Pixar has garnered a fine reputation for its films, which tend to be emotionally engaging, classically charming and visually stunning.
Brave is the latest in that succession, and one that seems to be garnering quite a lot of attention.
In the ancient Scottish kingdom of DunBroch, King Fergus and Queen Elinor have a daughter, the fiery-headed and fiery-hearted Princess Merida, who has grown up a master of archery and a generally devil-may-care free spirit. As she matures however, her mother begins grooming her in being a ‘proper’ princess, skilled in such pursuits as public speaking, needlework, and generally looking dignified.
Merida resents this, and it becomes a crisis when her parents break the news that the three neighbouring clans are, in accordance with tradition, coming to participate in a contest to win the lady’s hand in marriage. Merida is horrified, fearing the loss of her freedom and the violation of being married off to one of three men she’s never met.
Merida manages to delay and sabotage the process up to a point, but this break with tradition risks war with the other clans, and Elinor won’t budge on the matter. Moved to desperation, Merida finds her way to an old witch who offers her a chance to ‘change her mother.’ Purchasing the spell, she tricks her mother into using it and…well, the ‘change’ is a little more profound than she expected. Merida has to smuggle her transmogrified mum out of the castle and try and find a way to change her back, whilst at the same time trying to come to terms with the feelings that got them into this situation in the first place. To make matters worse, when the four clans aren’t trying to overthrow one another, they’re chasing after Elinor, driven by King Fergus’ obsession with slaying wild beasts, particularly Mor’du, the demon bear, whose dread influence hangs over the drama and drives the final conflict.
I knew going in that I was going to watch a kids’ movie. And that’s what I got. The story itself is very sweet, and I definitely had something in my eye towards the end there. There are some fairly clever plot elements. The story is, nevertheless, quite archetypal. There’s nothing about it that we haven’t seen before in a hundred other fairy tales and teenage rebellion stories.
Thematically, the story deals with the usual fare of choice, compromise, reconciliation and love. All good themes, but again there’s nothing overly memorable about how they’re presented.
That said it was a delightful experience. The voice talents of Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd, Julie Walters and Robbie Coltrane put it on a firm footing. The humour is genuinely funny, not just goofy (although there’s plenty of that too) and the music sounds genuinely Scottish, using bagpipes, fiddles and Gaelic lyrics. The graphics are a visual feast. Per the custom of Pixar, the movie comes with a short film, La Luna, which was worth the trip to the cinema on its own.
As I said in my remarks on the Legend of Korra, heroines are getting increasingly promoted front-and-centre in many recent intellectual properties. Brave wins extra points in that it is co-produced, co-written and co-directed, and originally conceived of, by women. That said, Brenda Chapman, who originally conceived the story, was replaced early-on as director by a man for ‘creative differences,’ and I’m cynical enough to consider that suspicious.
As is usual for young heroines, Merida is drawing in lots of discussion over exactly how successfully she is representing the story’s themes to young people, especially in the age where the classic Disney Princess is receiving a not-unwarranted of backlash. Fundamentally, however, in broad strokes this is meant as an empowering story, and whether or not Merida succeeds in that is not, in my opinion, something that can be stated as an absolute. That’s up to you as the audience. I would say that it worked fine, but the lack of originality in the story’s fundamentals robs it of greatness for me.
Regardless, I’m pleased that women are getting more central in popular fiction, both in the making of it as well as within the stories themselves. It’s also nice to see a princess-class character who goes through the ‘marry who I want’ type of conflict and have the answer at the end be NO ONE. One of the things that I found a little wearisome about the Legend of Korra and the Hunger Games was the romance subplot seemingly insisted on them and other YA stories as if by law. At least Brave dodges the love-triangle cliché that is becoming rife lately, albeit in favour of an arranged-marriage square, which is not, in fact, of any great importance in the long run.
Brave is very much a movie for kids, and in that realm it is functional. Worth a look, in short, but don’t ask more than it’s willing to deliver. More broadly it’s certainly a fun movie, well worth the visuals, the emotional highs and lows and especially the music.
Chase the wind and touch the sky!