Brave (Movie Review)

Since ancient times, stories of epic battles and mystical legends have been passed through the generations across the rugged and mysterious Highlands of Scotland.  From Disney and Pixar, a new tale joins the lore when the courageous Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald) confronts tradition and challenges destiny to change her fate.  Brave follows the heroic journey of Merida, a skilled archer and headstrong daughter of King Fergus (voice of Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson). Determined to carve her own path in life, Merida defies an age-old custom sacred to the unruly and uproarious lords of the land: massive Lord MacGuffin (voice of Kevin McKidd), surly Lord Macintosh (voice of Craig Ferguson) and cantankerous Lord Dingwall (voice of Robbie Coltrane).  Merida’s actions inadvertently unleash chaos and fury in the kingdom, and when she turns to an eccentric Witch (voice of Julie Walters) for help, she is granted an ill-fated wish.  The ensuing peril forces Merida to harness all of her skills and resources – including her clever and mischievous triplet brothers – to undo a beastly curse before it’s too late, discovering the meaning of true bravery.  Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, Brave is a grand adventure full of heart, memorable characters and signature Pixar humor that audiences of all ages around the world have come to eagerly expect.


Pixar has had an almost unblemished record with only a few missteps which normally would have been more favorably received if the movies had been be released by anyone else but Pixar.  Their stellar reputation has become a double-edged sword for them which is frankly somewhat unfair even if it is understandable.  Brave is another example of a Pixar release that would is going to suffer from the high expectations place on it.  The movie is funny and gorgeous to look at, but the story is thin and one that we’ve seen many other times in other movies, some of them even from Disney itself.

Set in ancient Scotland, this tale revolves around the wild maned princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), whose exuberance for life and adventure is constantly kept in check by her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) and the expectations place upon her.  We watch Merida grow up through flashbacks and during one of them, we see her receive a bow and arrow from her father Fergus (Billy Connolly), much to her mother’s dismay.  When the family is attacked by a massive bear named Mor’du, Elinor and Merida escape to safety while Fergus battled the bear and ended up losing a leg to it in the process.  Not that that fact seems to bother Fergus in the least, in fact he later proclaims that part to be his favorite part of his oft-repeated tale of the battle.  That doesn’t mean he’s forgiven the bear though since he has vowed revenge as soon as the bear makes another appearance.

Time passes with no sign of Mor’du and eventually Fergus and Elinor decide to invite the other clans to join them to find a spouse for Meridia which makes her very unhappy which is understandable considering the choices she’s offered.  The sons from Lords Macintosh (Craig Ferguson), MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd), and Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane) aren’t the brightest, best behaved, or talented options to pick from which only make it even more infuriating to the independent Merida.  Merida learns that the winner of the competition of her choice will be the one to win her hand, Merida selects archery for the tournament and she competes for her own hand which makes her mother furious especially when Merida wins.  The two have a serious argument with neither listening to the other and Merida destroys part of a sewn tapestry that features their family while Elinor throws Merida’s bow into a fire.

In tears, Merida rides away on her horse Angus deep into the forest to escape her mother until she sees some Will O’ the Wisps flickering a trail to a cottage.  Entering the cottage, Merida quickly realizes that the occupant isn’t just the woodcarver that she claims to be, but that she’s also a witch.  Merida offers to buy all of the carved wood items in the shop in exchange for  a spell that will change her fate.  To do so, she will need to change her mother and Merida is given a tart to feed her mother that contains the magic spell.  When Elinor eats the tart, she immediately feels sick but that’s only the beginning as a bigger change is about to happen to her that will have serious ramifications for the family and put them all at risk.

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the movie but suffice it to say that Merida and her mother are put into a situation where they both are given the chance to listen to each other and learn where the other is coming from.  Merida realizes that she’s been very selfish while Elinor sees how much pressure and responsibility she’s placed on Merida’s shoulders over the years.  The movie also shows how even a troubled family can come together to help each other overcome the many challenges that arise.  Like most fairy tales, this one ends on a happy note with everyone learning some valuable lessons and becoming closer to another by surmounting their difficulties together.

Originally conceived as “The Bear and the Bow”, this movie was to herald a couple of firsts for Pixar – it would be the first fairy tale done by Pixar and it would also mark the first time one of their movies was directed by a woman, in this case by Brenda Chapman.  When Chapman was replaced by Mark Andrews due to “creative differences”, the movie itself also evolved into what eventually became Brave.  With an emphasis on a strong female lead, a lot of people believed the movie would stand apart from earlier releases like Tangled (originally title Rapunzel before it was changed to make it more enticing to guys), as Merida wouldn’t be a co-lead, but the actual lead character that the story revolves around.

I enjoyed the film a lot even though the last act of the movie handicaps what worked earlier in the movie.  What happens to Elinor feels like it’s from a different movie and changes the movie’s dynamics.  While it doesn’t completely derail the movie, it just doesn’t work and it hurts the movie.  The first half of the movie is filled with a lot of humor that’s a mix of slapstick , sight gags, and some great line readings from the cast.  Merida’s three young avaricious brothers also add a lot of fun to the movie too.  This movie could have been an out and out comedy if they hadn’t tacked on the mystical ending to it which doesn’t fit.

Seeing Pixar/Disney attempt to take one of their princess stories a new direction was exciting but unfortunately, despite the film’s strong start, by the last act, the movie reverses back to a traditional Disney movie princess movie that fits in perfectly with earlier Disney classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Even the whole concept of a witch offering some magic that will have a less than desirable effect is straight out of Snow White.  With Pixar’s mandate for crafting compelling stories, I’m not sure what happened this time.  The film feels disjointed which perhaps makes sense due to the changing of directors but those kind of changes have happened before at Pixar with no discernible ill effects.

This film feels more like a DreamWorks release than a Pixar one with the exception of the lush visuals.  The 3D in this movie looks great and the characters look simply amazing.  Merida’s cascading red curly locks seem like a character in itself and it’s the most realistic I’ve seen hair rendered.  The wilds of Scotland also look fantastic as does the rest of the production design.   It’s those kind of  touches that will remind the viewer that this is a Pixar movie even if the story does not.

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