Family life can sometimes be tough, especially if your family has a public reputation to uphold. Often, it’s the kids who feel it the most, whether chafing under the demands of their parents, or being unfairly judged by the outstanding performance of their siblings. The former sums up the plot of Brave, the latter the public impression of Brave the film as it compares to the other highly successful productions of Pixar Animation Studios. It’s a great movie, but it’s in such stellar company that the shine’s been taken off it.
In medieval Scotland, Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is the daughter of Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Elinor (Emma Thompson), King and Queen of the Four Clans. She’s not quite a tomboy, but she’d much rather ride a horse into the wilderness and practice archery than follow Elinor’s strict guidelines on how a princess should behave. While mother and daughter struggle to listen to each other, the King sits back and admires each of their strengths, content to tell tales of the giant bear Mor’du, who made off with his leg many years before.
Things come to a head when Merida learns she must marry one of the sons of the three other clan leaders, who will compete in a challenge to win her hand. Not content to have her fate decided by others, Merida disrupts the challenge, upsetting the clans. The resulting argument with Elinor drives Merida from the castle, where she runs into a bizarre old witch, from which she requests a magic spell to change her mother, and her fate. What happens next would reveal too much, but suffice it to say that the spell puts Merida and Elinor at odds with Fergus and the clans, and if everything is to be put right again, mother and daughter will have to mend their broken bond.
I must say that Brave is a fine film, telling a good story with whimsy and excitement. But as the 13th production from Pixar, I fear it will inevitably be compared poorly with the ones that came before it. Nearly all of those movies – including Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Cars, and WALL-E – have been wild fantasies, with premises ripe for comedic exploration. Think of all the little comic moments in Toy Story, for example, unrelated to the story but evocative of the strange world its characters inhabit. The Pixar movies we’re used to usually have as much going on in the background as they do front and centre, giving them a distinctive energy.
In contrast, Brave is a conventional narrative, and so those moments are largely missing. On this level, its closest comparison to other Pixar films might be Up, but even that movie had a screwball sense of humour that gave it a life of its own. Great as it is, there’s just not that much to distinguish Brave from any other great animated movie from a different studio. Whether this means it will be judged a failure or not remains to be seen.
Those concerns aside, Brave is still endowed with the technically brilliant polish Pixar is known for. The environments are lush and beautiful, and the animation effects dazzle the eye. Perhaps the greatest achievement here is Merida’s hair, a flame-red mass of unruly tresses that is the most lifelike yet rendered by computer.
The rest of the production is equally first-rate, including voice talent from Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd and Craig Ferguson as the quarreling clan leaders. Your kids, however, will probably remember Merida’s three mischievous little brothers the most, even though they don’t speak at all.
Brave is excellent summer entertainment, with a glorious vision that deserves to be seen on the big screen. It also provides a strong lesson in mother-daughter acceptance while still remaining fun for fathers and sons. That’s a rare thing in itself.
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