Jun. 20, 2012 - Issue #870: Food Trucks
Brave stands up to Pixar's storytelling benchmark, but makes a few concessions
Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
Given Pixar's long lead time, it's quite probable that Brave was the first film to be shepherded entirely through a fully Disneytized system (Mickey Mouse acquired his long-time partner in 2006). Certainly, at any rate, it's the first Pixar film that feels like a true Disney property, from the addition of a red-maned free spirt with a burbling Scottish brogue to the princes canon, to the freewheeling comic relief, which extends far past Pixar's emotionally centred gallery.
To back up: Brave follows Merida (Kelly Macdonald), the strong-willed daughter of the man who united the Scottish clans, as she begins to have to shoulder the burdens of her birthright. A crack shot with a bow who'd much rather be tearing across the Scottish wilderness—the sequences of her tearing through the forest primeval are some of the best action shots Pixar has done, and the vistas could be copied wholesale from time-travelling Scotch tourist literature—than wrapping herself into a dress, she's nevertheless forced to choose among the less-than-stellar sons of the other clans. At least, as is the modern way, until she takes matters into her own hands.
Much has been made of Merida as Pixar's first female heroine, though that may have more to do with the fact, save Cars 2's blithering stupidity, there hasn't been scads to critique Pixar for in the last 17 years. But Pixar deserves credit here for not taking the easy out: though there's an obvious current of "girls can do anything boys can do better," it's quickly swallowed in a much more mature (and fittingly Pixarish) message about the difficulty but necessity of responsibility. Without giving too much away, Merida's supernatural attempt to maintain an entirely free spirit backfires spectacularly, and the only way to keep both her family and her country together is to find a way to marry her desires with her duties.
That's a big idea for a kid's flick, but in pure Pixar fashion, it's woven in skillfully enough that it's never didactic. That comes both in the form of some ripping action sequences—one involving a demon bear in a long-abandoned castle positively wraps itself around your throat—and ample amounts of comedy in the form of Merida's buffoonish father and her rascally brothers. Though they're plenty funny, they're nevertheless a little bit lacking: aside from the glancing relation to the family plot, there's no real emotion in the humour, just antics.
That's hardly the end of the world—and I for one will never get tired of jokes mocking the Scottish, ahem, dialect—and Brave might still be the finest family film to come out this year despite it, but from a studio that can mine pathos from a dimwitted talking dog or the moribund citizens of a lifelong space cruise, the flatness of the ensemble is at least a little disappointing. At its best, Pixar sacrifices none of humour, wisdom and emotional pull; though Merida's journey manages to be as rich and full as her remarkable red hair, the rest of the film can't quite keep up with her rushes through the woods into adulthood.
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