Directed by: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
Starring (Voices): Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson
Review: When Pixar began its incredible run in 1994 with ‘Toy Story,’ they had figured out something that the rest of the animated film world hadn’t (or at least the rest this side of ‘The Iron Giant’). While animated films are aimed at children, they don’t have to be averse to adults. In fact, they could almost be aimed at adults but still get kids to like them simply due to their medium.
This “formula” was put to excellent use on movies like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. “Formula” is a bit of a nebulous word as there was really no equation that Pixar used to create these films. They simply treated them as anybody wanting to make a great film should. If you take your subject matter seriously, focus on good story and good characters, then everything else will fall into place.
There are certainly areas where you can add in a little slapstick for the kids, but everything else is rooted in the real world. Toy Story is about dealing with change and what happens when you grow older. Finding Nemo is about overcoming your fears and letting go, even if it’s just a little. And The Incredibles is about learning how to be a family and respect how each member is unique. Even the Oscar campaign for last year’s Toy Story 3 showed similarities between it and great live-action movies of the past.
“Animated movie” and “great movie” no longer have to be mutually exclusive. For the longest time Pixar seemed to be the only production company to understand this. People talked about the “Pixar magic” these movies had that allowed them to be gigantic blockbusters. There was no magic. Simply excellent storytelling.
Eventually the rest of the world has caught up to Pixar. Movies like the recent ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ and others have shown that studios finally understand that being an animated movie doesn’t mean you can’t take your ideas seriously. It says something that both my 3-year-old niece and myself have an equal and unbridled love for that movie.
Perhaps it’s for this reason that ‘Brave’ seemed a little less special than it otherwise might have. Ten years ago this would have been a revolutionary film. But 10 years ago we didn’t have Finding Nemo, Toy Story 3, The Incredibles, How to Train Your Dragon, Tangled, and Coraline.
Disney has had a long history of the female protagonist, and ‘Brave’ marks Pixar’s first foray into that world. As a princess, Merida (Macdonald) fits the mold. She is a plucky, resourceful, young woman who wants to buck the trend and blaze her own path. A noble pursuit to be sure, nonetheless one we’ve seen done many times before.
The unique twist in this story isn’t in the young woman being upset with her mother for sheltering her form the harshness of the world, or from her wishing her mother went away, or from actually getting that wish granted. It comes from how it was granted. In this case, by turning her mother into the very thing her father and her nation hates the most, a bear.
The rest of the story concerns Merida’s attempt at reverting her mother back to human form so her family can return back to normal, all the while learning that she appreciates her family and mother for what they are. This journey is, of course, filled with the usual tropes of realization that come with such an adventure.
It’s a credit to Pixar that such a good film is unremarkable. I also don’t necessarily view this as a step backwards for Pixar (at least not in the same vein of a Cars 2). What I see here is ‘Brave’ and thereby Pixar being victims of their own success.
Pixar has changed the animated movie game and raised the level of their competition so much that we come to expect just as much out of non-live action fare as we do everything else. Many other countries reached this point years ago, but it seems we’re finally coming around to it in America.
While the movie might be just a tad bit too scary for the young ones (my niece kept telling me about the “big bad bear!” and at times shielded her face), it is enjoyable with a solid message. The queen becoming transformed and therefore transforming her daughter was a slightly unique twist, but the rest of the movie was pretty much what we’ve seen before.
That said, there is still enough Pixar magic here to make this film worth your time.