Since their initial feature film release, Pixar has been the premier animation studio in the business, even outshining their now-parent company, Disney. They took chances with their films, infusing mature storytelling with wondrous childlike visuals and deep sense of whimsy. They made films that spoke to people of all ages on a variety of levels and have created some of the most memorable characters and scenes in film history. They have made people laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. They are the darlings of the industry, or at least they were until Cars 2.
Cars 2 was a ding in their armor, a perceived cash-in for a studio that many thought to be above that. Regardless of the whys or wheretofors of the realities of Cars 2, Pixar’s pristine image has been tarnished and the black smudge that Cars 2 left on them may not be easily erased by their newest release, Brave.
Brave will seem strikingly familiar to anyone that has watched a Disney animated feature featuring a princess since The Little Mermaid in 1989. Brave’s primary protagonist, the princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a strong young woman, both in mind and body. Her wild red hair matches her fiery personality. And like all young people, she feels she knows what is best for her but that her parents, particularly her mother, hold her back
In an effort to keep the kingdom unified and happy, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) hold a tournament for the three clans with Princess Merida’s hand in marriage as the ultimate prize. Merida obviously is not pleased with this arrangement and lashes out, besting her suitors at the challenge of her choosing. After an intense argument with her mother Merida flees the castle and fate interferes thrusting both Merida and her mother on a dangerous quest to lift a curse and best an ancient beast.
Like most Disney princess films, Brave is funny and heartwarming with a natural charm that will put a smile on all but the most hardened of hearts. In many ways it is traditional and safe film, a simple story about the bond between mother and daughter. Those two descriptors are not generally associated with Pixar movies and ones that I feel do Brave a large disservice. Despite its lack of true risks, Brave is a good, strong movie, featuring the best animation of the year and excellently realized characters with stellar dialog from a fantastic voice cast. All of which are hallmarks of past Disney princess movies as well as Pixar films.
However, unfairly or not, Pixar is held to a higher standard by many. Brave lacks the mature subtexts and social commentary of many of their past endeavors and while Brave is great family entertainment and well worth the price of admission, although maybe not the 3D surcharge, it is not a great movie, just a very good one. And despite being a better film in every aspect than Cars 2 and a purely enjoyable piece of entertainment, the most ardent of Pixar fans may still scoff at their beloved studio making just a good Disney princess film. For the rest of us, Brave will do its job and entertain.
4 / 5