A film review by Craig J. Koban July 4, 2012


2012, PG, 100 mins.


Merida: Kelly Macdonald / Fergus: Billy Connolly / Elinor: Emma Thompson / Dingwall: Robbie Coltrane / Macintosh: Craig Ferguson / MacGuffin: Kevin McKidd / The Witch: Julie Walters

Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman / Written by Andrews, Chapman, Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi.


It comes as no surprise whatsoever that each new Pixar computer animated film surpasses its predecessor in terms of the scope and scale of its artistry.  For the lauded studio’s 13th film, BRAVE, the makers have apparently re-wrote their animation software and systems for the first time in over 20 years, and the end results are predictably a bountiful feast for the eyes.  This just might be the most astonishingly detailed and evocative looking of all the films in Pixar’s iconic canon, which is saying quite a bit considering that some of the films on their resume include RATATOUILLE, THE INCREDIBLES, WALL-E, TOY STORY I through 3, and UP.


BRAVE, as remarkable as it sounds, is also the very first film from Pixar that involves a female protagonist, which is a nice change of pace seeing as so many films as of late fail to provide young female viewers with suitable role models of hero worship.  In terms of other firsts, BRAVE is also the company’s first foray into fairy tale-fantasy and it grounds its central story in pre-medieval Scotland laced with elements of the fantastical.  As a result of these creative changes in new directions, BRAVE emerges as a strong standalone effort apart from other Pixar efforts in terms of its look and feel.  Considering their previous films involved everything from talking and cooking rats, toys come to life, futuristic/space trekking robots, and balloon riding senior citizens, the reality-based period and settings of BRAVE are an aesthetically energizing change of pace.


Set in the 10th Century highlands of Scotland, BRAVE introduces us to a kingdom ruled over by King Fergus (voiced with robust zeal by the great Billy Connelly) and Queen Elinor (an authoritative Emma Thompson) that are in the midst of preparing their daughter, Merida (the feisty Kelly Macdonald) to be married off to her choice of three men of varying degrees of worth from her father’s allied clans: Dingwall, Macintosh, or – my personal favourite – MacGuffin.  Merida’s mother pleads with her daughter regarding the nature of honor and duty when it comes to be married off as a future Queen, but Merida is a free-spirited, liberal minded, and independent teenage-warrior-princess that enjoys more time on her steed practicing her archery than with thoughts of future nobility. 



The clans do arrive for the fateful day, each with their respective first born sons participating in a contest of Merida’s choosing (archery) to prove their worth as her husband.  However, Merida grows increasingly irritated by how planned her destiny is becoming, so she not only sabotages the event by participating in it herself (she mops the floor with all the three men in terms of archery skills) and then flees the kingdom after a heated argument with her very upset mother.  Merida is led into the deep and dark forest by a serious of ghostly blue lights that guide her to a hut populated by a witch (Julie Walters).  Merida is still fuming at her mother’s insistence on her planned nuptials, so she approaches the aging necromancer to produce a spell that will transform Merida's mother into a subservient being catering to any of her wishes.  When Merida does return home and the spell is cast on her mother, it has disastrous side effects that could prove permanent if not cast out by the next sunrise.  With the witch mysteriously disappearing, it becomes a battle against time for Merida to save her mother.


As already stated, BRAVE is a masterful audio/visual tour de force of 3D animation spectacle.  The Scottish highlands in particular are drenched with halo after halo of sunlight and natural color and always seems to carry an incredible tactile quality (the whole environment just seems alive and real).  Complimenting and contrasting the veracity of the period locales are the exaggerated designs of the characters in the film, all of which seem intentionally tailor made to reflect the personalities within.  Merida is an exquisite and beautifully rendered creation with her porcelain skin, bright and inquisitive eyes, and twisting and flowing locks of crimson hair; she’s a spitfire adolescent that rocks a cool look to match her fiery and troublesome disposition.


The other admirable quality of the film - beyond its consummate visual delights - are its central themes of the relationships between mothers and daughters and how both parties need to work respectfully together to understand the other.  BRAVE deals with the complex weave of emotional turmoil that rebellious teens and their overprotective and strict mothers go through, which gives the film a surprising dramatic poignancy.  Merida and her mother both love one another, but they have their own inherent goals and aspirations for where Merida wants to be in life, which consequentially leaves both parties struggling to understand them when they don’t fit tidily into their own worldview.  As in life, the dire circumstances that Merida and her mother find themselves in inevitably brings them together to become stronger.  A message like this could have been overly sentimentalized in its delivery or haphazardly tacked on to BRAVE’s story, but the writers here give it appropriate weight and consideration.


For as brilliant as the film is for its artistic ambition and thematic density, BRAVE nonetheless never really comes off as very innovative.  The period-centric setting may be new for Pixar, but HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON has already tapped similar territory to much more engaging effect, not to mention that the whole overreaching story seems to be made up of regurgitated extras from countless other fairy tales and Disney films that we’ve seen countless times before: beautiful, but tough and free-spirited princesses; her animal companion that never leaves her sight (in this case, her horse); her crotchety, but lovably goofy king father and her hot tempered queen mother; the scary and intimidating witch that that entices the princess with promises of good fortune, only to backstab her later; loved ones turning into creatures that may end up that way forever if not fixed, making those close to them feel guilty for past hostilities; and so on and so on.  I’ve always considered Pixar a trailblazing company of trendsetting filmmakers, but BRAVE seems to be hitting too many perfunctory and borrowed elements from better past films for the studio's own good.


Maybe this has something to do with the fact that the film’s co-director, Brenda Chapman (who officially shares that credit with Mark Andrews) left BRAVE (or was replaced, depending on which story you buy) over artistic and creative differences with her Pixar colleagues.  She may have had an ample reason for leaving: BRAVE’s narrative kind of meanders and its tone – which traverses between slapstick, Scottish caricature and clichés and dark and ominous menace – seems wildly all over the map.  Yet, I still admired the film’s irresistibly lush and sumptuous animation, its wonderful voice work from all involved (Macdonald’s persistently genuine vocal accent is a thing of beauty on its own), and its worthwhile message of mending broken ties between mothers and daughters, a message that many a young child and teenager should pay attention to and embrace.  BRAVE is certainly not in the high upper echelon of Pixar masterpieces, but it still entertains and has the sizable wow factor that every Pixar film seems to effortlessly conjure up.  


CrAiGeR's other
Film Reviews


THE INCREDIBLES  (2004)  jjjj


RATATOUILLE  (2007)  jjjj


WALL-E  (2008)  jjj


UP  (2009 jjjj


TOY STORY 3  (2010 jjj



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