Brave Review


Good-natured and well-crafted, Brave is everything a family film should be. Unfortunately, Pixar’s nearly flawless track record has saddled its twelfth feature film with expectations it’s unable to live up to. Its rich, character-filled animation and big heart unfortunately don’t distract enough from the film’s over-reliance on broad comedy, nor its disappointingly familiar and emotionally muted screenplay.

The film touches mostly on issues of destiny and responsibility through Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald), a Scotish princess with a stubborn streak like you wouldn’t believe. She’s a tomboy at heart and wants nothing more than to spend her days riding horses, shooting arrows, and exploring the land she calls home. Her mother, Queen Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson), has other ideas. Princesses are supposed to show poise, class, and a certain amount of restraint. Teenage girls just aren’t meant to be handled, though, as every nudge Elinor gives Merida toward her unavoidable future is met with fierce opposition.

Merida’s father, King Fergus (voice of Billy Connolly), is much more focused on catching the bear that took his leg than he is on being a father, which means Elinor bears the brunt of all Merida’s frustration. Things reach a breaking point when the Queen decides it’s time for her daughter to marry. After a tournament to find the best suitor, Merida runs away and ends up stumbling across a witch, who grants her a wish. “If I can change my mother, I can change my fate,” she tells the witch. If only she’d been a little more specific…

The story isn’t bad, and there are a few surprises, but the character types, as well as the arcs they follow, are ones that have been around for decades. There’s the future leader who’s still too young to realize his or her potential, the overbearing guardian who’s using someone younger to relive his or her glory days, and the token comic relief characters (in this case, Fergus and his three young sons). Together, they’re a family that’s struggling to find harmony. We care how this struggle turns out, just not as much as we should.

That has a lot more to do with the quality of the screenplay than anything else. It’s uncharacteristically problematic for a Pixar film, and the problems are manyfold. For one, there’s a great deal of “humor” that’s simply characters running into things or making loud noises. That’s fine for the six-year-old set, and it’s not as if Toy Story 3 or Up were on the cutting-edge of the comedy world, but they were a great deal more sophisticated than what Brave has to offer. Then, there are the leaps in logic you’ll find in almost any screenplay—like when characters inexplicably stop acting in a self-interested manner. That happens a lot here, and I suspect it’s a pretty common problem across the Pixar canon, but most of the other films are magical enough to distract from it. When Merida pauses from a seemingly life-or-death task to make a big speech, you’ll find yourself more angry than enraptured.

All that said, the film is as technically sound and beautiful to look at as any other Pixar effort. Michael Giacchino’s score rocks, and the voice work is a equally terrific. The sound design will probably be Oscar-nominated come February, and the character detail is unparalleled when compared to most other animated films on the market today. If the story had matched (or even come close), we’d be talking about one of the year’s best. As it is, it’s lower-tier Pixar (still much better than Cars and Cars 2), and probably not the lock many thought it might be for next year’s Best Animated Feature trophy. Still, it’s a fun, heartwarming, and worthwhile watch.

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