Film Review: “Brave”

by Jason LeRoy on June 22, 2012

featuring the voices of: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd

written by: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi

directed by: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell

MPAA: Rated PG for some scary action and rude humor

This has been a rough week for the ladies. Reproductive rights continue to be under assault. Former comedian and one-time Loveline cohost Adam Carolla successfully used the “women aren’t funny” argument to score major publicity for himself. And now the magicians at Pixar have released their very first female-driven animated feature, Brave — and, shockingly, it’s a dud. This will come as alarming news to the millions of fans around the world who believed Pixar to be infallible (Cars and its sequel notwithstanding). After a remarkably long string of culture-shaping masterworks, it is quite unfortunate that Brave had to be their first misfire. While it boasts some of the most gorgeous animation we’ve yet seen and a strong voice cast, it is neither funny, moving, nor magical enough to be worthy of the Pixar name.

In this conventional Disney princess story masquerading as a feminist Scottish folk tale, Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is the feisty and spirited daughter of royal parents Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Elinor (Emma Thompson). She is an outdoorsy gal who loves adventure and chafes against Elinor’s attempts to make her a proper young lady. But when Merida discovers that her parents are preparing to marry her off to a young heir from one of three surrounding kingdoms, she consorts with a witch (Julie Walters) to change her mother’s mind. Unsurprisingly, the spell goes awry.

And…that’s it. If you’re expecting that added element of Pixar’s trademark transcendence, you will be disappointed. This is as simple and straightforward a princess fable as you are likely to encounter. It should be leagues above Tangled, and yet it isn’t. The fault lies entirely with the script, since the film is still very much a technical marvel. Upon researching the creative team responsible for writing and directing Brave, it is not surprising to discover that the only previous Pixar effort on their resumes is Cars.

If one were forced to praise the story, I suppose it can be commended for not saddling Merida with a Prince Charming. Each suitor is more ridiculous than the last, and the male characters spend the majority of the film locked in a giant room, battling each other in silly miniature wars of ego and aggression. The plot’s focus is overwhelmingly on the mother-daughter relationship between Elinor and Merida, which could have been revolutionary if they’d done something smarter with it. Pixar films can usually be depended upon for refreshingly progressive and unexpected morals, or at least morals somehow rooted in the inclusive Bay Area culture from which they spring. Not so with Brave. Merida is punished for rebelling against her mother and made to feel overwhelmingly guilty before the film finally and lamely settles on a “We’ve both learned something from this experience” resolution.

Frankly, Merida isn’t even much of a heroine. Yes, she’s feisty and doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Which puts her in the same company as every other movie princess in the history of movie princesses. And yes, she totally bites Katniss’ style with her flair for archery, but with far less compelling results. Brave would be a mediocre film by any standard, but for Pixar, it is a failure.

Brave opens nationwide today.

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