Brave marks something of unchartered territory for animation powerhouse Pixar. It’s their first fairytale,, the first set in the past, the first to use magic, and the first to feature a female lead, in Kelly Macdonald’s Princess Merida. It’s also the Pixar film that I’ve waited the longest to see since it’s cinema release, seeing as it came out here over a month ago, but I only saw it yesterday because of the frankly outrageous 3D scheduling of my cinema (as always, fuck 3D).
The long delay has added to my already high level of anticipation for the film, seeing as I started reading reviews of my American and New Zealander counterparts months ago when the film was released over there (seriously, why such a long wait for us Brits? Sort it out), and my deep love of most things Pixar (Cars? meh) meant that this film was going to have to do a lot to satisfy me. And unfortunately, it didn’t.
Not that by any means this is a bad picture. It’s very entertaining, often funny and looks phenomenal in every way. I mean it, I fell completely in love with the backgrounds of luscious woodlands, valleys and waterfalls, and Pixar have completely otudone themselves on making everything look beyond realistic. If you told me that parts of the film had been made on location and the characters super-imposed onto them, I’d believe you. It really does look that good. La Luna, the short preceding Brave, is also phenomenal, and may well be my favourite of their shorts so far. I’m glad I’ve seen the film just to have viewed that little gem.
Anyway, Merida is a headstrong young princess with a penchant for archery and not being married off by her royal parents. Her mother (Emma Thompson) has spent her life grooming her daughter to be the perfect future-queen, a role that Merida has no intention of fulfilling, whilst her father (Billy Connolly) is a hulking, riotous warrior with a stump in place of a leg lost to a bear. The king and queen have arranged for the sons of the three other clan leaders to compete for Merida’s hand, but Merida has other plans to try and change her mother’s mind about the whole ordeal.
Going in, it didn’t help that I’d had a few plot points spoiled for the film from other reviews and the marketing campaign, but only up to about the halfway mark. Unusually for a Pixar film, I could guess pretty much where the plot was heading anyway, so there wasn’t an awful lot of tension. Also, unforgivably, there was a severe lack of comedy and fine details. It’s not really fair to compare this film so harshly with the others in the studio’s collection, but in every other Pixar film there has been an awful lot going on in the background of almost every scene. I’ve just watched Finding Nemo, one of my favourite Pixar films, and that had little tid-bits that didn’t add anything to the real story, but improved the film overall. In Brave, I felt that everything was to serve the plot, and the film was at a detriment because of it.
The characters too were almost caricaturish, especially the king, who seemed to produce over-the-top reactions to everything, especially in the first half of the film. His spit-take at the dining table felt entirely forced, as though they thought a spit-take would be funny, regardless of it’s necessity in the scene. There was almost too much pandering to a younger audience, and a neglect for the older fans of the films, like myself. I’m sure kids enjoyed it more than me, but I don’t want that. In fact, I’d prefer it if kids didn’t like it at all, that way there wouldn’t be any in the cinema, screaming or asking really quite loudly “What just happened?” from a few rows back.
I wasn’t overly keen on the design of Merida’s character either, and was a little disappointed at the animation of her dress, which is a minor thing to pick up on, but still. Her hair looked just wonderful, the mess of red and ginger curls buoyed by the wind as she rides her magnificent horse Angus through the Scottish wilderness, but I was always put off my the look of her clothing. Still, far better than I (and probably anyone else) could do.
So, positives. There was a lot that I did laugh at (you show me someone who doesn’t laugh when a bear falls down a flight of stairs, and I’ll show you someone who’s tired of life), and I especially liked the exploits of Merida’s three brothers, and felt they were underused overall. Julie Walters’ witch was similarly neglected, but this made her couple of scenes all the more impactful, so that’s OK.
I appreciated the use of a female lead, although much has been said that Merida’s reluctance to wed must surely make her a lesbian. Clearly then Finding Nemo‘s Dory is of a similar persuasion, as she never once mentions partnership of any kind. And Ratatouille‘s Remy must be gay, seeing as he initially disapproves of the burgeoning relationship between Linguini and Colette. Not forgetting the asexual Rex in Toy Story, who obviously has yet to find the right mate amongst his fellow male plastic dinosaurs. Nonsense.
Of course I liked that it was set in the UK and used an almost entirely UK cast (although John Ratzenberger makes his usual lucky charm appearance as one of the castle’s guards), and as I mentioned the animation was beyond stunning, but I’m afraid this will always be amongst the lesser Pixar films in my book. Oh, by the way, there is a scene after the credits, riiiiiiiight at the end, but you can wait for the DVD for that one, it didn’t really add anything. I’m still going to recommend this film for viewing, as it’s better than most films out there and I’m glad I saw it, and I’ll probably watch it again and buy it on DVD (mainly for La Luna), I just felt it could have been a bit more streamlined, and with a bit more background added to the scenes.
Choose film 7/10