Pixar has been walking a thin line these past few years for two reasons – “Cars 2″ and their lack of female protagonists. “Brave” is long overdue, but it could not have arrived at a better time. This year has been loaded with kick-ass ladies and Princess Merida is a strong addition to that list. She’s the heroine we’ve all been yearning for – beautifully brave and strong-willed. The perfect role model for any girl. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the story.
“Brave” tells the tale of Merida (Kelly MacDonald), a tomboy princess who lusts for adventure and a different kind of life. Her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), is always raining on her parade, nagging her to behave like a sweet little princess and preparing her for the day when she’ll have to marry a distant cousin and be queen. But Merida’s desire to choose her own fate keeps her at odds with her regal mother. Her father, on the other hand, is King Fergus (Billy Connolly), a dimwit ruler who has a hard time controlling his kingdom. Still, he’s a likable man who supports his daughter’s adventurous spirit and gives her her first bow and arrow.
The first 30 minutes of this Pixar movie carry a lot of promise. Merida may be another Disney Princess, but she could care less about that title. She’s no damsel in distress. She’s her own hero and we see that right off the bat. Merida ventures into the wild side of Scotland and valiantly rides through the woods and countryside, shooting arrows at targets and climbing a colossal waterfall.
But then “Brave” takes a silly turn and becomes a goofy movie. All of the promise that was established in the first half-hour is squashed. We won’t reveal the plot twist since it has been kept under wraps in every single trailer and clip.
What the rest of the movie has to offer isn’t worthless, it’s just not as valuable. This isn’t truly Merida’s story. Had it been, it would have not gone in the direction that it did. “Brave” ends up being more about the strenuous relationship daughters have with their mothers than about female empowerment. And when everything does wrap up, it feels too easily put into place. However, Merida is still a great character, similar to “Tangled’s” Rapunzel and “The Little Mermaid’s” Ariel.
Visually, “Brave” is another triumph for Pixar. The ancient Scottish highlands look authentic and alive. It’s a captivating setting that sucks you right in. There’s so much attention to detail that the land becomes a character in the movie. Everything else also looks stunning, especially Merida’s wild red mane. There’s also some good humor in it, and kids will definitely be entertained by Merida’s troublesome triplet brothers, who share her distinguishable ginger traits.
“Brave” is not a bad movie. But coming from Pixar, it’s not very good. The biggest problem is the story, and that’s enough to keep it from being great. It’s impossible not to compare “Brave” to other Pixar movies. Sure, it’s the first of its kind, what with all the ancient fairy-tale stuff and a heroine at its core, but we can’t ignore that this is a Pixar movie. This is the studio that has given us “Toy Story,” “The Incredibles” and “Wall-E”. They took a chance with this movie and they came up short. Maybe the glory days are over after all.
Side Note: “Brave” is preceded by “La Luna”, a seven minute short by Academy Award nominee Enrico Casarosa. It is a charming story about individuality. The short is filled with creative visual gags, and the story is told through three expressive mute characters. It’s a sweet little appetizer. Please get to the theater with enough time to catch this little gem. You won’t regret it.