There are high expectations for Pixar, and that's because their movies all have something to make them stand out. The stories are appealing to both children and adults, incorporating light-hearted humor at the same time as some very dark themes. The characters are memorable and immediately lovable. The environments and animation push the graphical capabilities of the time further past the limit than any other movie. Brave steps into the deep footsteps of its predecessors and tries something new, a fairy tale set in ancient times featuring a female protagonist.
Brave takes the well-known aspects of Pixar and pushes them in a new direction. The end result feels less like a Pixar movie than a Disney movie- a straightforward fairy tale without a lot of grand themes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, and while Brave doesn't quite feel like the Pixar that we know and love, it manages to succeed in its own way.
Merida (voice by Kelly Macdonald) is the first-born child of the DunBroch Clan. While her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), would like her to be more of a demure lady, Merida prefers her free, athletic lifestyle. Merida's father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), keeps the peace between the Dunbroch Clan and the three neighboring clans, MacGuffin, Macintosh, and Dingwall. Keeping with tradition, the three clans bring their oldest sons to seek the princess' hand. This is not the sort of life Merida wants for herself, so she sets out to change her fate.
Fairy tales have been Disney's property for a long time, and while the companies may have merged, there's still something different about Pixar movies. That something seems to be missing. Parts of the movie seem to be aimed at younger children than Pixar usually goes for, and while the movie is still very fulfilling for adults, the multi-layered meanings often present with Pixar aren't there. The story is straightforward but not without its twists, due mostly to some relatively secretive advertising. Sure, you may already know that Merida has a bow, and that there's a huge bear that ate her dad's leg, but the details are pretty vague. Even the new merchandising that spoils some very key aspects of the plot does not give away the main events of the story.
Not only was this Pixar's first attempt at a fairy tale, but it was also their first time featuring a female protagonist. Some might say it wasn't much of a leap of faith to have a princess as a protagonist given Disney's success with the Princess franchise, but Pixar didn't make a standard princess movie. Merida is an athlete, aggressive and not entirely mature, and her wild, unbrushed hair more than makes up for the femininity of her period-appropriate dresses. Her behavior is, at first, brash to the point of some alienation, but her growth over the course of the movie feels organic and rewarding.
The other characters are charming, but with a few exceptions, they are mostly two-dimensional. The Lords and their sons that seek Merida's hand are one-note characters but very enjoyable, and the various clansmen that dot the castle. While all of them would feel slightly lacking on their own, their union makes for enough variation that the entourage feels fun instead of forced. Merida's triplet brothers and their nanny, on the other hand, exist solely as comic relief, and the movie would feel slightly more polished were they absent from it. With that said, Merida's mother and father feel very well fleshed-out, and the film makes good use of every scene they're in to make for a very emotionally moving combination.
The end result of a movie romance is usually obvious from the beginning, if not from the trailers alone, and there's a reason Brave doesn't give any hints to the outcome. Merida's love life is simultaneously the center of the story and completely irrelevant, with the focus instead on her relationship with her family. A story centered around a teen girl is usually sure to have a whirlwind of emotions regarding her romantic interests, and it's refreshing to have a princess that is more than marriage and lineage.
The visuals are absolutely stunning. One expects a lot out of Pixar in this department, and they don't disappoint. After the technological marvel that was Violet's long, straight hair in The Incredibles, Pixar decided to go full-force in making the most difficult hair imaginable, and it is absolutely fantastic. Not only does Merida's hair look real when static, but it bounces and moves so naturally that it even blows awkwardly across her face like real hair would. It sounds silly to make such a big deal out of small details, but each of those details absolutely demands your attention. From the tiniest stitch of tartan fabric to the different ways fur moves when dry or wet, it's incredible how realistic the movie can look while still maintaining a cartoonish aesthetic.
The environments are incredibly detailed and immersive, and even though I'm sure it's still gorgeous in 2D, the landscaping alone is worth shelling out an extra few bucks for the 3D. There are no cheap gimmicks, and the depth just helps you inhabit the world. While the characters themselves have a more stylized look to them, the lakes and forests they inhabit look just like the real thing, and it's stunning. If Scotland doesn't get a fair bump in tourism after this, I'd be very surprised.
For Pixar's first attempt at both a fairy tale and a female protagonist, Brave does a solid job. It doesn't quite feel like the high caliber that we expect from Pixar, but its more family-friendly atmosphere fits well with the themes of familial love and appreciation. The overall experience is still gorgeous and emotionally-charged. If possible, this is definitely a movie to bring your parents to, and if you can't, you'll want to call them later. Either way, Brave is well worth seeing the moment it's out.
Alex Katz- Brave is Pixar's best-looking movie to date, which is something I think writers are getting tired of saying every year about every movie they make. But damn if they don't keep improving their work by leaps and bounds, and you have only to look at Merida's hair to see the huge leap forward this movie represents in terms of technical prowess. That aside, Brave is definitely one of Pixar's less clever efforts. There's not as much imagination put into the world here, beautiful as it may be. What we have, though, is a stunningly well-told fairy tale as traditional as Pixar is ever likely to do with a fantastic cast and some wonderful changing mother-daughter dynamics. Brave may not be one of Pixar's best, but it's damn well memorable and beautiful to behold. 80- Great