The first big selling point of “Brave” was that it was the first Pixar film to feature a female lead. The second was that it was not “Cars 2.”
But “Brave” is sadly disappointing in both of those respects. It falls short of creating an original and authoritative female character that can go in the canon of Disney Princesses, and it is so madcap and silly that it becomes exhausting.
Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is not the only movie princess who has been poised with the task of accepting an arranged marriage. She’s a plucky young tomboy with wild red hair and a sharp eye with her bow and arrow, and yet her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), demands that she become prim and proper such that she can select a husband from the kingdom’s three clans.
All three princes are embarrassing dopes, so Merida defies her mother by besting the three of them at archery and then enlisting the help of a witch to change her mother’s mind about the necessity of marriage. This unfortunately, in the witch’s terms, means transforming Elinor into a bear.
Yes, a bear, and the bear gets awfully tiring when the bear starts doing things a bear cannot do, like pantomime or wear a tiara and clothes. Cartoon bears have been known to do things bears cannot do before, but less so in Pixar films. Usually when Pixar creates a maelstrom of action, they do so with the intent to provide beauty or enlightenment, as in the colorful bits in “Ratatouille” and “WALL-E” or even early on in “Brave” as Merida gallops through the forest doing target practice to the tune of an elegant song by Julie Fowlis.
Rather, much of the action in “Brave” is chaotic and clumsy, such as when a horde of Scottish soldiers chase a shadow through the halls of the castle. It goes on endlessly in the third act, as is customary of most films today for children or otherwise.
Merida is too safe and familiar to spark a revolution for women. The more interesting is Elinor, who is full of resolve and conviction as well as motherly tradition, but she doesn’t get to do much talking when she becomes the aforementioned bear. That silence on her part paves the way for more comic relief bombast from the men, who are all one-dimensional. The King in particular is so cartoonishly massive that it’s impossible to take him seriously.
Granted, “Brave” is plain gorgeous. Pixar has never rendered landscapes this beautiful before, or with as much detail. The detail and realism of Merida’s red curls alone must’ve cost a fortune in CGI development.
But just as pretty is “La Luna,” the Oscar nominated Pixar short just before “Brave,” which gives a lesson of individuality through a lovely and original story about a boy, his father and his grandfather doing an odd job on the moon. It does so without words or action and leaves a warm, gooey feeling that comes as a welcome surprise to the noisy action of “Brave.”
So I guess to use a silly analogy, as Pixar aimed their bow and arrow, they hit the close target with the safe and formulaic film that is “Brave.” They should’ve however shot for the moon.
2 1/2 stars