It’s not fair to call Brave a return to form for Pixar. From a quality standpoint, yes, it definitely is comparable to other Pixar films. But it is also very different from everything than the studio has done before. It is Pixar’s most human movie to date. There are no talking monsters, toys or cars. If anything, this might be the first Pixar movie that has more in common with the classic Disney movies of old than anything Pixar has ever done. It has a princess, a witch in disguise, and a curse that has potentially fatal implications.
Merida is Scottish princess who is happiest when riding her horse through the woods at breakneck speeds, firing arrows at preset targets along the way. However, her mother, Queen Elinor has other plans for her. Merida’s destiny is to be married off to first born of another Scottish clan as an act of diplomacy. Merida has no interest in giving up her freedom and Elinor refuses to listen to her daughter’s pleas for independence. After stumbling upon a witch in the woods, Merida asks for a spell to make her mother change. Unfortunately, she did not specify what exact change she wanted, and what she got was a curse that could remove her mother from her life forever.
Every good Pixar film has a strong emotional center, and this one’s is based on the way parents and children communicate, or, rather, don’t communicate. Most filmmakers would just have the characters of Merida and Elinor scream at each other throughout the movie. Brave constructs a scene where Elinor pours her heart out while arguing her position to her husband Fergus and Merida states her case to her horse while cleaning its stable. It’s a brilliant scene of back and forth, a dialogue between two people in separate locations that would bridge their differences if they said the words to each other (and end the film at 20 minutes). But both Elinor and Merida are too proud and too stubborn for that to happen. However, this scene echoes in later scenes when the act of verbal communication becomes physically impossible for them and they have to find another way to communicate. We see that their mutual love and concern for one another makes them work to reach common ground. It’s a very powerful theme. And Pixar does it perfectly.
The animation in the film is the best its ever been in a Pixar film. Scotland’s rolling hills, scenic cliffs and lush waterfalls are so richly defined that you get the sense Scotland is a magical place even before the Wisps and Witches appear. Merida is drawn as the pitch perfect version of a teen who is at the cusp of leaving her awkward years and learning to assert herself. Her hair, well, I could probably make a lot of people uncomfortable by gushing over the way her hair is animated. But her shocking red mane is evocative of her character. It is wild and untamed. They probably had a team of animators working months to have Merida’s hair behave just right, and it was time well spent. Because it is little things like this that add dimensions to Pixar characters, help theatergoers become invested in them and make Pixar movies so great.
The voice cast, with the exception of Brits Emma Thompson as Elinor and Julie Walters as the witch and Pixar good luck charm John Ratzenberger as a palace guard, are all Scottish actors such as Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson and others. This adds yet another level or realism and allows audiences to immerse themselves deeper into the narrative.
If you are a parent, especially a mother, or a child, the film will probably resonate more with you than with others. But if you are one of those “others,” you will still enjoy Brave. It is a finely crafted film, where the plot points are clearly introduced and followed up on to the audiences satisfaction. It is solid, Grade A storytelling and sterling film making. It’s a great film, just the type you’d expect from Pixar. Highly recommended.