Brave Review

Pixar’s Back! (mostly…)

Quick Note:  I’m going to keep this review short because I’m intending on posting a further rant about the past, future and present of Pixar soon which shall cover more of the minor issues I had with the film. Keep an eye out for it.

If there were three movies this year that had the most to live up to, those movies would be The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and Brave.  With these sorts of movies, hype can be quite the double edged sword in that it raises excitement for a movie and drives up box office numbers while at the same time setting the audience’s bar so high that they will likely judge it more harshly than other, less anticipated fare.  Up until 2010 Pixar had the seemingly unique ability to reliably exceed even the highest expectations year after year, reaching its height with Toy Story 3.  That movie’s critical and financial success, however, was followed up with the comparative failure on both accounts of last year’s Cars 2, and many began to wonder if Pixar had finally lost its spark after over a decade of film making.   Enter Brave.  The earliest trailers sought to set it apart by featuring Pixar’s first true female lead, and many regained hope that the animation studio’s star had not yet faded.  Now that the wait is over, I have a feeling that most of the audience will have ended up not with what they’d hoped for or feared but what they had honestly expected.  Brave is certainly a step in the right direction for Pixar and under most standards it would have measured up in nearly every way, but it never quite reaches the dizzying heights of the studio’s previous works.

Brave is in its essence a story of a rebellious child and her struggle between duty and freedom.  Merida (Kelley MacDonald) is the quintessential Tom girl who happens to be the daughter of the King and Queen of the Northern Kingdom of Scotland.  While the setting of medieval Scotland is uncharted territory in animation, the “rebellious princess” angle is a setup which has served as a tent pole for a great deal of Disney’s recent movies and in itself is enough to rob the movie of a great deal of the originality featured in movies like Up and Wall-E.  In any case, the story line itself starts out basic enough;  Merida is happily living life to the fullest until she finds out that she is to be betrothed to the firstborn son of one of the three other families that rule the kingdom.  Her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) is none too pleased at her resistance, having spent all of Merida’s life trying to turn her into a proper lady.  Long story short, Elinor and Merida’s disagreements boil over and Merida rides away into the woods.  Upon reaching a mysterious stone circle, Merida is led further into the woods by an etherial trail of “wisps” until she reaches a hovel inhabited by a zany old witch.  In exchange for her jeweled necklace, Merida asks for the witch for a spell that will change her mother and thus change her fate.  I won’t give anything away but from this point the story takes something of a twist from the usual princess tale until its somewhat Beauty and the Beast like finale.

I’m gonna go ahead and call it, Merida > Katnizz x1000

In general the movie is very well put-together and the tone effectively moves from dramatic to heartfelt to humorous with great ease.  On the dramatic end, the movie is dominated by the mother-daughter relationship of Merida and Elinor and between very strong voice acting and a relateable  source of conflict that particular dynamic of the movie holds up quite well.  It was definitely refreshing to see a “Disney Princess” movie which focused on the main character’s relationship with her mother rather than a love interest, and it’s that side of Brave which differentiates it from other similar family films.  On top of that though I doubt anyone will deny that the animation looks more gorgeous than ever.  From the scenery of the Scottish Highlands to every ripple in the water and every fiery strand of hair on Merida’s head there is an incredible attention to detail in every visual.  In particular though, one thing Pixar still manages better than any other studio is the ability to convey strong emotions through their computer generated characters, which is no easy feat by any means.  It’s that sort of life that Pixar has always brought to its characters, and come rain or shine that is something that isn’t likely to change any time soon.

The supporting characters are all fine and are mostly there for the occasional laugh and plot advancement.  All combined, though, the occasional laughs cover a great portion of the movie and should make it an enjoyable experience for even the most critical viewer.  Merida’s father Fergus (Bill Connelly) is perhaps a tad over the top at times, but he’s certainly more likable than not as the sympathetic father figure for Merida.  While it is ultimately Elinor who wears the pants when it comes to ruling the kingdom and disciplining Merida, Fergus’ character is more of a stereotypical “man of the house”, in this case “man” meaning dull-witted and macho but ultimately kind hearted.  While the humor offered by characters like Merida’s father and the other lords tends to be more on the slapstick end of the spectrum, it’s more similar to past Pixar humor than the obnoxiously overdone slapstick of movies like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Verdict:  8/10

Brave is a very well done movie which should prove to be a great fit for most age groups, yet it feels more on the level with Disney’s Tangled than any of Pixar’s Pre-2011 work.  The animation is pristine, the humor is abundant and the characters often manage to reach a point of emotional depth that we’ve come to expect from the studio which has given us some of best movies of the past decade, animated or not. Unfortunately, there are just enough things holding it back to prevent it from leaving the same impact as movie like Up or Finding Nemo or Toy Story 3.  While it was probably smart to go with a tried-and-true premise for their first post-Cars 2 project, I sincerely hope that in the future Pixar won’t become yet another sequel-based distributor like Dreamworks or Blue Sky just because studio executives want to play it safe.

About r361n4

I'm a student at the University of Washington Majoring Business. I've always loved movies and my goal is to work on the financial side of the film industry. Until then though, I figure I'll spare my friends from my opinions and shout them from a digital mountaintop for anyone who's interested. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody blogs about it, does it really happen?
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13 Responses to Brave Review

  1. ErikaAshley says:

    Great review. It was honest and to the point. I can’t wait to see the film.

  2. Shrey Khetarpal says:

    I am a little less enthusiastic about the film, as you read in my post already 🙂 good observations in your post as usual.

    • r361n4 says:

      Thanks Shrey, and I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic as I was optimistic about it. Sure it wasn’t a knockout, but it’s a sign that Pixar is progressing away from the blatant commercialism I was afraid they would fall into after they were acquired by disney

  3. Mark Walker says:

    Good review man. On the whole I’m hearing feeling of disappointment about this one.

    • r361n4 says:

      That definitely seems to be the general consensus, but when I went to see it I was actually happy with it overall. Its all about how high you set your expectations, and my bar was set at having Brave just be a significant improvement over Cars 2.

  4. CMrok93 says:

    Probably one of Pixar’s best-looking flicks, but not their best film at all. Has a great set-up, but then loses itself about half-way through and just got a little too kiddish for me. Then again, maybe some parents will like that and so will the kids, so who am I to judge? Good review.

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  6. duanesm says:

    Nicely done. I do think it’s a bit better than you are giving it credit for being, especially when compared to the other films of this year (“Madagascar 3” and “The Lorax”), and even in light of Pixar’s other films. In my ranking of their films, this is easily in my top 5. Superior in every way to “Wall•E” in particular, which had an amazing start and then fell apart with a preachy anti-consumer finale.

    Thanks for reading my review–I will be back to read more of yours!

    • r361n4 says:

      I definitely agree that it’s better compared to M3 and the Lorax (I reviewed M3 a few weeks ago and gave it a 7.5) but it’s not quite top 5 Pixar level for me. Mostly just for the lack of boldness with the premise, but it’s also possible I’m looking at some of the older Pixar movies through the rose colored glasses of nostalgia.

      Anyways I do think that Wall-E was weaker in its second half but I mostly love how sweet and powerful they managed to make a love story between two robots into.

  7. kimonoko says:

    I don’t often say this, but this was quite well-written; blogs often sport poor grammar and sentence structure, but yours most decidedly does not. This seems like a silly thing to compliment, but it’s such a rare feature these days and poorly written posts keep people like me away. So nice job, keep it up!

    I also dug your plug in the beginning for your future Pixar post. I’m anxious to give it a read, you seem like you have some solid insight to offer.

  8. db says:

    My one disappointment with Brave was its lack of layers. I was discussing this with one of my friends the other day and we both agreed that while we loved everything about the movie, the plot was weak. Pixar didn’t give the storyline nearly as much complexity and (sorry for the repetition) layering as it has managed to weave into its other, more successful movies. I’m sure there was a hidden message in there somewhere that could have spoken to older audiences, but I think it was lost in the literal interpretation of the spell (Pixar didn’t clearly communicate that the “mending of the bond” was accomplished by Merida’s apology, and not by the sewn up tapestry) and the cliché ending. I also had a problem with the pacing of the storyline — some transitions in between scenes, themes, etc. where too abrupt, and others were too tedious. But Brave was definitely a step in the right direction, as you said.

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