Perhaps it’s the ads’ fault. I’ve become so accustomed to ads being movie CliffsNotes that I expect to know every plot twist or to have seen every funny moment long before the movie is released. So when I see a preview for Pixar’s Brave, featuring a redheaded archeress who’d rather dash through the forest on her horse than simply be a polished princess, I expect the movie to be about that: a gender-role non-conforming, badass fighter who saves the day. Like a Gaelic Mulan or a medieval Katniss. (Hell, even the commercial for the Brave video game, shown before the movie, has her wielding a sword and fighting ice creatures.) Instead, the visually striking but disappointing Brave focuses more on a rote mother-daughter relationship that lacks the usual nuance that Pixar is (was?) known for.
Merida (Kelly Macdonald), the princess of the Scottish kingdom BunBroch, learns that she will be betrothed to an elder son of a neighboring clan. Longing to be free and resisting the demands of her mother, the queen (Emma Thompson), Merida searches for a way out. When she gets help from an old witch (Julie Walters), the resulting spell threatens to tear her family apart and be the downfall of the whole kingdom.
The first part of the movie is promising. The scenery is gorgeous, the animation, spectacular (specifically, the complex movement of Merida’s moppy hair and her horse, Angus). The introduction of Merida and her attempt to thwart her suitors’ battle for her hand are brisk, funny, and invigorating. It feels like quintessential Pixar (though some characters’ design feel a bit inspired by DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon.) But once Merida follows the Will O’ the Wisps—ghostly lights that may lead a person to their destiny—to the old witch, the movie comes off of its rails. I won’t spoil what happens next. Let’s just say that it involves a lot of bears. (Seriously, adults: take along a flask and make “bear” the drinking word.)
The uneven story is simply not strong enough. Pixar is usually known for its original and dexterous story telling, but this movie never coalesces: the magical elements feel forced and are often left unexplained (what is with the Stonehenge-like structure?), the main character is more bratty than sympathetic, kid-friendly, silly moments (scenes with Merida’s younger brothers and the brief shots of bare butts) distract from more serious scenes, and the final battle with the one, true bad guy, the bear (drink!) Mor’du, is a happenstance happening. Also, it is difficult to say what age group the movie is targeting: several scenes might be too intense or too talky for little ones.
Ultimately, the movie fails because despite the title Brave, there is more selfishness than bravery. For a movie touting the ability to control your own fate, the main character does so by making a selfish mistake, which she spends the rest of the movie trying to correct. And for a movie with Pixar branding, it does not feel like a Pixar film at all.
Maybe that’s what the ads should say, instead.
My Grade: C-