Brave is a small film, but don't get me wrong. I suppose learning from the mistake that Cars 2 made, Pixar probably realized that bigger doesn't always necessarily mean better, and this film told what it wanted to tell in a fairly straightforward fashion. To be honest I wasn't too thrilled with the teasers and trailer, but the end product was way better, and a surprise. Being a Disney film as well, it somehow felt that it couldn't escape from the formula that Disney had already established with its animated stories, although that may be a good thing since Pixar hasn't really broached the same subject, yet.
So under tremendous pressure from being an offspring of one of the juggernauts in the CG animated film arena, Brave was courageous enough to go for the familiar that Disney had to offer, but done in Pixar's style. We have a female director in Brenda Chapman at the helm, who co-wrote the screenplay with Steve Purcell, Mark Andrews and Irene Mecchi, which like in fairy tales, takes place with Kings and Queens, Princesses and Princes, Witches and Magic Spells, rooted in old Scotland. It's Scottish and the filmmakers aren't apologetic about the heavy accents, and the protagonist is a teenage girl, which fits the mold of the famous princesses under Disney's fold. Fiercely independent with a mind of her own, and always eager to question, with a penchant to break tradition, Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) isn't your typical demure princess, but like Disney princesses in recent years, have grown to encapsulate values of the modern woman, with abilities to equal, or even surpass, the many burly men, and none too burly peers, rather than to be the typical damsel in distress.
This is probably the very first mother-daughter story arc for Pixar, and one of the rare few like The Invincibles and Ratatouille that has human protagonists. Chapman and team bring about a lot of female sensitivity when crafting the characters here, and this especially stands out in both Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and Merida of course, with the former being a proponent of tradition, and very much a stickler for protocol, that women in their position should know how to conduct themselves, and avail themselves for marriage to seal alliances and such. Merida on the other hand, is that quintessential tomboy, never batting an eyelid at scaling mountains and walls, or charging through the forests with her horse, and is a formidable archer to boot. Doted, she finds her birthright stifling, and most of the first act sees her self-sabotage at a Games conducted to find her a beau from three clans. This is natural avenue for comedy to happen given the varied abilities of her suitors, and the family background they come from.
But the distinction in Brave, comes from the mother-daughter tussle, with both sides failing to appeal to the other to listen. In a rebellious response, Merida runs away from home, only to encounter the Witch (Julie Walters), whose help Merida enlists to conjure a magic cake in order to change her mom's attitude, but this of course presents something quite expected given the blatant clues left lying around. It's a classic tale of being careful with what you wish for, and then the tale of regret in desire a revert to what once was. It's not going to be easy, and with help from her triplet brothers (who inevitably are primed to steal the show, with spin off potential at the side), Merida has to make things right before the deadline of two sunrises.
As always, Pixar's animation quality is impeccable, and the studio seemed to have cracked one of the holy grails in how vivid one can make a character's hair appear to be. This is no Tangled, and throughout the film you can really sense how Merida's bright red hair would have felt, with the action scenes providing much of a challenge for air, erm, hair flow, and you'd really be convince it's probably real hair up there on screen. The animals in the film, from horses to bears, are also very well detailed, and it's as close to what one would expect from the animal kingdom as possible. Like most animated films from Disney and Pixar, Brave also had some relatively off moments in its comical scenarios, given that for the most parts it's fairly dark in mood, with scenes that deal with the occult and magical beings.
What I had enjoyed about the film, is how simple it took the notion of things happening for a reason, and made it a critical emotional punch. It boiled down to having a solid story and crafting characters whom you will care for, or grow to care about. And if you'd take a step back, you'd also probably realize that the magic cake did really make Merida's wish come true, albeit in a very roundabout fashion. Things may not seem like they are in effect at the time, but usually with the benefit of hindsight, you'd come to appreciate why certain things happened in a certain way to ultimately achieve the results one desires. The witch had her chance for redemption, given an earlier and grave mistake made that had effected a lower profile of a wood cover, and took it well, confident enough not to warrant any follow up scenes, except perhaps to fulfill a promise shown at the stinger at the end of credits.
Merida, without a doubt, joins the ranks of the other classical Disney Princesses. Highly recommended!
Like all Pixar feature films, I'd always look forward to the short film that precedes the main feature proper, and the tale here, La Luna, deals with a little boy's ingenuity, in a fantasy tale about how the Moon can change its look, thanks to a three-generation family of grandfather-father-son who have this thankless task of sweeping up reflective stars from the surface of the moon. Beneath the cute looking facades of the characters - the father with a bushy moustache and the grandfather with an incredibly long beard - this short film tells about how one finally becomes one's own man, with some support given from one's kin. Again this shows off Pixar's storytelling ability in making a touching film, sans spoken dialogue. Absolutely beautiful.