Brave (2012)

2 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Brave” is an animated family movie that at first seems to go back to the traditional Disney princess material. But it’s far from that, for you see, the Scottish heroine Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is a princess, in the Viking era, but not the dim, usual damsel-in-distress who constantly needs to be rescued by a handsome prince. She’s actually a brave, adventurous, quick-witted, free-spirited tomboy who is great with a bow and arrow. It’s her mother—Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson)—who wants her to be the standard princess character. She doesn’t like the idea that Merida is…independent! Oh heaven forbid!

Merida is apparently at the age to be married, as Elinor decides it’s time to choose among three possible royal suitors. There are two problems, however. The first is, Merida doesn’t want to be forced into marriage—she isn’t ready, if only her mother would listen. The second is that all three suitors are bumbling idiots—one of which is an absolute weakling. After putting herself into an archery contest (saying she’s shooting for her own hand in marriage) and being scorned upon by her mother because of it, Merida hops on her trusty steed Angus and rides off into the forest, where she encounters some will-o’-the-wisps that lead her to a witch’s house (which looks like a woodcarver’s shed with many wooden bear figures around, but go outside then back inside and look what you get—I love magic). Merida offers to buy everything in exchange for a spell from the witch (Julie Walters) that will give her a different fate. The easy solution—give the mother a cursed treat that will change her mind about the marriage situation.

What happens to Queen Elinor is something that the advertisements have tried to keep hidden from the audience before seeing the movie, and it really ticks me off that the critics reviewing this movie are giving it away now that it’s released. I didn’t know what was coming when I saw this movie and it’s a good thing I read the reviews after I saw the movie. So I’m going to try and do the noble thing and just say that what comes after some magical occurrence leads to quite a troublesome situation that Merida has to deal with herself. And along the way, she learns that the relationship between mother-and-daughter is a strong one and in order to save the day, she and Elinor must rekindle their love.

“Brave” is the latest film from Disney and Pixar and while it’s not quite up there with “Finding Nemo” or “Up” (though to be fair, not all animated family films can be), it’s still a pretty entertaining film. It has a lot of funny moments, the characters are memorable, and as you’d expect from Pixar, it has top-notch computer animation. But it does bring about a personal disappointment for me, because this could have been great. For the first hour-and-a-half, it is pretty great. In the final twenty minutes, however, it resorts to one of those obligatory action climaxes that seem to come into place in family films that run out of ideas.

It’s strange too, because it seems like it’s saying, “Hey! You know that thing we do in the end of most family films nowadays? We’re not going to do that!” But once we get to a huge misunderstanding, it immediately tells us, “Psych!” and gives us a series of chases, fights, tears afterwards, and then a cheerful ending. I’m sure the makers of “Brave” could have thought of something better.

The characters are indeed memorable. Merida is a lot of fun as a teenage tomboy who fends for herself and is very spunky and quick-thinking. Her peg-legged, dim-witted-but-supportive, overweight Viking of a father King Fergus (Billy Connolly) is an absolute riot. Whether he’s going on about going after the gigantic bear that bit off his leg or constantly being used as a pawn in Elinor’s trickery to get Merida to the status quo, he’s just a ton of fun to watch. The three wild little brothers of Merida’s have been marketed like crazy, and deservedly so. These kids are just hilarious. They have little to no dialogue, so their facial expressions, body language, and just overall speed (whenever they sneak around the castle or run away after pulling a prank) take up most of their roles. Queen Elinor is a bit of a blank slate. But just what until you see what happens to her after she eats the cursed treat.

Do I even need to say how great-looking “Brave” is? I mean, it’s Pixar animation. Call me lazy, but it’s just pointless to talk about the visual creativeness of “Brave.” But if I had to point out some highlights, one prime example is a scene that has been used in every trailer, when Merida fires her arrow at a target with another arrow at the bull’s-eye (with Merida already a more-than-sharp shooter, the outcome is incredible). It’s a perfectly-animated moment. Another example is a slapstick comedy sequence in which Merida, with help from her brothers, has to sneak out of the castle while distracting her father and his buddies—the physical comedy is so well-timed, you can feel it off the screen. I know Pixar animation isn’t supposed to be known for its slapstick comedy visual gags, but this really was a treat to watch. I laughed and laughed.

“Brave” ends with a message of self-fulfillment and a mother and daughter finding common ground with each other. It’s sweetly-handled in the way that you can kind of forgive the movie’s flaws (aside from the standard climax, there are a few little inconsistencies in the story) and just enjoy “Brave” for what it is. It’s not one of Pixar’s best, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

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