Quick Take: Pixar connects with Disney's past more than it ever has before.
In the amazing run of Pixar features, we’ve seen talking cars, toys with more soul than anything Michael Bay has ever directed, lonely robots, culinary rodents, and even a house that could fly. But one thing that Pixar has never attempted to tackle is a film with a female protagonist. Sure, some of their award-winning shorts may have featured females, but never a full-length feature. That is until Brave.
Brave is the newest The Walt Disney Company-Pixar collaboration, and the first to feature a girl in the leading role. Kelly MacDonald voices Princess Merida, a fiery young lass (with the red hair to match!) who marches to the beat of her own drum, even if it crosses the proper wishes of her mother, the Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Merida is a marvel with a bow, and though a girl where it counts, she is more concerned with shooting, riding, and adventuring, than dressing up and receiving guests and other stately duties imposed on her by the Queen.
When the King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and the Queen decide that it is time for Merida to be betrothed, the other clans all come together so a suitable groom can be chosen. Merida decides that her fate is hers to weave and makes a deal with a forest witch, who sets into motion a terrible spell that changes not only Merida’s fate, but the lives of everyone she holds dear.
Pixar set the film in the lush, green Scottish highlands, and the sweeping vistas look amazing for each set piece. Even when the thick Scottish mists threaten to drown the finite details out of a scene, Merida’s stark reddish/orange hair helps to keep the eyes focused on the artistic beauty of each scene. The character models are outstanding, from the soft features of Merida and Queen Elinor to the brutish, rough profile of her battle-hardened father, King Fergus, each character is well designed and developed. Even the animals look fantastic, without slipping too far into the “cartoony” realm, which says a ton coming from an ANIMATED film.
Brave is the first feature that feels like a classic Disney movie. Maybe it’s simply the princess factor, or the witch in the woods, or maybe it’s the whole parents vs. kids argument. Either way, Brave features all of the classic Disney elements. Princesses, Kings, witches, animals with human characteristics, and even a motley crew of comical misfits to keep the audience laughing, all the while trying desperately to teach a lesson, and to touch our hearts.
Among other firsts for Brave is the number of directors. Brave features three directors, well, two, Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell acted as a co-director when Chapman left the project near the end of production. The different directors worked well to keep the look, style and feel constant which is a marvel considering the egos of some directors.
The original score by Patrick Doyle is fused with Celtic vibes, and even Mumford and Sons wrote a song and play on the soundtrack.
The humor in the film is funny, without slipping too far into absurdity and the theme of “creating your own fate” is laid out very well, and not used repeatedly to club the audience over the head.
Other than a few logic problems, Brave is a very solid movie and a welcome addition to the Pixar library of films. It is easily the most “Disney” of the Disney-Pixar collaborations, and with sequelitis (another Disney staple) beginning to rear its ugly head at Pixar (The Toy Story movies, last summer’s Cars 2 and next summer’s Monsters University, the sequel to 2001’s Monsters Inc. as examples), Brave may be one of the few original properties left for Pixar to roll out.
Brave is a good movie, and it looks and sounds amazing. The voice acting is top notch on all fronts and the story, while not the strongest, is decent enough to captivate an audience of all ages, though some scenes can be too scary for young children.
Hopefully, now that the seal has been broken, Pixar can tell more stories with a female lead, and maybe even break away from the Disney mold to get more into the boundary-pushing storytelling that they are known for. Regardless, Brave is the first bold step into a new (and some would say “old”) direction, and hopefully, we don’t have to wait 17 years for another film with a girl/woman in the lead.