I often wonder if Pixar's feature film track record is a blessing or a curse for the animators and film makers in Emeryville. They've made great films--some instant classics--and some flawed films, but they have never made a truly bad one, so every new release automatically comes with the baggage of high expectations. Consequently, it's becoming increasingly difficult to review a Pixar film on its own terms anymore without making a knee-jerk assessment of how it ranks against its predecessors.
That said, Brave--now available on home video--is not perfect, but it's better than Cars. Very much so.
It's an exquisitely animated film steeped in Scottish folklore that presents Pixar's very first female protagonist. Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is a headstrong young princess in a clan ruled by her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), a burly and gregarious warrior who lost part of his leg in a legendary battle with a vicious bear named Mor'du. Merida takes much after her father. She's grown up learning his fighting ways and has become very skilled with weaponry, especially a bow and arrow, much to the chagrin of her regal mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who believes Merida should respect tradition and act more like a proper princess.
|Merida and her mum, Queen Elinor|
As the expression goes, be careful what you wish for. The spell indeed changes Merida's fate, but it also puts her family in mortal danger and threatens to destroy the entire kingdom. It's up to Merida to somehow mend the damage and, in the process, learn the values of understanding and compromise.
Brave is both humorous and heartfelt, adeptly tapping into the complex emotions that bind all mothers and daughters together. There is depth to both Merida's and the Queen's characters. You see the love and the stubbornness that define them both--the emotions that push them apart and ultimately bring them back together. If there's any weakness in the film, it's that the emotional moments don't always flow smoothly with the comic ones, which tend to be too broad at times. There's the obligatory what-Scotsmen-wear-under-their-kilts joke, and I thought the witch was unnecessarily over the top in a Warner Bros. Witch Hazel sort of way. These are minor beefs, however, in a film that otherwise has its heart in the right place.
So, where does that put Brave in the Pixar hierarchy of films? For me, it lands it squarely in the bottom half of Pixar's 13 feature-length productions. But that's no sin, not when you consider it's in the company of Toy Story and A Bug's Life. That's the pleasure of Pixar films. Even their second bests are better than most.
I'll post my ranking of the Pixar films one of these days. In the meantime, what's your favorite? Your least favorite? And where does Brave fit in the mix? Leave your comments below or share your thoughts on Facebook.