This review by Piers McCarthy.
Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
Starring (voices of): Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson
Synopsis: Princess Merida has vigour and a longing for adventure yet she is stuck inside the castle walls due to her mother’s command. In rebellion, she ventures out into the highlands yet along her way she meets a witch and brings about a curse that takes all of her bravery to break.
With the atrocious Cars 2 there was a fear that Pixar was beginning to fail us. One of the only positives that came of the Cars 2 experience was the Toy Story short, Hawaiian Vacation that preceded it. Giving the audience more time with their favourite animated toy troop was better in its six-minute run time than the entire feature that followed it. Brave’s accompanying film, La Luna, is too much style over substance and attempts to bring an imaginative perspective on the natural world (much like Partly Cloudy) that fails somewhat. After a glimpse of Pixar’s bronze-quality material with Cars 2, watching La Luna may worry you further – will this and its partnered feature become another flaccid film in Pixar’s repertoire? The answer is, fortunately not. Brave is a welcome return to form, though it’s a Cars and A Bug’s Life silver-value achievement still in the shadow of trophy pieces such as Toy Story, Wall-e and Up.
Despite the film starting with a dazzling aerial shot of the Scottish highlands, it is not the visuals that immediately draw your attention but the grandiose soundtrack. Patrick Doyle’s score echoes through the cinema, immersing the audience in the Celtic clamour. The sound has been mixed with a brand new Dolby Atmos sound system that can work through 64 speakers and the range of noise creates a wondrous ambience. The rain, the wind and the whispers of the will-o’-the-wisp are all so acutely channelled through the amazing sound mix. Paired with the delightfully scored soundtrack and the eclectic cast of voices, Brave’s sound is as meticulous in its craftsmanship as the visual rendering is.
Technically, it’s another milestone in its genre. Much like Wall-e’s space art, The Incredibles’ cloth capturing and Up’s emotional vérité, Brave advances all aspects of environment, clothing, hair and human particulars that dwarf the memory of anything that’s tried the same. Something habitually compared to Brave is the medieval DreamWorks picture, How to Train Your Dragon. Both Dragon and Brave concern themselves with Celtic clans and mammoth beasts but the latter has visually bettered the rival studio’s film. Facial expression and minute details of body language have never been as deftly portrayed as they are in Brave. However, the film’s biggest downfall is its tawdry plot line to which Dragon boasts a more entertaining narrative.
Having multiple directors and a four-way scripting staff is usually a thorny aspect of considered and concise filmmaking. It is the case here and Brave’s tone and pace is never precise. The film’s first twenty minutes are terrific, with a strong introduction to each character and an emotional resonance immediately made. As soon as Merida flees from the home and meets Julie Walter’s witch, however, it strays off its well-paved path. Without giving away spoilers, the curse is all-too similar to a previous Disney film – both incarnations falling flat. In fact, there are many incidents within Brave that feel borrowed from previous Disney classics, never allowing the film to stand out were it not for the female protagonist.
Merida is wonderful role that is well-rounded and perfectly voiced by Macdonald. Comparatively, Emma Thompson’s mother character is not only brought to life by the script, but also by the actress at the microphone. In terms of casting, the directors have chosen their voices skilfully. Whilst the supporting cast have an authentic input, their characters are rather bland in comparison to the two prominent female figures. The men behave like any stereotypical Scotsmen, brawling and burping their way through their scenes. The three small brothers – Hamish, Hubert and Harris – are the only male characters that entertain completely. Despite the wee siblings becoming devices to bring about the slapstick comedy (dangerously close the comic-style of Mater’s antics in Cars 2) they still bring a smile to your face.
The demographic for Brave is mainly children and young girls yet it tries to extend its reach to a more mature audience who may have been scared away after Pixar’s last feature. It’s not the company’s most glorious film that one always wishes for with a Pixar movie, but it’s significantly better than nearly all contemporary animation. It is interesting to see Pixar tackle the fairytale story but it’s a Disney staple and one that should remain with them; in that effort Pixar wastes time in making the more unique films.
In sum, Brave’s heart is in the right place and its animation is possibly the best seen up till now. Nevertheless, it rehashes one too many plot-lines and confuses itself with tone and addressing a particular audience. The subversion of gender does prove to be an interesting and fresh take on the fairytale but that is nothing without an interesting story to accompany it.