After the debacle that was the embarrassingly bad Cars 2, Pixar are back with Brave, the story of Princess Merida and family. Merida (Kelly MacDonald, No Country For Old Men, Gosford Park) is a Scottish princess who has more interest in running free and archery than she does in taking on the responsibilities of being a monarch. After years of her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson – Love Actually, Harry Potter series) constantly nagging her about how to behave, things come to a head when the three local clans present suitors for Merida’s hand in marriage. After a fight in which both mother and daughter go too far, Merida flees to the forest and makes a bargain with a witch. The deal with the witch has unexpected consequences and leaves the duo with only two days to rectify a number wrongs or live with dire consequences.
The visuals in Brave are mind-blowing. It is by far the best-looking Pixar film to date and that is very high praise indeed. A special category should be created at the Oscars for how well Merida’s hair is animated. The wide-long shots of the vistas of Scotland are truly breath-taking, managing to be almost photo-realistic in their beauty. The design of all the characters is done quite expertly from the towering Fergus (Billy Connelly, Mrs Brown) to the equally towering antagonist Mor’du, a battle-scarred bear that may scare younger viewers.
While the visuals may be the best Pixar have ever produced, Brave does not match up to the classics in their back-catalogue. While Merida is voiced well and comes off as a typical moody teenager, she is as annoying as a typical moody teenager. Queen Elinor is almost unbearable for a portion of the film with the amount of nagging she does. The three Princes take the role of cute comedy relief because they are neither cute nor funny. Also Mor’du is only half introduced; with a very interesting back-story it feels like he was criminally underused and not as explored, as one would have hoped. The characters are by no means awful but when compared to Woody, Anton Ego, Doug or Dory, they feel a little flat.
The story is perhaps the most contentious area of Brave. Firstly it is an awful title. It draws an instant comparison to a historically inaccurate Braveheart. There is nothing linking the two and Brave is not particularly a story where bravery is essential. Some will find the family-drama nature of the plot off-putting, especially if they went in expecting Braveheart-style battles. The movie stays clear of the usual broad moralisation and character arcs one is used to finding in fairytales. It is a much more fluid, dynamic story that happens to examine relationships. It was an interesting and different route for a family movie to go down, but one can’t help but feel a more interesting story could have been made with these constituent parts.
In some American news outlets (which will remain nameless), it has been suggested that Merida is a lesbian because she does not want to enter an arranged marriage and she likes sports. This sparked a rather strange debate over whether: a) she is in fact a lesbian and b) it’s OK she’s a lesbian. Well does it matter if she is or isn’t in the first place? Is it not slightly reductive to question someone’s sexuality because they don’t conform to gender roles or submit to an arranged marriage? She is basically still a child in the movie so sexualising her in this way seems odd. Whatever her sexuality may be, it’s nice to see Pixar finally going with a female lead and that the thrust of the film isn’t about a man, it’s about a bond between two women.
Brave might not be as exciting as some hoped for and the characters can get irksome from time to time. However, at the centre of this movie are some great performances from the voice actors, sumptuous visuals and a refreshingly different story. It’s nice to see a young woman striving to not get the man rather than the Disney princesses of old (I’m looking at you Sleeping Beauty and Ariel). It may not gain entrance to the pantheon of Pixar classics but it’s still very good, and worth the price of admission just to marvel at Merida’s hair.
Brave is released nationwide on 13th August 2012.
Watch the trailer for Brave here: