An enjoyable adventure that isn’t brave enough to be more bolder.
Though ‘Cars 2’ was a definite misstep that tainted their winning streak a little bit, there’s no denying the fact that Pixar is one of the greatest storytellers in the industry and has consistently provided us with iconic animated films that cater not only to kids but adults equally. So after an utterly mediocre film like ‘Cars 2’, ‘Brave’ should come as a relief to those who wondered whether the studio will ever make original stories anymore.
And the first half of ‘Brave’ is true to its title – it’s a brave story that has a strong female protagonist with great humor and a strong set-up. Too bad its name becomes ironic in the second half where it takes a very tame and uninteresting turn towards being a standard Disney film more than a Pixar adventure which is enjoyable but unsatisfying.
Set in Highlands of Scotland, the film follows King Fergus (voice of Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson) and their adventurous daughter Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald) who is one of the best archers in the kingdom. But when Elinor decides to call in suitors from three kingdoms to fight out for her hand in marriage, Merida vehemently disagrees and decides to run away to find a magical way to change her mother’s mind about it. But her plan backfires in the oddest of ways, leaving her and Elinor on an adventure to bond together while repairing the damage that has been done.
‘Brave’ is a Pixar film that would be closely scrutinized for a number of reasons. First, it is following up on Pixar’s first dud ‘Cars 2’ which was faced with negative reviews and an overall disappointing reaction from fans and critics alike. Everyone is watching ‘Brave’ closely to see whether the decline in quality was just a one-off or a pattern, but the more important reason is that this is the first Pixar movie to have a strong female protagonist instead of a male one. The people from the first camp will be happy to know that ‘Brave’ is a huge step up from ‘Cars 2’. It has a great story to tell in its first half, has a very fleshed out female character and the humor feels like a Pixar film.
The film begins on a visually fantastic note as we are shown the beautiful landscape that the story is set in and are introduced to the world. Though somewhat similar to DreamWorks’ ‘How to Train Your Dragon’, ‘Brave’ has a Scottish landscape with great art design and a sense of adventure to it. The pacing here is brisk and there are some funny laugh out loud moments with some of the characters including the goofy fathers and the hilarious three kids. The first half of the film is genuinely enjoyable and it’s hard to fault anything here, because it does show a lot of promise and hints at a great adventure that’s waiting to happen. The only problem with the film is that it’s never brave enough to follow through with the adventure it promises but instead settles on a tame and generic Disney-esque plot which is enjoyable on the basic level but definitely ends up disappointing.
Maybe the reason is the creative mess-up that happened with the movie while in production. Brenda Chapman, who has story credit on previous Disney films like ‘The Lion King’, was the director of ‘Brave’ until she was fired midway through the production following ‘creative disagreements’ and was replaced by Mark Andrews. It was ironic that a female director was removed to make way for a male one, considering female empowerment is one of the themes of the film. But while watching the film, the shift in the tone is pretty obvious at a particular moment where a spell gone wrong changes one of the main characters into something else. The moment that arrives, it’s startling because you don’t see it coming and not in the good way. Soon enough, the film ditches its epic adventure vibe that had been set up before and becomes more of a lighthearted variation on Disney’s own ‘The Princess and the Frog’. It’s just disappointing to see a promising adventure end up becoming a generic Disney movie at this point.
That’s not to say that it isn’t enjoyable – there’s a mother and daughter relationship here that’s explored and is emotionally strong by the time it reaches its conclusion. There is a lot of humor in this half, even though the pacing dramatically falls because it’s pretty light on plot compared to the first half. The final scenes are strong and actually do feel like a Pixar film by then, but it’s too late because the things before it are standard issue Disney. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s only disappointing because the film never fulfills its promise and takes a safer direction. For example, Merida’s brilliant archery skills are a huge point in the first half and especially in the marketing of the film, but in the end have almost nothing to do with how the story unfolds or gets resolved. The whole ‘change your fate’ angle would lead you to believe that an epic adventure is incoming, but nothing in the second half relates to that promise even though the film ends on that line. Most of all, there’s nothing that ‘brave’ about what happens and is pretty much easily predictable. Too bad, because the first half was.
The animation here is fantastic and a Pixar movie has never looked this good with its lush landscapes and detailed character animations. Voice acting is as always top-notch with talented actors like Kelly McDonald and Emma Thompson and the fact that they actually maintain a Scottish accent throughout makes it all the more authentic. The soundtrack is especially sweeping and epic, perhaps more than what the movie is at the end.
‘Brave’ is a return to form by Pixar compared to their misfire ‘Cars 2’, but still falls short of the greatness they’re known for thanks to a second half that isn’t brave enough to break out of the Disney story structure. The studio has definitely proved that they can handle a female protagonist just as well as a male one, but I just hope it was in a movie that stayed more truer to its title.