DIRECTED BY MARK ANDREWS, BRENDA CHAPMAN, and STEVE PURCELL
Brave, Pixar’s first film to feature a female protagonist, is both a break with and a product of tradition. Next to the studio’s recent, arguably male-centric offerings (about race cars, robots, and a pull-string cowboy), its latest is conspicuous in its girl power themes, and, in Princess Merida, boasts a bow-toting heroine feistier than Katniss Everdeen. Refreshingly, if not for her betrothal-minded mother, Merida is a fire-maned firebrand who values her independence above all. This is new territory not just for Pixar but also for Disney, whose animated leading ladies have frequently been defined by their yearnings for literal Princes Charming.
Narratively, however, Brave hews closely to fairytale formula, and, in that sense, has more in common with vintage Disney than with the visionary irreverence that sets Pixar’s best efforts apart. Upon discovering a witch’s cottage deep in the woods, Merida accepts the chance to “change her fate” by changing her mother’s overbearing ways. Naturally, the resultant transformation is more than Merida bargained for, forcing mother and daughter to mend their bond in order to break the spell. Yet, oddly for Pixar, “forcing” is the operative word. Some signature moments of magic aside, Brave‘s feel-good resolution is thoroughly predictable and nearly as preachy.
Along with favouring slapstick humour over the studio’s typical, sharply conceived gags, Brave‘s didactic bent suggests it was tuned more specifically for kids than is Pixar’s parent-captivating wont. This may disappoint those who earmark a spot for each new Pixar release in the pantheon of high cinematic art, but is eminently defensible as a means of making Merida’s story accessible to the young masses poised to benefit most from her empowering example.
And if Brave is minor Pixar, it goes without saying that its visual craft and voice performances remain beyond reproach. The evocatively-accented cast (featuring Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thomson, and Billy Connolly, most prominently) is universally excellent, while the film’s state-of-the-art animation easily trumps its relatively staid storytelling. Brave‘s medieval Scotland is a marvel to behold—lush, vibrant, and meticulously detailed, down to Merida’s untamable shock of 1,500, individually-rendered curls.