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‘Brave’ is middling effort in the Pixar canon

Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Written by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
USA, 2012

2012 has undoubtedly been the year of the strong female heroine in cinema. Brave has followed suit in keeping up with the trend after The Hunger Games and Snow White and the Huntsmen both killed at the box-office, each riding high on the oppressed perception of their female leads. While those two titles didn’t particularly work for me for a multitude of reasons, Pixar’s latest has at least a firm backbone in terms of what it wants to say. It’s easily the least convoluted of the three, as those before it were either tonally awkward or misguided on numerous levels.

This isn’t to say that Brave doesn’t have its fair share of problems, quite the contrary; it’s perfectly competent on a visual level, but it consistently shies away from offering the expected pedigree that has made its studio so successful in the past. For all of its misgivings and missed opportunities, Brave does embody a big heart; something that Pixar is all too good at employing. We follow Merida, appropriately voice by Kelly Macdonald as the young princess, strung together by her curly red locks and affinity for archery. She’s a swift and shifty young one, consistently scowled upon by her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) for having little interest in traditional feminine royalty. Merida’s father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) encourages her adventurous side, but is often sidetracked by telling old battle stories. The film’s first act mainly deals with the on-goings of Merida’s stunted destiny as her defying mother tries to wed her off to the most appropriate suitor. It’s agreeable to a certain extent, but the script, penned by various writers, is casually content with its preordained sense of “been there done that.”

What comes into focus and ends up being the film’s awkward saving grace was not let on by the trailers or marketing campaign. Once Brave veers off into this surprisingly odd stretch, the film manages to conjure up the heartfelt sincerity it was after all along. Unfortunately, it’s not enough, as the lack of creativity and enchantment outweigh Merida’s journey to undo all of the cursed chaos manifesting itself throughout the land. In some respects, it’s admirable that Brave sticks to its guns in delivering a streamlined portrait of female identity in the face of uncharted peril, but it’s far too satisfied with being ordinary, that’s not the Pixar I know; there’s little trace of true discovery and playfulness here, even the humor seems oversimplified. Most of the laughs come from Merida’s troublesome trio of younger brothers, causing mischief and hilariously aiding her in one of the film’s few notable sequences. We’ll see where Pixar goes from here, as they’re obviously in a down period after Toy Story 3. Trust me, you could do far worse than Brave this summer, but something tells me it won’t even be in the conversation at the end of the year in terms of the best animated offerings.

– Ty Landis