CPE and Em (and El): You don’t have to save the world to be Brave

Brave – 2012

Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Starring (voices) Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd, Robbie Coltrane, John Ratzenberger
Screenplay by Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Irene Mecchi

Expectations for Pixar lowered significantly over the last year.  Cars 2 was the kind of film released when a company is out of ideas, and really just needs a break, like the kind Disney took after Robin Hood.  Luckily for Pixar, they were smart enough to start bringing on new talent years ago, like when they drafted Brad Bird to create The Incredibles and Ratatouille, and, more recently brought in Brenda Chapman while promoting Mark Andrews to bring us Brave.  Just in the nick of time.

To be sure, Brave is not a complete masterpiece.  It has remnants of other stories tattered throughout, and the first quarter of the film is more laborious than most Pixar films, outside of the Cars series.  What it has, though, is the strength of a story that is intelligently developed, good characters throughout and an avoidance of the tiresome evil villain.  In stark contrast to other Disney films featuring female heroines, there is a refreshing lack of stereotypical menace embodied in one, predictable character.

Essentially a morality tale, Brave finds a mother, Queen Elinor (Thompson) at odds with her daughter, Princess Merida (Macdonald).  The young one, bursting at the seams with boundless energy, is bridled by her more experienced mother.  She will not be contained for long, of course, and the choices she makes are intended to break her free.  Merida acquires her freedom, but it is not without cost.  Here we have a significant change of pace from female characters portrayed in animated features: a flaw in character.  So intent have filmmakers been over the years to portray female characters on  par with their counterparts, they have always placed them on a pedestal of virtue.  In this way, they rob the characters of their humanity, making them 2 dimensional and somewhat weaker, for their lack of an opportunity to develop and rise above self-imposed challenges.  Plenty of very good films have this safe quality.  Here is a good film that is smart enough to avoid it.

Merida’s actions place an undue burden on her mother, and together they must navigate this burden, through the fears of their fellow countrymen.  There is the perennial race against time, this assuaged through the lack of bumbling idiotic chases.  In the end, there are some pretty intense fight scenes, but they are handled quite effectively, ratcheting up the fear without the stain of gore.

By now, everyone expects visual perfection when they see a Pixar film.  Indeed, the opening frames alone are enough to make the original Toy Story look like Steamboat Willie.  The first time you see Merida’s hair, you will be wondering what indeed the fuss was about Sully from Monsters, Inc.

There is great comic relief in the form of Merida’s 3 younger brothers.  The potential suitors are a pleasant surprise as well, given that they are more than your typical doofy sons of Kings, but nowhere near Prince Charming.  Again, in a novel move for most animators, but a typical one for Pixar, these Princes are real characters with their own thoughts and motives, neither pure or evil.

Emma Thompson’s character benefits most once she loses her voice, so to speak, and Connolly’s King Fergus is exactly the right touch for a movie that features two powerful women personalities.  He is by no means a weak man.  Rather, he understands what his strengths are and when it is time to let your better half guide the boat, while not shirking the duty when it is your turn.

Like Disney’s great Mulan, time will be a friend to Brave.  Initial returns have been mixed on the film from people I know.  Even my first reaction to the film was that it was out of my comfort zone of acceptable women prototypes.  Given a few days to ponder, the movie is starting to win me over, like Ratatouille did, and the reverse of the effect that the first Cars movie had.  Merida is someone that all people could be inspired by, as her journey and her bravery is in something that everyone must battle at one time or another: themselves.
(****1/2 out of *****)

El’s Review: I liked the part when she turns back into a Mom.
(100 *’s out of *****) 

Emily’s review: I give brave five stars out of five because it did not have too much violence.  My least favorite part was when the boys were naked.  My favorite part was when Fergus said “I don’t want to get married.  I want to stay single and let my hair flow through the wind, shooting arrows into the sunset”  My favorite character was Merida.  My least favorite character was Mor’du, the bear.
(***** out of *****) 

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