Movie Review: Brave

Stars: Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters

Rated PG for scary action and rude humor, 100 minutes, Family/Animation/Adventure

Compare to: The Little Mermaid (1989), Brother Bear (2003)

After last year’s Cars 2, Pixar showed that for the first time, they were able to make a movie that wasn’t universally loved by all. I actually don’t care for Finding Nemo (2003) either but when I say that I get looks as though I made a joke about the Holocaust. People love everything that’s put out by Disney and/or Pixar and rarely ever is there a release that’s met with mixed reviews and ‘meh’ reactions. After reading a couple reviews by critics I somewhat admire, I was a little skeptical because a these particular reviews were no bueno. Yet after finally watching Brave for myself, I’m pretty pleased to say that while it might not be the most original script, and might not end up having the complete everlasting effect so many Disney movies have had on audiences, this is still a solid movie and well worth the watch.

Merida (Kelly MacDonald), a fiery Scottish princess isn’t happy with what her life is becoming. All day, she’s trained and prodded to one day become betrothed to a suitor of “her” choice. Though by “her” choice, it’s really all what her mother wants for her. After a argument with her mother over Merida’s future, she retreats into the nearby woods and encounters a funny little witch, who claims to have the power to change a person’s fate. It’s what Merida wants, but once she gets it, being happy with the changes is a different story entirely.

We’re somewhat used to Disney’s formula by now, even if we haven’t seen this one in a while. A girl (princess, anyone?) isn’t happy with her life and wants to get away from it all. I think of most of Disney’s heroines and even heroes could relate to this. So while the general direction we’re headed in is a path well-treaded, that doesn’t stop Brave from being as enjoyable as it is. I’ve read that the only parts that are funny are a few side characters and the backgrounds bland. If you’ve seen this as well, toss those reviews to the side. The darkened woods are as creepy and atmospheric as the sunsets are explosive in appearance. The water looks tangible enough to drink and the Wisps (glowing blue fairy-like creatures that hover above the forest floor) create an ethereal ambiance that lead Merida along. Whether or not she should trust them is a little more of a mystery.

Without giving too much away of the story (that being what it is, you’ll probably guess some surprises way before you get to them), bears play an important role in the story, from beginning to end and aside from anything relevant to the plot, they’re also amazingly animated. The gleam in the eyes, the massive frame and in some cases, the vicious nature is carried out perfectly as a killer that gives a “kid’s movie” something of an edge that no Pixar movie before it has had. Other than maybe Lotso Huggin Bear. He was pretty nasty.

Even without the animation being what it is, the voices, which seem to be every Scottish actor available in Hollywood, create a tone many animated films don’t care to have. The Madagascar and Ice Age movies perform well at the box office and they certainly have their fanbase, but when it comes to legitimate casting choices, Pixar knows what they’re doing. All things considered, voice acting from David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett-Smith just don’t have the same effect that a less comical yet equally humorous performer brings. Maybe it’s unfair to compare the two, seeing as how Brave takes a slightly more serious apporach to storytelling and the aforementioned films seem more about fun and selling Happy Meals whereas Brave will stick with you. As stated earlier, it might not stick with you to the extent some of Pixar’s previous work has, but it will stay with you nonetheless.

Merida’s little brother show up for mostly comical reasons but it’s welcome any time they appear, but the standout feature of the film is the music. Instruments native to Scotland as well as songs by British musician Birdy with Mumford and Sons finish in the credits nicely to add just that much more of a Scottish vibe to a setting we don’t see in movies often, much less animated ones.

Kids rebel, parents try to keep them in line, kids rebel even more until (usually) lesson learned. I’m not going to criticize an outline that’s used so often because reality is much the same way, making the films that portray a fantasized version of this timeless. While Pixar has had better efforts, Brave still takes its place with its predeccessors. Enjoy it and the short film before it, La Luna.

GRADE: B+

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