Film Review: Brave

Originally published on The Andy Gaudion Blog: http://andygaudion93.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/michael-perry-reviews-brave/
After Pixar concluded their majestic Toy Story franchise in 2010 (well, hopefully it was the conclusion…), they were the unquestioned masters of the animated realm.  Boasting a string of classic movies which stood among the best ever put together – animated and otherwise – they had viewers young and old alike eating from the palms of their hands / fins / paws.

Then, along came Cars 2, and there was a shift in the balance.  Their first critical (if not commercial) misstep, the general consensus is that Cars 2 is nothing but a disappointment, and born from a film which didn’t really warrant a sequel anyway.  Suddenly, all sorts of doubts were thrown up: now that they’ve been bought by Disney, have Pixar sold out?  With a release date for Monsters University now slated, and rumours of Finding Nemo 2 spreading through the grapevine, has creative motivation been pushed aside to make way for a more money-centric objective?  These concerns have weighted Brave with a huge responsibility: Pixar have to prove that they’ve still got the mojo – they need to tighten their hold on the animation throne which is under threat from the gradual rise of DreamWorks.

Thankfully, though, Brave just about pulls it off.  Pixar have taken more chances on this one, with the narrative following their first primarily-human cast.  In addition, it’s their first film led by a female protagonist, and they have adopted a genre new to the studio personally, if not to their mother company: the fairy-tale.  However, Brave isn’t quite as adventurous as it seems to be on the surface.  Yes, it’s a film which is distinct in their catalogue, but it never fully delves into dramatically different territory, keeping the key components of their much-loved repertoire in place, and adhering to many of the conventions of a traditional Disney fairy-tale.

In the highlands of Scotland, the free-spirited, fun-loving Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) feels restricted by the wishes of her conservative mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson).  Elinor makes arrangements for Merida to be betrothed to one of the valley’s esteemed warriors, but Merida wants to take control of her own destiny.  Going against the grain of a traditional princess, her desires include practising archery, climbing mountains and chasing rainbows: none of that matrimony malarkey.  When the men of the land compete to win Merida’s hand in marriage, the tension between mother and daughter finally comes to a head.  From there, a dark dealing with a witch prompts a literal transformation, and without spoiling too much, Merida must find a way of bringing her mother back to her.

The tale begins fantastically, with a wonderful prologue featuring a young Merida as she receives her first bow.  As ever, Pixar’s visuals are truly breath-taking, with painstaking attention to detail bestowed upon both the scenery and the characters.  Pixar’s Highland-based heroes are brilliantly designed: colourful, expressive, and crucially, relatable.  Merida is one of Pixar’s finest leading characters: a feisty, flame-haired pixie with a believable vulnerability nestled just beneath the surface.  Kelly Macdonald does a terrific job, delivering a vocal performance which simply radiates fun and energy.  Elsewhere, Billy Connolly shines as King Fergus, a huge one-legged softie who keeps the humour levels nicely balanced with his buffoonish antics and playful jibes.

The first half of the film is a delight, as we get to examine the deftly-drawn relationship between mother and daughter, with both arguments given consideration.  It’s one of Pixar’s more mature touches: the ability to weave in elements suited to older and younger generations, and it’s a well-written, big-hearted and very human story.  Unfortunately, there are a couple of moments when the film stalls.  By and large, Pixar’s spin on the fairy-tale genre is delightful and fresh, but when the inevitable moralising arrives, it’s a little muddy and threadbare.  The final act, too, doesn’t entirely gel: it’s all a bit of a whirlwind rush with little time to catch one’s breath, and as a result, the emotional pull of the climax suffers.  There are also minor niggles: the will-o’-the-wisps are intriguing additions which could have done with more exploring, and likewise, the antagonistic force of the narrative feels like something of anafterthought, crying out for more space to breathe.

But there is always enough of that magic Pixar dust sprinkled about to just about keep it all in check: a lovely fishing scene set during a golden sunrise; an immersive world splashed with colour (main case in point being that wild, wicked hairdo); and Merida’s younger triplet siblings, who look set to be the groan-inducing infant comic relief, but who in fact hold their own amid the action – their mischief charming rather than irritating.

As Pixar offerings go, Brave can be comfortably ranked alongside A Bug’s Life and the original Cars: a film which may not quite compare with emotionally-fulfilling masterpieces such as Toy StoryUp and the like, but still a beautifully made, inventive piece of work, shot through with warmth and humour.

4/5 – Brave might not be as courageous as its title implies, but it’s certainly strong enough to show that when Pixar have the right tools, they can still make animated movie magic.

15/08/2012

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Posted on October 1, 2012, in Archives. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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