Director: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
The Pixar brand has become such a gold standard of animation that it wasn’t insane to believe they might never go astray. Of course, those dreams were dashed last year with Cars 2. That said, it managed to wipe clean any expectations moving forward. Here we are, a year later and the studio is delivering their first period fantasy tale with Brave. Despite previously crafting a superb set of female supporting characters (from Bo Peep to Eve), it’s their first time putting one at the center. Unfortunately, the story built around our heroine is a dull one with a severe lack of indelible moments.
Growing up as princess to King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), Merida (Kelly Macdonald) was a little different than most kids. She’s given a bow at a young age, which just so happens to be the same day her father’s leg gets eaten by a black bear – one of many terrifying, unpleasant scenes to come. Things snap back to a lighter mood as we see her enjoy breaking free from royal duties to roam the gorgeous countryside and forest, complete with her own archery targets. Told in a beautiful, uplifting montage, it is the kind of dynamic storytelling one could only the hope the rest of the movie supplied.
Alas, the plot kicks in as it is time for Merida to find a suitor and three lords (Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane) from neighboring lands all venture to their kingdom to fight for her hand in marriage. A physical quarrel between these weakly-developed men begin and things start to breakdown, as silly, forced slapstick comedy is introduced, the precise kind that makes children cackle and adults groan. Punches are thrown about in no particularly well-constructed manner and interest wanes.
But it speaks to Pixar’s strong central character that when the story re-focuses on Merida, the film excels, but only for a brief time. The three possible suitors must vie for her hand in an archery contest, by Merida’s choice as she has ulterior motives. During the games, the princess secretly enters the playing field and announces that she will fight for her own independence. This self-reliance, equipped with a riveting, superbly animated sequence produces rousing emotion and promise that the rest of the movie never lives up to.
Without spoiling the deviation, a certain character undergoes a major change due to a curse set by Merida, and the rest of the film is tied up in dealing with this event. Unraveling a mountain of plot inconveniences (Why give the witch such a vague wish? Why not reveal the effects of this curse to your own father immediately?, etc.), the main plot leads the film into an uninspired, flat arena that it never escapes. The central theme of two strong female characters pushing for change in a kingdom set in its way is a powerful one, but the immature means at conveying this message are so vapid, one has to wonder Pixar’s intentions. The heavy focus on kiddie humor in undermined by some downright terrifying sequences (and not in a gasp-inducing, heart-tugging Toy Story 3 incinerator scene way), that may turn away the intended demographic altogether.
There’s also clear lack of vision and scope in this adventure. Locations are plainly detailed, never going beyond expectations of what a “castle” or “forest” may look like. Horrendous 3D, aside from a possible issue with the projector brightness at our screening, leads to crucial scenes, including the climax, becoming unfocused and nearly incomprehensible. Add in a rather rudimentary overall look in character design and Merida’s red locks, some vistas, a fish-catching sequence and the aforementioned archery scene are the few things remaining to marvel at.
What could have been a flourishing story led by a strongly motivated, role model-worthy central character, instead becomes a somewhat lifeless, scatterbrained and most disappointing of all, predictable, story. Despite the compelling mother-daughter relationship, expressed in rare sincerity compared to most animations that take a more nefarious approach, Brave chugs along with little lessons to glean, easily ending up as one of Pixar’s lower tier works.
Brave hits theaters Friday, June 22nd.
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