First off; I love Pixar. I love everything from their writing to their design to their music to their art to their cast to their themes to theirblahblahblahfanboyrantblah. For me, Pixar is the perfect Grandad. Not visiting nauseatingly often, but when he arrives he comes bearing gifts of fantastic character development, flawless animation and enough gold to make Xerxes blush. He also wears converse, because he’s awesome.
I thought it’d be fair to preface this entire ‘review’ with that label, if only to justify my impending gushing. With that said, don’t think I’ll shy away from confronting any of Brave‘s flaws. The flaws are, after all, the big animated elephant in the beautifully upholstered room.
Let me just clear up that Brave is, par the Pixar course, visually stunning. I’ve played plenty of videogames and thus have taken many a trip to the uncanny-valley, and it’s never pretty. Far too many animation studios walk the rickety line between surrealism and photorealism without understanding the impact on the audience. Pixar understands this better than anyone, and instead of striding for something physically “relatable”, they present exaggerated yet lovable imagery. The aesthetic design is vintage Pixar. Expressive, lovable character designs coupled with a fun, vibrant colour palette makes the whole production extra purty. Set in tribal Scotland with all the castles and hilly vistas you’d expect, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Scottish tourism trade gets a kick up the arse from holidaying parents at the whim of their DisneyKids. It might be a good move to establish some kind of Scotland-themed Disneyland ride. All you need is a castle, some mud, some rain, and just a pinch of racism.
The tale boosts off with a fantastic first act full of all the whimsey and all the wit you’d expect from Grandaddy Pixar, which flows brilliantly into Merida’s moment of rebellion, when the writers flex their muscles and the composition starts to shine. It introducing a series of interesting characters with and equally compelling voice cast. At the helm of Brave‘s bonnie cast sits Merida, a tomboyish princess as brave as she is… Uh… Scottish. As cliche as “tomboy female protagonist” is, she never strays into formulaic territory. The writing combined with Kelly MacDonald’s dulcet tones really sell Merida’s plight, and holy shit the technology for her hair animation must’ve been half the budget.
Merida’s joined by a host of Britain’s finest including Emma Thompson, channeling her very best bonnie lass as overbearing mother Elinor, and the Brian Blessed of the Glen, Billy Connolly, playing Fergus – loving father/fierce warrior/amputee extraordinaire. These two represent the conflicting paths that Merida is faced with: Whether to conform to her Mother’s ideals of ladylike demeanor and tradition, or to live her life on her own accord, independent and free to make her own destiny. It’s a classic storyline, but here it’s handled elegantly enough to carry weight to set the stakes. Also, can I just mention how incredibly refreshing it is to have a female protagonist with an overbearing mother? The misogynistic father cliche is the deadest of beaten horses. Thanks Pixar.
The writing is a solid as ever, with some of the funniest lines I’ve heard all year, rivaling a certain plush toy. It’s not all fun and games though kiddies, and when Brave puts on its serious hat and does serious business, it does it elegantly. The script is accessible from a younger age, but the themes at play hold the attention of anyone and everyone. The voicing highlight for me was of course B. Conn, but a lot of the best lines sprouted from the potential suitors, with my favourite being a traditional “teen heartthrob” pastiche that flexes to the women and then has a hissy-fit when he fails at archery. There’s some solid physical comedy provided by Merida’s 3 younger brothers, who I’ll wager will be getting their own short some time in the future ala. Jack-Jack Attack. Jack-Jack Attack was great. Go watch Jack-Jack Attack.
Okay. Here comes the awkward part. The turd in the birthday cake. The toothless grin. The hairless cat. The strange analogy. The 18 year-old blogger with a frankly shocking amount of time on his hands, wearing pajama bottoms at 4pm. Here we go. *sigh*
I’d say that the film’s considerably less ambitious than previous projects from Grandpappa Pix. Both thematically and geographically. Brave lacks the kind of scale I’ve come to expect from Pixar productions, and focuses on a smaller, more intimate scope. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as minimalistic setting and cast setups can help focus and refine a film, especially one with a young target audience. However, whilst the smaller themes and tempered world development works on paper, it falls down in the execution. The geography feels less “focused and linear” (eg. this mofo) and more “underdeveloped”. A number of tertiary characters, such as Merida’s potential suitors and their clans, feel a little rushed and token. Also, the absence of any real antagonist sort of kills the pace later on, with the 2nd and 3rd act sort of blending together in an entertaining, but messy clash of characters with an utter lack of exposition.
If I’m entirely honest the entire production feels considerably more ‘Disney’ than ‘Pixar’, but let it be known that the good drastically outways the bad. Oldman Pixo still has a few tricks up his sleeve, and although elements of Brave don’t entirely gel it’s still ridiculously enjoyable, with all the fantastic writing and Scottish gallivanting you could ever want, and I promise that you’ll be seeing these little fellas on every lunchbox in every school. It also includes my favourite Pixar short to date, “La Luna”, which is worth the admission price alone.
Extremely entertaining, but not quite as Brave as what you might expect.