With all of the hype that surrounds any Pixar film, there is an accompanying fear that the movie-making powerhouse will lose a bit of its genius. For me, the Golden Age of Pixar began with Wall·E and carried through to Up and Toy Story 3. Full disclaimer: I’ve never watched Cars or Cars 2. From what I’ve heard, I plan to keep it that way. Sure, I enjoyed Ratatouille, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc and the first two Toy Story flicks – but those last three (again, I’m not counting Cars 2) were incredible. They transcended the realm of kids’ animation and became part of our pop-culture and mythological canon.
With Brave, Pixar (now fully a part of the Walt Disney empire) set its sights on firmly established territory: The Princess Movie. Before Pixar, I had never seen a film about a trash robot that saves Earth or a grumpy old man that re-discovers life through the eyes of a young scout or toys that have amazing adventures when human eyes are averted. By contrast, I’ve seen lots of princess movies before. They’re arguably Disney’s bread and butter and I have not been impressed. Even Disney’s last attempt at the genre, The Princess and the Frog, was often unbearably status-quo and very rarely exciting or appropriate. Especially now that I have a daughter, I’m not interested in another politically-incorrect film about a girl who makes bad decisions and is saved by a dashing knight or other antiquated foolishness.
So, with muddled expectations, we went into the theater. My daughter was expecting a swashbuckling epic with readymade costumes she’d already spied at Target. I was expecting Pixar to end its streak of greatness with a pandering flick to the higher-ups in MouseTown. We were both a little right.
Brave is the story of Merida, a tomboy princess that doesn’t want to be forced into marriage. She makes some bad decisions and some not-so-good things happen. Finally, she rights her wrongs by unlocking her sensitivity, not by using her brawn. The Disney elements are there, namely multitudes of merchandising opportunities. Merida wears several different outfits (all of which are available now for your pre-schooler!) is shown as a toddler in the opening sequence (hello, Merida baby doll!) and they use several settings ripe for playsets.
Pixar does buck a number of the Disney stereotypes. There is no bad mother/step-mother figure. Although, there is (of course) a witch. There is some peril; but it’s brief and fairly non-magical. And, oh yeah, the movie has soul. The vistas of Scotland, the authentic tartans and castle all reek of Pixar at its due-diligence finest. The story is tight and focused and feels like a traditional folk-tale.
When you watch Brave, the first thing you notice is The Hair. The technical expertise seen in this movie is unparalleled. Textures are incredibly rich and varied – and did I mention The Hair? Yes, it gets capitalized, as Merida’s flaming locks are almost a character onto themselves. You can of course buy a Merida wig; but that’s beside the point.
Merida is a good character. She’s strong, but also strong-willed and hard-headed – much like her Queen mother. For pre-teen daughters, there is probably a lot of positive messaging about communication and expectation. The dad is just all-around awesome (if a bit meek as a parent), which is of course nice when you’re re-creating scenes from Brave around the house.
Brave is not Pixar’s best work; but it is solid family entertainment. I put it firmly in camp with The Incredibles as a mid-range Pixar film, which equates to an outstanding mainstream kids’ movie. A-