It’s all too easy to overlook Pixar as a brand under the Disney umbrella, but it is. With Brave, Pixar’s first original material since 2009’s UP, they have released their most Disney toned film to date especially when viewed in parallel with the Princess brand. The princess in Brave is Mérida, a hot-headed teenage princess in 10th century Scottish Highlands who only wants to live her life as she wishes, entirely conflicting with her mother who wants her daughter to be the princess, it does develop to incorporate more fantastical elements in the latter half, but just like the trailer avoided adding substance to those plot details so to will this review.
Although it is about a princess, Brave is the antithesis to the genres principal conventions. Mérida joins Belle (Beauty & the Beast) as someone who cherishes her independence. If this was the common ground princess movie, Mérida would more than likely fall in love with the first man who paid her any attention. It’s only at the constant demand of her mother that the central plot device of the film is introduced. As the daughter of this Scottish regions royal family, she has finally come of age where she has her future suitor and husband picked out by her parents.
The whole film is a rebellion against inheritance, more interesting than that Brave is about the fractured relationship between a mother and daughter. Furthermore, Brave is about the bridge point between being a teenager and an adult and the stony stubbornness that comes from the generational gap. That conflict brings two of the many great scenes in the film. The first is when the Queen and Mérida are complaining to the King and Mérida to her horse Angus about how their opposite never listens to them. It’s cut together in such a way that they seem to be speaking to each other. The second is the moment when Mérida briefly concedes defeat and dresses up for the ceremony and competition to decide who gets her hand. There’s a moment in the animation, where the Queens body language implies she regrets making her daughter compromise her identity, even with the stray bit of hair poking out of Merida’s dress, a rebellion to the end.
As the previous paragraph suggests, there are details that make Pixar’s latest stand out from the crowd. Even so, there are certain things that the film must do to satisfy certain genre expectations and it’s that which provides the glass ceiling for this story. Brave is the peak, beside the aforementioned Beauty & the Beast, for what this type of animated film can achieve.
Less penned in are the cast and the animation. The cast is mostly made of British actors, with Kelly Macdonald (Mérida), Billy Connolly (King Fergus) and Emma Thompson (Queen Elinor), who all offer a geographical authenticity as well as a the usual high standard one might expect with such classy actors. That same endeavour is extended to the supporting cast with roles for Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd Craig Ferguson and even a role for the running Pixar gag of casting John Ratzenberger in every film.
That same geographic authenticity is carried off in the animation. Before that, however, every Pixar film is known for some technological advance, Monsters Inc. was fur, Finding Nemo was water and Ratatouille was animal movement. In Brave it’s the hair of Mérida, all wild, unruly and chaotic, there are many moments throughout where it looks photo real. Additionally, while maybe not as much of a technological achievement, the woodland in the Scottish Highland that the animators and artists chose to recreate is beautiful, the detail and depth of image is almost like getting lost in the woods yourself. Brave like most of the studios work is beautiful to observe.
Critical analysis aside, the unavoidable question remains as to whether this is a return to form after the misguided creation that was Cars 2. The simple answer is yes. Brave takes the same approach that the wildly revered studio is known for; it takes a story that has been seen before countless times and through their stern application of ‘films for the family’, they have given the world another first-rate picture. It does have characters that are there for comic relief and the story’s conclusion is as tried and tested as the genre itself, however at its heart Brave is a heart-warming and kind-hearted film that never fails to entertain.
Even if it is one of the lesser films within the Pixar stable, Brave is a resounding return to form and one of the very few sure-fire hits of the summer.