The studio responsible for some of the best and most beloved films in Disney’s long history bounces back from the misfire that was Cars 2 with a heart-warming mother/daughter story full of adventure and some of the most impressive animated visuals ever. That being said, it still falls short in comparison to Pixar’s best work.
I went into this movie not really knowing what to expect from the story. From the trailers, all I could really gather was that it takes place in Scotland, and the main character has red hair. Something about fate, and changing a kingdom, blah blah blah. The point is, I wasn’t really sure what the movie was about. To my dismay, Brave‘s story is essentially a mish-mash of all the Disney fairy tale cliches. For a movie that markets itself as an adventure, creatively the story is anything but adventurous. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. Hero wants change, hero seeks help from a witch/sorcerer, a spell goes wrong, somebody is turned into an animal, hero has until the stroke of midnight/sunset/second sunrise to reverse the spell, curse is broken at last possible moment, hero learns lesson, credits roll. Granted, Pixar’s approach is much more nuanced than I’m making it out to be, but the point is that they crafted a safe story. The brilliance of Pixar is that they can take a familiar plot and breathe new life into it (case in point, Finding Nemo). However, this story feels bland in comparison to their other work.
Despite my disappointment in the simple story, I was impressed by virtually every other aspect of the movie. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a warm and positive depiction of a mother and daughter relationship in a movie. Kudos to Pixar for having the balls to not make this movie about some jaded heir to the throne and his strict father. If there’s one thing this studio knows how to do better than anyone else, it’s making believable and human characters (even when they aren’t humans). Although the film isn’t as witty and clever as most of the other Pixar movies, there are still plenty of laughs to be had for people of all ages. One scene in particular had me laughing hard for an extended time. I was worried at first that there was going to be an excess of slapstick, but the movie does a nice job of balancing the easy laughs with the genuine humor.
Visually, Brave is absolutely incredible. Though it doesn’t quite pack the visceral punch like the first time I saw WALL-E, every facet of the animation is impressively detailed down to the individual strands of Merida’s out-of-control hair. The color palette is noticeably darker than previous Pixar movies, but that was a welcome change. Every character’s design has that distinct Pixar charm, and the landscapes are rendered remarkably. The highlands of Scotland really come to life.
Brave, for all intents and purposes, is a wonderful animated feature. Were it produced by any other studio, my praise would probably be even higher. But because Pixar has demonstrated an unparalleled talent with their previous work, I can’t help but feel disappointed. It’s a great movie, but it’s not a great Pixar movie. I would rank it near the bottom of their filmography, just ahead of the Cars franchise and possibly A Bug’s Life. That being said, Brave is fun for the whole family and definitely one worth seeing.