The problem with Pixar is that one expects every film of theirs to be groundbreaking, and while their latest Brave fails to be one, it’s still a charming and entertaining little story. Forgoing originality, Pixar this time around delivers a mild throwback to the Disney films of the 80’s, with eye-poppingly gorgeous, sweeping Scottish locales and a protagonist as likable as the Scottish brogue.
Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell, Brave is a cute little film that stands apart from the slam-bang pop culture laced humor that epitomizes the current crop of animated movies. And even the animation, while extraordinarily lifelike, is mostly low-key. There are dark forests with blue wisps and bright red hair, but the colors never overwhelm you as much as they immerse you in the simple story. Perhaps this is why Brave works as well as it does. Rather than attempt to top Pixar’s own earlier works and throw in adult themes, the film is happy to entertain 10-year-olds.
Here we have Pixar’s first female protagonist, the scarlet-haired tomboyish princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a skilled archer who would rather have an adventure outside the castle than follow the boring customs and requirements of being a princess. When her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) announces the arrival of the three lords of the land Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane), MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd) and Macintosh (Craig Ferguson) to contest their sons in marriage, she storms off into the forest where she finds a strange magical trail that leads her to a curse that changes her fate.
On the downside what follows isn’t as epic and magical as you’re led to believe. Neither is there the whirlwind adventure that you expect nor is there a Princess Mononoke story of courage. What we do get is an old fashioned, mildly clichéd lecture on life lessons, which is a shame given the scope and the larger-than-life setting of the film. Director Brenda Chapman was supposed to be Pixar's first female director, but she was replaced during the production, and it’s hard not to wonder what her original ideas were.
Without a doubt, the imagery is incredible – Merida’s hair needed 1,500 individual animation tools to render and it shows. If the cloudy Scottish hills and picturesque sunny plains don’t impress you then Patrick Doyle’s music certainly will. But one can’t shake the feeling of the filmmakers having favored technological wizardry over story. This is especially apparent after having watched Dreamworks’ beautiful How To Train Your Dragon and Disney’s Tangled – it isn’t that Brave isn’t good, but it’s difficult to consider it worthy of having Pixar’s branding.
(First published in MiD Day)