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Brave (A Movie Review)



BRAVE (2012)

Featuring the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Sally Kinghorn, Eilidh Fraser, Peigi Barker, Steven Cree, Steve Purcell, Callum O’Neill and John Ratzenberger.

Screenplay by Mark Andrews & Steve Purcell and Brenda Chapman & Irene Mecchi.

Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.  93 minutes.  Rated PG.

Is Pixar losing its mojo?

For almost two decades now (has it been that long?) the studio has been releasing acclaimed computer-animated films annually, arguably hitting their zenith in 2009-2010 with the double punch of Up and Toy Story 3.

The beloved Disney animated wing has had a kind of rough year.  Last year, for the first time the studio got rather bad reviews – and deservedly so – for it’s rather weak sequel Cars 2.  At the time of the release, John Lasseter one of the studio’s heads and the director of the film, got into a positive huff when his film was not embraced by the world, whining to the New York Times that being a filmmaker was a bit like being a trapeze artist with a death wish.

A year later, the follow-up film from the studio has arrived, which is also Pixar’s first non-sequel since Up.  Expectations were high for this tale about a medieval Scottish princess who wants to find adventure in her life.

It’s probably not a good thing that it almost feels like warmed-over How To Train Your Dragon.  Particularly because How To Train Your Dragon was essentially warmed-over, wannabe Pixar.  No, there are no dragons here – though there are a lot of bears that need training.  And sadly, there is a plot that veers from touching to magical to silly to ridiculous.

In fairness, Brave is not a horrible film.  But it’s not really a very good one, either.

Like How to Train… as well as Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and the Shrek films for that matter… Brave is a story taking place in a fantasy variation of the castles and bogs of medieval Scotland.

Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald of Boardwalk Empire) is the oldest child of a royal family.  When she turns 17, her parents (Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson) insist that she be wooed by some local princes and their families to merge their thrones.  They must also compete in an archery contest for the princess’ hand.

However, Merida is a modern woman in a fairytale past.  She is an expert with a bow and arrow, she can fight as hard as any man and she doesn’t want to be married off.

This story has been told many times – in Disney and out – and Brave has little to add to the genre.

The king is a slightly addled barbarian who lost his leg to a legendary wild bear.  The queen is concerned with appearances and with Merida being a proper lady – which is odd, because the prologue shows the queen and the princess as being loving and supportive of each other, and yet by the time the proper story starts the princess can’t stand her mum.

Therefore, Merida runs away into the woods, where she meets a mysterious witch.  The princess, who is meant to be our heroine, tries to have the witch cast a spell on her mother without bothering to find out what the spell was and how it works.  This seems awfully cavalier and rather childish for this woman who is supposed to be trying to prove herself self-sufficient.

I won’t tell you what the spell is, nor will I tell you whether it works.  I’ll just say that it turns out to be surprisingly silly.

On the plus side, as is traditional with the studio, Brave looks stunning.  The castles, the woods, the will’o’the’wisps, the bears, even Merida’s fiery red ringlets show craft and love.

I just wish all that craft was used on a more worthy story.  Brave is the type of unadventurous, unremarkable, slightly pandering kiddie entertainment that Pixar is normally able to avoid in their features.  That it is slightly better than the similar knock-offs from Pixar’s competition does not erase the fact that the movie is not close to being up to the studio’s high standards.

Still, it is a hell of a lot better than Cars 2.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2012 All rights reserved. Posted: November 13, 2012.

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