'Brave:' Visually stunning tale deftly explores mother/daughter relationships, modern themes
Published: Friday, June 22, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 19, 2012 18:07
Starring Kelly MacDonald, Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson
Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell
The success of any Pixar film is measured in tears. Subjectively, “Toy Story 2,” “Toy Story 3,” and the first five minutes of “Up” win for most tears per minute, TPM. Though, a new contender has arrived. Despite being different from any other Pixar movie to date, “Brave,” with a few more viewings, may win the crown for the “Pixar Movie Most Guaranteed to Make You Cry.” The undignified, snot-filled kind of crying that looks like your whole face is leaking.
“Brave” is different, most notably in that it’s the first Pixar movie to have a female lead. In this case, Princess Merida, voiced by Kelly MacDonald of “Boardwalk Empire” fame. Since the movie is distributed by Disney, the 10th century Scottish Merida technically falls under the Disney “princess banner” and fits in well with that crowd. Merida has the rebellious streak of Jasmine and Ariel and the brains of Belle and Mulan.
That is one of the main drawbacks of the movie, if any. Merida wants only to be free, but without facing a war like Mulan or a magical villain like Jasmine, Merida comes off as spoiled because she lacks that character focus. Merida simply prefers to climb, ride and explore through the countryside with her bow and arrows. In the movie, she has come of age and is set to be married off, the same way her mother was and much of the drama comes from her unwillingness to choose a husband, though understandably: the pickings are slim.
That’s exactly what “Brave” gets right. The central storyline focuses on Merida and her mother, Elinor, voiced with dignity by Emma Thompson (“Sense and Sensibility”). Disney movies get a lot of daughter-father relationships – the mother always seems missing or dead. Here, “Brave” tackles that relationship head-on and delivers the first of its kind without making Elinor wicked, which also usually seems to be the case. The scene that earns the most TPM will not be spoiled here, but know that it is earned, well-done and vital to the story.
We’re talking Bambi’s mom level of sadness.
Back to the goofy suitors that Merida is presented – it’s interesting that despite 80+ years of animated feature formula, there is no romantic interest and for a modern member of the audience, that’s just fine. It would have set a bad precedent, to go this route and then fall back on tropes. To have Merida be saved by or save some prince would do injustice to the story. Again, “Up” already tackled a beautiful, realistic love story in just under five minutes.
“Brave” is also most notably missing the traditional sidekick character. Think Buzz, Dory, Dug and Mater. Instead the combined talent of Billy Connoly (“Boondock Saints”), Julie Waters (“Harry Potter”), Robbie Coltrane (“Harry Potter”), Kevin McKidd (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and Craig Ferguson (“How to Train Your Dragon”) fill the movie with nonstop humor and help contribute to a very fast pace. The villain of the movie is a big ugly bear, but there isn’t a whole lot there to work with. It doesn’t talk, but there are magical elements to the story.
It helps that Merida is well defined and a good choice for the hero character. The writers chose to make Merida an archer, which by now, we can see as the ancient equivalent of the super-talented sniper.
Ultimately it comes down to Pixar, which tried something different and succeeded. Sure there are nits to pick, but in recent years the idea that “Well, it’s Pixar, so it’s guaranteed to be at least good,” is a bad place to be, which resulted in “Cars 2.” Instead, the cast and crew of “Brave” re-raised the bar with a fantastic main character.
Hopefully it won’t be the last we see of her.