Its hard for Pixar films these days to overcome the high expectations set on them by the company’s previous films. Pixar movies are not only visually beautiful and fun, but they usually have deeper themes which raise them up. WallE was about mankind’s responsibility to the earth, Up was about letting go, Toy Story 3 was about… letting go, and Cars 2 was about the very purpose of existence itself (well, maybe not). In Brave, we get the deeper theme of mother-daughter relationships, which isn’t quite as universal as the others, but is still there.
Brave is a movie rich with potential. Pixar really stepped up their visual aesthetics, creating a bold and beautiful Scottish landscape, part realism and part fantasy is perfect ratio. With its castles, stone monuments,glowing blue will o’wisps, glens and lochs, its a treat for the sense.
Another strong, strong quality this movie has going for it is the main character Merida, the wildly red-haired princess of her father’s kingdom, which may or may not be the whole of Scotland. She’s feisty and strong-willed, but not in a stereotypical way. She’s not a tomboy so much and just free-willed, wishing to ride and explore rather than sit on a throne all day. She has an intoxicating attitude and is easy to cheer for. She is one of Pixar’s best characters.
(SPOILERS)However, its heartbreaking that this magnificent character isn’t given a better story to work with. The opening premise of her fighting against an arranged marriage is great stuff, but then it gets to the core idea of the story when her mother gets turned into a bear. Um, really? Yes, really. Pretty stupid, and not an idea worthy of Pixar.
I get what they’re going for. This want this to be their fairytale. But its a dumb premise and not worthy of the potential this film contained. I get that they want both mother and daughter to see things from each other’s perspectives, but I think they could have done so with a more realistic story engine. That said, once I reluctantly accepted the premise, the plot resolved itself strongly.(END SPOILERS)
Another big problem with Brave was the slapstick element. There’s nothing wrong with slapstick in a kids cartoon, but again, with Pixar we expect more. The comedic elements would be fine as long as they were a little wittier and more down to earth. For example, I liked the hijinks of the triplets, but I don’t want to see them being flung over a castle wall and landing in a hay wagon. That kind of goofiness takes me out of the movie. I realize that Up had talking dogs flying airplanes, but that didn’t bother me as much for some reason (though it did bother me enough to drop the film from a 10 to a 9).
I really wanted to like this movie more than I did. Now, I still did like it. even with that bad plot device, its an enjoyable story. It looks great, and it has wonderful characters (especially Merida). But I do felt like it could have reached for more. It could have delved deeper into the themes it presented of family ties and responsibilities, and in a more grounded manner. I don’t mean to drain the fun, just scale back the silliness. So, I confess myself disappointed, but I still see it as a strong effort.