t be a title that would sell tickets.) Sure, Merida is a brave character as she overcomes a lot of tough obstacles, but a lot of the challenges are brought to pass by misunderstandings. The other important issue that stems from this is communication (again, not a title that would sell tickets), and the film provides some of the most entertaining non-verbal communication outside of Wall-E.
I was surprised by how farcical the movie was, and in some ways that was one of my bigger problems with it. It was a lot more low-brow humor than I was imagining, which, as a result, cuts back a bit on the character development. Merida and her mom Elinor (Emma Thompson) are the most developed characters in the movie, with everyone else pretty much left to be the set-up or punchline to a joke—particularly her father and brothers. A lot of side characters have elements that seem intriguing but are never really given a chance to be explored.
One of the things that stood out to me is that this might be the least kid-friendly Pixar film yet, as the “villain” seemed pretty scary. Toy Story 3 felt like it pushed the boundaries of what young kids were prepared to see, and this film takes it one step further. That being said, I heard no kids screaming during the screening I went to, and I’m constantly amazed at what Pixar has done before, so they probably have a much better sense of what they can get away with than I do. Still, another disappointment for me was that they didn’t get too deep into the villain’s story; it was very engaging and I would’ve loved to see more.
More than any Pixar film before, the landscapes in the movie are breathtaking, and with the exception of perhaps Prometheus are probably the best visuals I’ve seen in the last year. Much like how Seattle is a character in the new film Grassroots, the landscapes play a character here, too. It is interesting to see Pixar navigate the balance between attention to detail in landscapes while still refraining from going towards photorealism for the characters.
Pixar’s flirtation with 3D has been a curious one. They definitely have taken a “less is more” approach to it, and have used it mostly to create depth in their films. I don’t necessarily mind that approach, but I really don’t see any particular need to see this movie in 3D, and I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for paying the increased cost that it brings. With that in mind, I’m glad they haven’t approached 3D as a gimmick. Unless they have a specific vision for the 3D such as films like Coraline or, more recently, Prometheus do, then I am content with them leaving this as it is.
It is great to see Pixar return to the realm of original ideas. As fun as Monsters University looks, I am still more excited about their next original property after that. Brave is fundamentally well done, but I don’t think it will have quite the resonance of some Pixar’s past projects. The story is solid, but lacks the originality of some of their previous projects (the use of silent film in Wall-E, the introductory sequence in Up, etc). Despite its flaws, Brave is an impressive effort and deserves to be part of the proud history of Pixar. Also, the short film La Luna that is attached to the movie is absolutely stunning and one of the best short films Pixar has ever made.
Final Grade: A-