BRAVE Review

Brave never enticed me like most of Pixar's features usually do. From the beginning I was somewhat weary of the project while remaining intrigued due to the scope on which it was operating and the fantastical elements that seemed to be involved with its story. That is the thing about Pixar though, they never divulge the entire story to you in the trailers but instead introduce you to the characters that anchor their films. In using this method the audience is attracted to the piece not only because it is made by the always reliable Disney/Pixar but because we want to get to know these people. That way, by the time we sit down to watch the movie we are swept up in a story that hasn't been completely given away in the previews. We simply know we like the characters, we find them interesting, funny, smart or whatever and we know we wouldn't mind going on an adventure with them. Such is the case with Brave where our red-haired heroine Merida has been the topic of much conversation as she is the first female lead in any of Pixar's 13 films. Lucky for us, she is more than up to the task of handling her own feature and is paired with the darkest of tales Pixar has ever had to offer. Though I wasn't overly optimistic for Brave after last years unnecessary sequel to their least beloved property I feel a fool now for doubting the animation studio as this is another moving tale that touches on something much more than any other animated film would fittingly, not be brave enough to touch.

Queen Elinor, King Fergus, Princess Merida, and her
triplet brothers dine together on a mighty feast.
I won't go into much of the details of the story so as not to give away the magic of it, but I don't think it is much to say that it explores the mother/daughter relationship unlike any film before be it animated or not. It was refreshing in many ways but mainly because I expected it to follow the more standard route of putting Merida (Kelly Macdonald who I always associate with No Country for Old Men but has lately been featured on HBO's Boardwalk Empire) on an all out adventure that takes her far away from her family and teaches her a lesson. No, this teaches her the ever important lessons of family and responsibility while shining a light in on the often ignored relationship that determines how a young lady will turn out and that is the influence of or lack thereof in her mother. In the case of Merida we have the overly complicated Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Elinor is a Queen's Queen who follows every rule and fits every stereotype to a T. She expects Merida to be this way as well and see no issue when it comes time for her to choose a suitor so as to keep peace between the clans of this ancient Scottish land. Merida, who is in no way trying to get married and settle down, or worse, become her mother, decides to break this tradition and carve out her own way. This leads to that lovely tagline we've been hearing since the marketing campaign ramped up, "If you had the chance to change your fate...would ya?" Merida certainly jumps at the chance and with plenty of old Scottish folklore thrown in and a strange witch voiced by Julie Walters to boot Brave turns into not just a heartfelt lesson of a movie but the darkest exploration of the human condition that Pixar has yet to produce.

Merida (Kelly Macdonald) follows the will-o-the-wisps
for a chance to change her fate.
Several critics have expressed their disenchantment with the film as it is definitely not Wall-E or Up but because Brave has the unfortunate spot of following up Cars 2 it seems that their jaded feelings with Pixar have not yet been resolved. Year after year the studio is expected to produce a masterpiece to join its rankings and though up to last year each of them at least explored such different areas of our world that it seemed almost impossible to compare any two. When that barrier of perfection was broken last year it gave people the sense that maybe Pixar wasn't exactly invincible and thus has resulted in several naysayers when it comes to Brave. The film, while not boasting as deep a lesson as Wall-E or conjuring up nostalgia like Toy Story 3 still does not deserve to be compared with these works because it functions, like every other Pixar film, within its own universe and on its own terms. Being only the third Pixar film to feature a cast of entirely humans we are transported to a place the animation studio has never taken us before with a lead character unlike any other they've allowed to front their films and delves into the mythology of a country that sets itself up perfectly for a wondrous story that will show the youngins in the audience why it is important to listen to their parents and why always doubting them can lead to things far worse than what their parents ask. On the other side it defends that childhood drive to make ones parents understand who they are, what they want to be and how they can't be pressured into the person their parents might have pre-expected them to turn into. In this case, everyone learns a valuable lesson and gains something from it. And while that is a tale as old as time, Brave puts a fresh enough twist on it while layering it with beautiful animation and lively characters to keep us oogling at the sights and laughing at the hijinks.

Lords MacGuffin, Macintosh, and Dingwall all have sons
competing for Merida's hand in marriage.
Not meaning to sound as if I am strictly defending the film, I would just like it to be made clear that Pixar's latest deserves just to be in the canon of films that have garnered the studio its reputation. It is a lovely film that doesn't stand to go past its limits and has a riotous bunch as a supporting cast that even out the dark and heavy with the light and comical. Billy Connolly as King Fergus is a riot as is the King and Queens three young triplets who are mischevious enough to keep the kiddies laughing and cute enough to keep the parents endured. They will likely fall into that roster of beloved side characters that enhance the memory of the film. Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, and Hagrid himself Robbie Coltrane all provide voices for the different clan leaders who are as quirky as they are brutal. The moments with the host of them and their armies battling it out verbally and physically with one another are those moments where Pixar shines in its use of comic timing while the small moments where Merida and her mother create a connection out of more than just one incident, but with an understanding between them of where each is coming from show the storytellers are as keen as ever at adapting the truth of human emotions in cartoons. That is why Pixar continues to prove itself again and again. Even with Brave, which will unfortunately be considered a lesser work, they have created what will no doubt not only be one of the best animated films of the year, but one of the best films period. I enjoyed it thoroughly and am anxious to see if it will become more appreciated with age. I certainly hope so, much like those myths of old Brave is a reflection of our own selves in a time of children growing up too fast and why that bond between parent and child is more important than ever.