A true Pixar never puts its weapons on the table
Even if the audience really really wants them to.
Pixar has a reputation for creating heartwarming films perfect for movie night with the family, and once again succeed with their newest expedition, Brave. For what it is (a kid’s movie about a princess who learns to be thankful for what she has), Brave is perfection. Its animation unsurprisingly surpasses all previous Pixar titles. The irony of the picture is its failure to live up to its own namesake. The film’s early post-production stage promised a tale much darker than any Pixar story previously told. Some sequences of the movie, such as those featuring a demonic grizzly bear with futile spears and arrows sticking out of its back, are darker than the studio’s go-to bubbly atmosphere, but as a whole, Brave can by no means be considered ‘dark’. Pixar was afraid to produce a movie too far outside of their comfort zone. Brave may not boldly explore any new territory for Pixar, but with a studio of their quality, new ground is not exactly necessary.
Luckily the movie does produce one of the studio’s greatest achievements in character building. Our fearless hero Princess Merida (Kelly MacDonald), complete with her signature mane of 1,500 plus intricately animated curls(!), leads the movie to greatness with a triumphant war cry. In the movie’s opening scene, young Merida joins her parents, the unwaveringly strict queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and her husband slash character foil, doofus King Fergus (Billy Connolly) in a sunny forest clearing on her birthday. Young Merida, as energetic and bouncy as a five year old hopped up on sugar yet as adorable as one settling in for a nap, pounces into the forest after a willow-the-wisp, a flittering blue flame-like spirit fabled to bring whoever follows it to their fate. Merida pursues it in a loop back to the clearing, where her father presents her with a bow and arrows for her birthday gift. The celebration is interrupted by the aforementioned demon bear, the frightful monster Mor’du. Fergus fights the bear off, but not without the loss of his leg.
Years later, Merida is as rebellious as her unmanageable hair. Every day of her life is planned out by Elinor, who reprimands Merida for every unladylike act committed. “A princess does not put her weapon on the table,” was her catchphrase. But it was just her bow! Merida is able to cope with the restrictions until Elinor arranges for her to marry one of three disgusting bumbleheads from far away kingdoms. Furious at the thought of her mother controlling her fate, Merida upstages the three bachelors in an archery challenge, and flees deep into the woods. A wisp leads her to a witch’s shack, where Merida, caught in her emotions, wishes for a spell to change her fate. Unaware of the spell’s consequences, Merida feeds her mother a spell that turns her into a freaking bear!
Merida is a joy to watch, and seeing her mature across her emotional journey makes her that much more sympathetic. One of the best scenes of the film happens near the beginning, when wild Merida has a day off from her princess duties. Let loose in the woods, she releases bullseye after bullseye with her trusty bow (seriously though, what is cinema’s fascination with bow and arrows recently?), scales tall mountains without a blink of an eye, and quenches her thirst from cascading waters. So enjoyable is the princess that the movie’s resilient twinkle fades in the scenes where she is not front and center.
The movie is a story of a mother and daughter’s love for each other, as Merida helps mother bear escape the castle and guides her into the woods to hide. The two rekindle the carefree relationship they had when Merida was a wee child while Merida realizes her mistakes and matures into a brave leader. Like all Pixar movies, it is chock full of heartwarming scenes and adorable characters. I just wish it had focused less on cuteness and more on the dark tale they promised.
What you get with Brave is exactly what you would expect from Pixar; an excellent, heartwarming, visually beautiful kid’s film. It is not Pixar’s greatest achievement, but still stands as a charming and memorable picture. Slight disappointment stems from the fact that this movie could have been something we have never seen from Pixar before, but does an otherwise solid movie really warrant such complaints? Are you willing to pay the price your freedom (seeing this movie) will cost? You probably should be.