(PG) Voice talents of Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson and Billy Connolly
Brave is as visually stunning as any of the recent Pixar hits. Even its plucky lass’ blazing red curly hair fairly pops off the screen, but …
Yes, for the first time in this reviewer’s unbroken revelry in the Pixar way of storytelling, this latest film feels a little like it’s been done before.
Plucky heroine who is headstrong and courageous — check. Daft and funny secondary characters — check. Heroine who wants to be taken seriously and challenges any man who would cross her path — check, check, check.
The film’s opening sequence recalls the shocking opening of Finding Nemo with breathtaking vistas in a flashback as the young Merida is attacked by a bear and saved by her father, but not without consequence.
The film then advances ten years and, like many headstrong Disney princesses of yore, Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald) is the only daughter of Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and, in order to keep peace among the Scottish clans, she must entertain a suitor and consider marriage.
Of course Merida fights her mother at every turn to be married to someone she doesn’t know (who wouldn’t) and revels in the chance to jump on her horse and get the wind in her hair. It is here the film really takes flight, with visually stunning backdrops as Merida sweeps through the forest.
Her mother schools her in the ways befitting a Scottish princess (in the requisite movie montage), but as a last resort Merida seeks a spell to stop her mother meddling in her life.
This has both grave and comical consequences as Merida navigates her family’s expectations and tradition and a deep dark secret that lurks in the family legend.
Pixar has always been known for its superior storytelling but this film’s narrative seems strangely contained and unimaginative; even down to the old crone who gives Merida the spell for her mother.
Many films in the Pixar canon are delightfully conceived works of art and triumphs like WALL-E and Ratatouille were about the creativity and originality in the storytelling. There is no doubting the beauty of this film but its storytelling is predictable at best.
Films like WALL-E took risks. The first 45 minutes of WALL-E is silent, but we get a sense of story through carefully crafted development of character. Up spent 20 minutes of its run time on its heartbreaking central relationship, again wordlessly expressing a lifetime of longing in one sequence.
Merida on the other hand is cut from the same cloth as Mulan, Rapunzel and Pocahontas — all challenging the status quo. There are also strong comparisons with many other Disney films and their themes of self-reliance.
It’s disappointing, then, that Pixar’s first film to focus on a female character doesn’t tell a more original story. Even its scope feels limited by its strangely unengaging premise.
To its credit, Brave challenges the Prince Charming myth. But, if it’s about transformation, acceptance, empowerment and understanding, Brave isn’t compelling enough to make those messages the ones you walk out of the cinema with.