For a movie that comes from an animation film studio that brought us ground-breaking films like The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008) and Up (2009), Pixar Animation Studios’ Brave is just a touch disappointing.
Although it features gorgeous 3D visuals, powered by Pixar’s recently rewritten animation system, the film’s narrative plays it far too safe and conventional for a studio that is known for covering brave new ground. While the film is good on the whole and has plenty of heart, it resorts to many fairytale clichés and isn’t as imaginative as it promised.
The film is set in a Scottish kingdom called DunBroch, where we are introduced to Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) and her impressive archery skills. During a hunting trip with her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and her father King Fergus (Billy Connolly), Merida’s family is attacked by a powerful bear named Mor’du. The royals barely escape, but not without the king losing his leg.
Later, Merida is approached by bumbling royal suitors for her hand in marriage, which leaves her less than happy. And soon Merida’s tomboyish ways land her in trouble with her mother. When she tries to repair the relationship, things get worse, and she unwisely feeds her mother a magical tart given by a witch (Julie Walters) that, to her shock, turns the queen into a bear. Looking to undo the spell, Merida learns that the only way to return her mother to her human state is to repair the bond between them. Meanwhile, there is more drama when her father mistakenly believes that his wife was killed by the bear that Elinor has become.
Brave is top notch in terms of production value. Aside from the visual eye candy, featuring beautiful Scottish locales, the film has a fine soundtrack and is backed by some exceptionally good voice acting. It is a pity that the talented cast didn’t have a better script to work with which, among other shortcomings, lacks subtlety in its social message for mothers and daughters to share a stronger bond. The film also makes many references to Mel Gibson’s academy award-winning historical epic Braveheart, which regrettably are as humourless as they are plentiful.
Having said that, it is heartening to see another animated film, after Disney’s Mulan (1998), star a strong female lead character that is intelligent, strong-willed and endearing at the same time. And while Brave doesn’t fly quite as seamlessly as Merida’s arrows, it still manages to hit the target well enough to be worth viewing.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 1st, 2012.