Movie Going: Brave

Brave (2012)

Rating: PG

My Going Rate: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes: 77% Fresh

I’m a huge Pixar fan. From their shorts to their feature length films, this is a studio you can bank on doing well at the movies. And their latest creation, Brave, has captured about $131.8 million dollars from the box office so far. Part of Pixar’s success is due to their traditional emphasis on story. Animation enhances Brave’s story rather than dominating it, and that is the genius of Pixar.

I was particularly excited to see this movie because it is Pixar’s first foray into having a female lead. Brave is a coming of age story that takes place in the Scottish highlands. Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a spirited princess with a mane of red-gold curls and a passion for archery. Her every move is guided by her mother, Queen Elinor, (Emma Thompson) who wants Merida to behave more like a lady. Much to Merida’s consternation, her parents arrange for a tournament where her hand in marriage is the prize.

*Spoilers Beyond This Point*

Merida believes she has found a loophole in the tournament when only the firstborns are allowed to compete, and she is allowed to choose the event that will win her hand. Naturally, she chooses archery, and enters the tournament herself as her father’s firstborn. Merida easily out-shoots the competition but her mother denies Merida’s victory. Mother and daughter fight, and Merida runs off into the woods. Following the will-o-the-wisps (humming, mystical blue lights that are supposed to lead you to your fate) Merida finds a witch’s cottage. The witch gives the young princess a spell to change her fate–to change her mother–in the form of a pastry.

And bippity-boppity-boo the Queen eats the pastry and…she turns in to a bear. A very prissy bear of grizzly proportions. Merida and her (pardon me) Mama Bear escape the castle with the help of her rambunctious triplet brothers. When they return to the cottage, the witch has disappeared but leaves Merida a message that the spell will be permanent after the second sunrise unless they can mend the bond torn by pride. What follows is a journey through the woods filled with mother bear-daughter bonding. Queen Elinor has to fight her increasingly bear dominated nature and Merida realizes how much her mother means to her. It’s a fight against time as they attempt to break the spell and fix their relationship.

As with all movies meant for kids, there are some overarching messages aimed at the audience. One of the trailer’s key phrases is “family is king”, and the idea rings true throughout. This may have been a movie better released before mother’s day because this is a definite mother-daughter movie. Brave also emphasizes following your heart and learning from the past, both ideas meant to inspire or encourage young audiences.

Brave is a movie that succeeds without many of the hallmarks of Disney/Pixar films. There is no discernible love interest, no Prince Charming for Merida to unwittingly fall for. At the close of the film, Merida is still firmly independent and resistant to suitors (perhaps a subtle hint that sixteen-year-olds don’t need to be in life or death love scenarios?). There is no real villain. The witch is eccentric and a bit cooky, but not menacing or malicious. Even the big scary bear (not the mother) gets a sense of redemption in the end. And there are a set of characters who don’t speak. The triplets giggle, scarf down food, and make a cacophony of other sounds but don’t actually talk. Pixar has proven they can pull off speechless characters with Wall-E and the opening sequence of Up, but it still impresses me that they can give such in-depth characterization without dialogue. With so much lacking from the traditional Disney/Pixar formula, it seems like Brave should be missing major story elements as well, but it isn’t. Brave is a fully realized film that Pixar will be happy to add to their successful ranks.

I gave Brave 3 and 1/2 stars because I enjoyed it, but I didn’t have the instant, deep emotional response I felt with Up or Finding Nemo. I would, however, still call Brave a good movie.

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