Pixar has always been known for edgy, CG-feature films that stand on par with the best live-action movies on the market. The studio overshadowed Disney animated features with dynamic stories, rich characters and genius themes, revolving around the not-so-sweet side of life. When Disney eventually took over Pixar in 2006, after years of arduous negotiations between Pixar’s Steve Jobs and Disney’s Michael Eisner, the Disney influence became indiscernible. Now Disney-Pixar’s latest film, Brave, is more Disney Princess than Pixar brilliance.
The film focuses on Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), the teenage daughter of Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly) and princess of a Scottish kingdom. Merida is a tomboy, who doesn’t want her father to marry her off to one of the other families so that peace can be maintained in the kingdom. Oddly enough, it’s really her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) who wants to see Merida married off and become a true princess. Her dad, brought to life with the playfulness of Connolly, is happy enough seeing his daughter hunt and be more like him. Elinor’s insistence in forcing Merida to wed drives a wedge between this mother-daughter relationship.
All of the trailers and even the poster art for Brave focused on Merida holding her bow. Yet, the actual movie sees little bow action and truthfully little action at all. What you saw in the trailer is the height of her bow work. This one-trick film has several points where the story can go off in new, more dynamic directions but instead opts to play it safe. The plot boils down to a daughter and mother finding an amicable way to get past their differences, with no wiggle room for character exploration. It’s great if you’re a child. Brave has enough comedy, mixed with superb animation to keep you excited. However, in the long list of Pixar films, Brave is one of the weakest when it come to actual intrigue.
Brave touches on Scottish mythology, oral tradition and the kingdom’s mysterious dark past. Yet, the film never explores any of it. If a mysterious castle, ancient ruins or a wacky witch show up, they are as plain vanilla as they come. What you see is what you get. And, that’s rarely the case in a Pixar movie. Pixar’s most memorable films go off in tangents before coming back to the greater plot, while exploring several poignant themes. Just think of all the mini stories within Toy Story 3.
Several devices and locations are used in Brave merely as set up, but sadly lack any substance. In one situation, Merida’s horse is afraid to travel inside an outcropping of ruins similar to Stonehenge. However, we never find out what about the ruins is freaking out the horse. We also visit an ancient castle that’s tossed away the moment it comes up. Throughout Brave, you get the feeling that the story originally intended to have several more peaks and valleys, but somehow they had been magically watered down.
Perhaps, Brave is a sign of the times. Disney’s 2006 acquisition of Pixar has watered down a company once known for pushing the envelope in storytelling in animated films. Brave may have finally brought a heroine to the lead in a Pixar story, but somewhere along the line the studio lost sight of giving Merida any character depth. Brave harkens back to the Cinderella and Snow White tales of old. Good cartoons to watch, but hardly the upper echelon of entertainment we’ve come to love in the Pixar brand. For Pixar purists, the best part of Brave is the La Luna Pixar short, which is screened prior to Brave. For parents just looking for a fun movie for kids, Brave is spot on.