While Pixar’s new tale, “Brave,” is not one their strongest entries thematically or visually, this animation has so many good things going for it that it definitely merits a visit to the multiplex.
Structurally, “Brave” begins on such a strong and bright note, that inevitably the ensuing chapters cannot maintain the fast, clever, and funny tones that define the first reel.
Even so, there are several novelties, in front and behind the cameras, in the story’s setting and characters, as well as in the production team.
If memory serves, this is the first Pixar movie to be co-directed by a female, Brenda Chapman, and if the helmer does not imbue the tale with an overtly feminist perspective, she still makes sure that the heroine, Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is bright, compelling, strong but also vulnerable, and center stage throughout the proceedings.
There are also two women among the scribes, which may have accounted for the emphasis on the notion of female bonding and more complex depiction than is the norm of mother-daughter relationship. Based on an original story by Brenda Chapman, “Brave” was co-written by co-director Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Chapman, and Irene Mecchi.
Andrews, who served as story supervisor on the Oscar-winning animated features “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” brings a passion for Scotland, Scottish history and action-adventure films. Chapman, a storyteller with credits that included the 1991 “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King,” was inspired by her own relationship with her young daughter, as well as a love of Scotland.
Set in the rugged, mythical, mysterious Highlands of Scotland, a gorgeous landscape to look at, “Brave” reworks some familiar epic tales, and some sociological theories (such as traditionalism versus modernity), by giving them a new spin.
Like most of Pixar’s sagas, “Brave” is a road movie, at the center of which is the heroic journey of Merida, a skilled archer and headstrong daughter of King Fergus and Queen Elinor, extremely well voiced by Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson, respectively.
Unlike other girls her age, Merida is determined to shape and control her own path in life. Thus, she defies old and sacred customs set by the lords of the land: massive Lord MacGuffin (voice of Kevin McKidd), surly Lord Macintosh (voice of Craig Ferguson) and cantankerous Lord Dingwall (voice of Robbie Coltrane).
Inadvertently, Merida’s action unleashes disorder and fury in the kingdom. What’s a brave girl to do? She turns for help to an eccentric Witch (voice of Julie Walters) and is granted an ill-fated wish.
Merida then realizes that to undo a beastly curse she needs to pull together all of her skills and resources, which include the burden of dealing with her smart but mischievous triplet brothers. Time is running out and Merida needs to move and act fast—before it’s too late.
Endowed with commendable physical skills, climbing cliffs, shooting arrows, fighting bears, Merida is also clever enough to know and find the courage to let go.
As in other Pixar animations that largely center on boys, “Brave” concerns the struggle within a teenager to find her true self, creating her own destiny, and discover the meaning of life.
One of the more specific ideas—a really sociological concept—is exploring Merida’s effort in reconciling her self-image with the image of how the world sees her. (In sociological theory, it’s known as “the looking-glass self”).
The conclusion is too neatly wrapped up and the moral lesson–true courage must be found on the inside—is overly familiar.
“Brave” marks Pixar’s 13th full-length feature, and it may be unfair by critics to expect that each picture would be seminal, extraordinary, innovative, and break new grounds.
Certainly not as weak as Pixar’s “Cars 2,” “Brave” is mid-range movie in terms of overall artistic quality, occupying a mid-range position in the cannon of a company that has given us so many highlights over the past two decades.
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