Monday, July 2, 2012
Brave (Theatrical Review)
Animation, Action, Adventure, 93 minutes
Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell
Starring the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane and Julie Walters
Pixar has produced some of the best animated films ever made, and even the worst offerings are better than the work of most rival studios. However, after seeing trailers for Brave, I found myself wondering whether it would live up to my expectations. People running into walls or being hit in the groin are usually there to get a few cheap laughs and I expect more from a Pixar movie.
I shouldn't have worried.
Brave is aimed at a younger audience than Pixar's best work like Ratatouille and Up. Although it does contain deeper themes, such as conflict between mother and daughter, and dealing with society's expectations, the story is easy to follow. There were quite a few small children present in the theater when I saw the movie and I could hear them laughing and curiously asking questions about the characters. It also worked for me, and I'm by no means a small child.
A few of the action scenes and some of the scenes set in the dark forest might worry very young children, but I don't think there's anything frightening enough to stop anyone seeing Brave.
Those who were complaining that Pixar hasn't featured a female protagonist finally have a reason to celebrate; Merida (Macdonald) is featured heavily throughout, and she's a princess, although not in the traditional Disney style. You will hear a couple of songs, and there is a witch in the story, but Brave is not simply rehashing the formula exhausted in Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Instead, Merida is like a tougher version of Rapunzel from Tangled.
Brave is a coming-of-age tale set in ancient Scotland. The main clan-leaders all have sons, and Merida is expected to marry one of them. Unfortunately, she doesn't feel ready for marriage and wants time to discover how she feels about adult pursuits. All she really wants to do is enjoy her childhood, ride her horse, and practice her archery. This is essentially a story about a girl trying to change her fate.
Some of the supporting characters are funny. Her potential suitors are an interesting bunch of misfits, and they supply a few laughs early in the story. Merida's three younger brothers appear regularly and are used in very inventive ways.
Be prepared to hear Scottish accents throughout the movie. It reminded me somewhat of How to Train Your Dragon in that respect. I didn't find myself rooting for Merida as strongly as I rooted for Remy in Ratatouille because the outcome never really felt in doubt. Although Merida faces considerable peril, I never suspected that things would end badly.
The voice acting was particularly good. Merida's father (Connolly) stole a lot of scenes and was the source of much of the humor. Kelly Macdonald did well as Merida and kept her likable, even though some of her actions were misguided. I also noticed how effective Patrick Doyle's score was. Unlike most Pixar movies, Brave is full of action, and the music enhanced those sequences considerably.
The opening five minutes provided some of the strongest scenes in the movie as we were able to see Merida as a small girl and the relationship she had with her parents. Other magical moments included her encounter with will o' the wisps in the forest. Both of these elements reminded me of Studio Ghibli works, but Brave couldn't maintain that high standard for the whole movie.
What we are left with is an enjoyable 90 minutes with plenty of laughs. There's less substance than that found in the best Pixar movies, but it's still a worthy addition and I will buy the Blu-ray when it is released. The overall look of the animation does match Pixar's excellent standards and it's hard to imagine it looking any better. Be prepared for a few cheap laughs, but don't miss it in theaters. I saw the 3D version and I don't think it added anything to the experience, so stick to the 2D version if you want to save a few bucks.
I was pleasantly surprised by the full movie after being disappointed by the rather formulaic trailers. I should also mention that La Luna, the latest short from Pixar, airs immediately before Brave. That's well worth your time too.
Overall score 4/5
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