Tuesday, June 26, 2012


The aura of legends means something in the film Brave, the thirteenth feature film from the legendary and stalwart brand of Pixar Animation Studios.  A deeper legend surrounds the film with Pixar's tradition of mesmerizing storytelling, which has demonstrated the best, the brightest and the most hopeful place of fostering warm films, rich in humanity and emotion since 1995 when the first Toy Story changed the facet of modern filmmaking.  That penchant for matching unparalleled vision of scope mixed with heart and state of the art visual mechanics has made the brand indispensable and altered the filmmaking consciousness of the awe and power of animated features in mode that might seem tantamount to when Walt Disney unveiled Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs in 1939.  While that one-upman-ship game of expanding their reach ended with last years inert (but still financially viable Cars 2) stalled the regime of it's unmatched critical prowess, they have struck back with a honorable, beautifully rendered film, that while a bit pale in comparison to the storytelling heights they have soared, can be seen as a calm, it's-okay-it-will-get-better plea for their most ardent fans.

Set in a mythological time and place in old world Scotland, Brave tells the tale of Merida (voiced with a sly authenticity by Kelly MacDonald), a new world princess begrudging of her old world traditions.  A tomboy adventurer with a Katniss Everdeen prowess for the bow and arrow, Merida rejects her mother, Queen Elinor's (voiced by Emma Thompson) proper princess grooming and seeks to run wild with reckless abandon.  She's a pretty good shot too, and while Brave may hit it's point a bit too on the nose from time to time, she's a fine character and worthy of the title of Pixar's first female protagonist pole position.  In a nice mode that distinguishes her from the normal sect of damsel in distress princesses in the Disney line is her rebellious streak, spiteful tongue and unwaveringly bouncy red hair.  While never quite read as a feminist sermon, Brave does have a few wittily and encouragingly you-go-girl streaks.  Rather than play to customs of her mother's old world values of obtaining a suitor, Merida persists in showing them up, embarrassing the sad lot of boys pinning for her affections.  Her father, King Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly) is the proud lout of the land.

The heart of Brave is it's mother-daughter bond and the angst and anger that separates them.  Without giving way to spoilers, Merida makes a huge mess of things after running away in a huff and making a visit to an elderly witch (amusingly voiced by Julie Walters) who sets a spell that changes the dynamics of mom and lass; cuing the lessons of mutual understandings to come.  At once a bit overly simplified and strikingly less than ambitions per Pixar standards, Brave settles in more as an enjoyable diversion than a riveting animated tale despite a visual technician that is one of the venerable studios most robust (the darkened 3-D image takes away a bit of that, sadly.)  Credited by five writers and created by Brenda Chapman, who also served as co-director (before she was dismissed), the unfortunate piece of the puzzle seems like an incomplete connection between Merida, certainly a spirited character, and the audience who has come to expect more than mere perfunctory character development from the legends of the great animators and artisans.

For a while Brave coasts on an easy going, enjoyable ride, but never reaches the transcendental apex that one hopes for.  There's never a moment that connects emotionally in the same vein as WALL-E's dance in space, or Up's novelistic prologue-- the sense of maturity, magic and humanity never coalesces.  Instead, there's lots of manic slapstick and a pace that never quite catches fire, while at the same time never reaching the embarrassing lows of Cars 2.  One suspects that if Brave had been the product of a brand with a less studious legend attached, it might be easier to applaud its sprightly and eager-to-please charms; but that legend looms within every frame and scene and makes the heart grow ever fonder of the storytelling brand that Pixar has become so associated with.  Merida is an eye-catching character, but in the end reads only slightly more interesting the below-the-line stock princesses of Disney proper's past.  She's got the fire, but not the outlet to unleash her power.  B-

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