Out of all the studios currently producing films, Pixar has one of the best track records. Pixar’s output has been consistently stellar, with only the occasional misfire…and I’m pleased to report that “Brave” lives up to Pixar’s classic standards.
In case anyone has been living under a rock and missed the ubiquitous promotional materials: Young princess Merida is something of a tomboy – a tendency which scandalizes her graceful mother Elinor. When the time comes for Merida’s betrothal, the spirited lass humiliates her suitors and nearly sparks a civil war. After a fierce argument with Elinor, Merida flees to the forest, where she meets an ancient witch. The ensuing magic spell – designed to “change” Elinor – backfires, transforming her into a monstrous bear. Merida must find a way to reverse the spell within 48 hours…or watch her mother’s humanity slowly drain away.
It’s not a particularly complex plot, and it lacks the sly social commentary of “Ratatouille,” “WALL-E” et al. Among many critics, the film has been derided for its simplistic story – a criticism which is not entirely justified. “Brave” is the studio’s way of telling a fairy tale – a parable infused with the traditional Pixar flair. “Legends are lessons,” Merida wisely observes at one point…and such is the case with “Brave.” Instead of wacky, offbeat storytelling, “Brave” relies on a simple tale well told – and a remarkably heartfelt tale at that. There aren’t any ham-handed messages about conservation here; rather, “Brave” is a story of parents and children learning to love and respect one another. And that, in my book, is hard to criticize…particularly when it’s executed in stylish Pixar fashion.
This isn’t a worldview-centric film, but there is a philosophy on display nevertheless. It’s a revision of the stereotypical adolescent-angst story, which plays out in a uniquely respectful fashion. (Both parents and young people will be left with much food for thought). Thankfully, “Brave” doesn’t go the DreamWorks route of relying on pop culture references and constant scatological humor. Its themes are timeless, and its messages are praiseworthy.
That being said, “Brave” isn’t perfect. The film relies heavily on slapstick humor (and is also a bit cruder than previous Pixar entries) – this is unfortunate. The dialogue doesn’t crackle with wit like some of its predecessors – “The Incredibles” comes to mind – and the constant physical pratfalls become wearying. (This is a matter of personal preference, but Merida’s father is a bit of a caricature – think “Papa Bear” from the Berenstain Bears books. A bit more depth here would’ve been nice.) It’s also worth noting that Mordu, another of the film’s rampaging bears, is a genuinely menacing antagonist (more frightening than a number of horror-movie villains I’ve seen). In short, the film is rated PG for a reason.
From a technical standpoint, “Brave” is certainly a cut above its competitors. Pixar’s computer wizardry continues to boggle the mind – medieval-fantasy Scotland is gorgeously rendered, from its sweeping vistas to the subtlest textures. (As someone who’s done CGI work before, Merida’s flowing red hair is…a work of art). The Highland-inspired soundtrack is also outstanding, particularly the collaboration between Birdy and Mumford & Sons (“Learn Me Right”).
Much of this film reminded me of Disney’s “Tangled” – in a good way. The two films may share a similar story and visual style, but “Brave” has the unique soul of a Pixar movie. Viewers of all ages will find much to enjoy here.
A touching, beautifully executed fairy tale. Well worthy of inclusion in the Pixar canon.