When Pixar was given the opportunity to make a feature-length animation in the early ’90s, they strived to distinguish themselves from Disney by not telling a fairytale. The studio has maintained this custom for almost two decades with unique stories about monsters, toys, superheroes, and so on. Among all the Pixar films, “Brave” is certainly the most loyal to the Disney fairytale formula. The movie comes equipped with several familiar themes, such as a princess who wants more, a disapproving parent, and witchcraft. It’s interesting to see Pixar tackle a more Disney-like story and for the most part “Brave” is executed quite nicely.
Set in the Scottish kingdom of DunBroch, “Brave” tells the tale of Princess Merida, voiced by Kelly Macdonald from “Boardwalk Empire.” The teenage Merida is an improper free spirit who’s even more skillful in archery than Katniss from “The Hunger Games” and Hawkeye from “The Avengers.” Her liveliness is best represented through her massive head of curly, blazing red hair. Much like Rapunzel in “Tangled,” Merida’s hair has the essence of a living, breathing creature. It’s just one of the numerous technical marvels that make up “Brave.”
In the convention of other animated princesses, Merida is being forced into matrimony with the son of one of three lords. What’s intriguing about “Brave” is the love story, or the lack thereof. There’s no handsome prince in the movie. There isn’t even a love interest. Merida says early on that she isn’t ready for marriage and sticks to her guns all the way through. It’s rare to see an animated film or even a live-action adult picture where the heroine doesn’t end up with a man. While there’s nothing wrong with romance, Merida’s persistence to be independent is one of the many things that make her so endearing.
The main relationship in the movie is between Merida and her mother, the disapproving Queen Elinor voiced by Emma Thompson. Queen Elinor is not an evil parental figure like the wicked stepmother in “Cinderella.”
Although she loves her daughter to death, Elinor merely believes that a princess should be proper and traditional. Aside from being royalty, their dynamic is very relatable to real life relationships between old-fashion mothers and new-aged daughters. It’s further inspiriting to see a movie about a mother and daughter as opposed to a father and son or a father and daughter.
“Brave” is a tremendously crafted animation as well. The landscapes of Scotland are superbly rendered with colors mainly comprised of green, brown, and blue, creating a setting that’s magical and cultured simultaneously.
The original songs by Julie Fowlis further add to the atmosphere. This is a movie with a truly timeless feeling, unlike “Madagascar 3,” which felt like a product solely geared towards today’s kids.
The characters, animation, culture, relationships and themes of “Brave” are all wonderful. There’s just one area the film somewhat lacks in, the story. The narrative is usually the best aspect of any Pixar movie. But “Brave” takes a weird turn during its second act that’s reminiscent of “The Princess and the Frog,” “The Emperor’s New Groove,” and especially “Brother Bear.”
What happens from that point on isn’t bad or even mediocre. It just feels a tad random and been there, done that. There are a million directions the filmmakers could have taken this story. While they ultimately took matters in a direction that works fine, it might not have been the absolute best direction to take.
For what “Brave” is though, the film is still a very worthy addition to the Pixar library. This is mainly thanks to its leading lady, who’s incredibly likable and empowering, but still makes mistakes and has a lot to learn.
There have been some complaints that Pixar has yet to make a movie with a strong female character. These criticisms are unwarranted given Dory from “Finding Nemo” and Mrs. Incredible from “The Incredibles.” After Merida though, the accusations that Pixar is sexist should be forever silenced.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.