Pixar’s time in the film spotlight has never produced a movie quite like Brave. This new venture may be a celebration of their committed relationship with Disney: a film about a princess. But this is like no other princess-centric film before. There’s no romantic love story. She’s not happy about having to dress up, ever. And it’s more of a legend than fairy tale.
Princess Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald) is a wild and free Scottish girl who hates being a princess. All the lessons and traditions her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) pushes onto her are boring and not at all what she wants in life. She lives for days where she can ride her horse, Angus, through the glen, shooting arrows at targets she’s hung from trees and climbing steep cliffs to drink from mythical waterfalls. Yeah, she’s pretty awesome. In a prideful attempt to stop her betrothal, Merida accidentally offends the three clans who have traveled from afar to win her hand.
Rather than talk to her mother and explain that she’s not ready for marriage, she tries to take matters into her own hands. She is led by the wisps (little blue spirits that look like flames) to a witch (who looks like a stock image Pixar character, remember the guy who fixes up Woody in Toy Story 2? or that old man in a short who plays chess for his own teeth? She looks like that, with less teeth, different hair and a little waddling hunchback.) She asks for a spell that will change her mother, surely that will change her fate.
I think the team at Pixar has been studying the old Disney princess movies, taken that basic formula and turned it into something better than ever before. For the first time, we have a rough and tough princess who doesn’t want anything to do with love, romance or marriage. She still has something she wants to break free from, but she sees her main obstacle as her mother. This is a perfect flaw, every mother-daughter relationship has some strain, especially daughters who’d rather not follow their mother’s lead. Mix in some magic, mo’ magic leads to mo’ problems, and by the end, mother and daughter have grown closer and mended the kingdom.
Besides Merida, her mother and a jiggly woman who screams, we have a cast of two dimensional manly men. Entire tribes can be described with grunting, cheering with spears in the air, and bagpipes blaring. The three little brothers are silent helpers and comedic mischief makers. Merida’s father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), shows more emotion and love for his family in his core, but still has a tough exterior made mostly of excess testosterone and tales of how he lost his leg to a legendary bear. We get the idea that nothing but a pissing contest gets done without a woman around.
Over the summer, I made a few Oscar predictions for Brave. From the start, I believed it was an obvious contender for best animated feature and up until last week was sure Touch the Sky would be up for original song. Only half my predictions came true and I still believe Brave has a good chance of winning animated feature, as Pixar has only lost the award once. But who knows, Wreck-It Ralph and Frankenweenie are fantastic films, some of the best ever put out by Disney without the aid of Pixar.
Overall, Brave is a great princess movie, but not the best Pixar movie. It certainly outdoes anything Disney ever tried on their own, but seems to sell itself short on originality and colorful characters, (but not nearly as short as Cars 2). Still, Pixar has set the highest bar for animated films and they are still doing what they do well. Brave is a fun, smart movie full of girl power, spunk and bravery. It makes for the perfect mother-daughter film.
“I don’t want to get married, I want to stay single and let my hair flow in the wind as I ride through the glen firing arrows into the sunset!”