Brave: Ravishing, But Light

By Sandra Olmsted

Visually ravishing and superbly acted, Pixar’s 13th film, Brave, promises extraordinary storytelling and filmmaking in the opening sequence and a girl-powered adventure in the character of Princess Merida. But, alas and alack, directors Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell deliver a risk free, traditional story where the female characters are as underdeveloped as any other fairy tale’s female characters.

This is not to say that the film isn’t worth seeing or won’t be successful. It is and will be both.  In keeping with the standard treatment of women in animated films, the big animation development in Brave is the animation techniques used to make Merida’s wild hair look more realistic than past animated women’s hair.

On the cusp of adulthood and marriage, Merida (Kelly Macdonald) remains a wild tomboy who chafes under the guidance of her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), whose training is meant to make Merida a good queen and dutiful wife. Merida’s father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), a rough and tumble ruler, seems more viking than Highland King and plays only a small part in Merida’s training.  Merida proclaims that she doesn’t need a man to be happy and shows up her prospective husbands, who are simply characterized as inept and insipid.

Despite “winning her own hand,” Merida finds her mother still insists that a husband must be selected, and Merida takes to the forest where she follows the will-o’-the-wisps to the doorstep of a witch (Julie Walters), who pretends to be a wood craver.  After requesting a potion to change her mother’s mind, Merida receives a cake infused with magic.  Once back at the castle, Merida presents the cake as a peace offering to Queen Elinor, and after one bite, Elinor is transformed into a bear.  Although humor comes from the Bear-Elinor trying to maintain her queenly dignity, danger lures in King Fergus’ hatred of bears, to one of which he lost a leg.

With the witch having disappeared, her dad and the visiting clans ready to kill every bear, and the curse scheduled to become permanent in two days time, Merida will need to find the strength to protect her mother and figure out the riddle of the curse in order to get her mother back to human form.  In the process of regretting the use of magic and, consequently, the flaunting of traditions, Merida must come to terms with her place in the world and appreciate the love and authority of her mother, which sounds less like girl empowerment than a confirmation of women as subservient.  Although the mother-daughter relationship is the center of the story, the fact that Elinor can’t talk for most of the film makes the development of the relationship a wee bit one-sided.

Brave falls short of Pixar’s high standard, but fans of traditional Disney films, such as the studio’s first feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, will hardly notice the problems with Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, and Irene Mecchi’s script.  The unobtrusive 3D animation zooming through the verdant Scottish highland’s primordial forest and ancient castle, Patrick Doyle’s inspiring musically score, which is performed by Randy Newman and Michael Giacchino, and the lilting Scottish accents performed by the cast make Brave a tasty treat.

Although lacking the humor expected in a Pixar film, Merida’s three younger brothers provide a wee bit of humor, but remain in distinguishable as individuals.  More individualized, but underused as comic relief, Merida’s suitors and the partying highland warriors at least amuse with their antics. On the up side, Brave conforms to Disney’s world view of royalty embodying goodness and honor, growing up means accepting responsibility, and love triumphs over magic.  The film also doesn’t resort to a love interest for Merida to select as her husband and leaves her free and single to discover love for herself a probable sequel.  The kid-friendly Brave, a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release of a Pixar Animation Studios production, does provide the universal message of respecting your parents and not snorting too loudly at traditions and rules.

Similar to Mulan,  Brave  introduces a female central character whose universal appeal as a tomboyish warrior begs that the film crosses over to enchant boys as well as girls.  Brave is rated PG for some scary action and rude humor and runs 93 minutes, making it one of the shortest Pixar features; fortunately, Brave screens with writer-director Enrico Casarosa’s Oscar-nominated short film, “La Luna,” which adds seven minutes to the running time. The delightful “La Luna” chronicles the coming-of-age story of a young boy who joins the unusual film business.  Brave and the accompanying “La Luna” are in theaters now.


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