Brave Review By Adam
Everyone’s favourite movie house, Pixar, is back with its latest film Brave. Brave is a visual marvel and has heart in spades. It even shakes up the Pixar formula by featuring their first female protagonist, the defiant and shock haired Merida (Kelly Macdonald). While Brave is a mile ahead of other animated features hitting our screens, it does feel like a lesser Pixar work. Despite its spectacular facade, it has an inconsistent tone and a slightly muddled message. These elements ground Brave whereas other Pixar films soared.
Brave follows the struggles of headstrong princess Merida (Macdonald) who lives in the Scottish kingdom of DunBroch. Merida is an unrepentant tomboy who longs to join the warrior ranks of her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly). Merida’s ambitions are in direct conflict with her hyper-critical mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who wishes to feminise Merida and find her a suitor. Merida’s maternal conflict comes to a head when the neighbouring Scottish clans converge on DunBroch, each one vying for Merida’s hand in marriage. Merida refuses to accept her fate and sets in motion a series of events that will divide her family and shake her entire kingdom.
Brave is a stunning technological achievement. In 3D, the film has a panoramic effect that is all-enveloping and truly eye-watering. When Brave’s visual grandeur gels with Patrick Doyle’s transcendent score, the effect is transportive. Brave also features the inventive action elements that have become a trademark for Pixar; Merida has three younger brothers, whose inventive mischief provides the majority of the film’s comedic relief. Also impressive is the way Merida explores her lush surrounds with true abandon; she gallops through glens and fires her bow with stunning accuracy. Directors Mark Andrews and Belinda Chapman effortlessly convey the dichotomy between Merida’s adventurous streak and the restrictive nature of her home life. Like most Pixar films before it, Brave employs an exaggerated aesthetic for its characters: men are barrel-chested with ornate facial hair and the women are slender-waisted and have huge, emotive eyes. Far and away, the most impressive feat of this style is Merida’s hair. In a film full of unnatural elements, her hair appears stunningly real, her red curls bobbing and moving with eerily realistic physics.
The voice acting in Brave is superb. Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire) is a powerful actress and her phenomenal voice work makes sure that Merida is a classic Disney heroine. It’s of small surprise that Billy Connolly is warm and gregarious as King Fergus – the man might just have the definitive Scottish brogue. Emma Thompson brings her usual elegance and authority to Brave. Her character is the most transformative in Brave and Thompson covers a wide variety of emotional ground.
While Brave’s technical credentials are beyond question, its story (by co-director Belinda Chapman) isn’t a homerun. This film is a departure for Pixar as it is their first fairy tale. This combination of traditional storytelling and modern visual sheen should have resulted in a no-brainer, but unfortunately in Brave these elements do not gel. Brave’s representation of Scotland is breathtaking and beyond reproach, but tonally, Brave screws up. The first half of this film is set in a ‘real world’, after which it takes a fantastical turn around the midway point that drops you out of this film. By the time you are recalibrated to Brave’s new form, you have lost your investment from its masterful first act.
Also confusing is Brave’s moral. Pixar’s greatest strength is identifying a universal emotion and forging it into a narrative; we empathised with WALL-E not because he is ‘cute’, but because he is lonely and searches for love. At first it seems that Brave will be Pixar’s ‘feminist film’. Merida is told that she has her place and she must not buck tradition. I assumed that somehow the men of Brave would become incapacitated and Merida would show her mother that women are every bit as capable as men. Alas, this is not what happens in this film. I don’t want to give away the plot, but this film becomes more about compromise than changing your fate. I’m not sure who is to blame for the inconsistencies in Brave’s storytelling as writer/director Belinda Chapman was fired during the film production due to ‘creative differences’. Brave is being touted as a feminist event — in front of and behind the camera — but with her redundancy and a muddled message, I think Brave isn’t as empowering as it could be. It’s a shame that Brave fumbles in the story department because story is usually Pixar’s strongest element.
Brave’s greatest weakness is Pixar itself. The studio (with a few exceptions) has crafted some of modern cinema’s greatest films. I believe WALLE-E, Ratatouille, Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles are bona fide masterpieces and will have the longevity of Disney’s 2D classics. With that kind of track record, Pixar films have become cinematic events. I went to see Brave without witnessing any of its advertising – I didn’t need to, I knew it would be good, sight unseen. That kind of unwavering commitment is dangerous and I’d be remiss not to address the effect my expectations had on this film. Make no mistake about it, Brave is a very good film, it’s just not a very good Pixar film. Despite my (minor) criticisms, I highly recommend Brave, especially in 3D. I would just suggest that you temper your expectations before the lights go down.