- Vancouver, British Columbia - It’s hard to go wrong with Pixar, and I was rather delighted to see an advanced screening of their newest gem. I’d seen a teaser trailer, but all that really revealed to me was that there was a fiery red-haired Scots girl who is temperamental and amazing at archery. It left me curious as to what the meat of the movie was.
Brave takes place in medieval Scotland, where the princes of three clans are courting the ornery teenage princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald). She’s having none of it though, being an insatiable tomboy, and preferring acts of physical prowess than learning how to be a lady from her overbearing but well-meaning mother. Infuriated at being forced into marriage, she enters an archery competition to win her own hand and wins it. She and her mother get into a fight about tradition versus freedom, and Merida runs away. She stumbles across a witch’s hut and buys a spell to change her fate. It comes in the form of a tart, with instructions to feed it to her mother. But Merida is shocked to discover that the spell turns her mother into a bear – especially bad news since her father has a psychopathic obsession with killing bears.
I suppose I should quickly mention the elephant surrounding the movie, and that is the first director of the film, Brenda Chapman. Plenty of women have been involved in the film industry, but it’s uncommon for any to direct; even more so when it’s an animated movie. Chapman had a small but good background for such a huge task: The Prince of Egypt, a shockingly fantastic movie that you’d have to be a deranged gibbon to hate. She’d been working with Pixar for a few years, but took the reigns on this feature. Unfortunately, due to “creative differences,” she was replaced by Mark Andrews, who was the story supervisor on The Incredibles and other miscellaneous Pixar productions, and Steve Purcell, of Sam & Max fame. So while I do find it a shame that our first lady Pixar director was sent off to the cornfield mid-production, at least we had two other talented fellas come in for this work. And while some may see this as a blow to feminism in the field, I will say that Chapman’s work speaks for itself and if she would rather leave a project than compromise her vision for it, more power to her. I sincerely hope to see more work of hers in the future.
I found the film to still be quite excellent though, so I’m curious what the big disagreement was over. The film did remind me of the 2003 Disney flick Brother Bear but Brave was done so much better. I found Brother Bear to be a mess at times, shifting between tones and clichés, but Brave was very consistent. I also think this film is pretty mature, and maybe a little too mature for kids under 8. There’s some pretty dark scenes, a gritty fight scene near the end, and some supernatural concepts that are a little spooky. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t bring your kids, but don’t expect another Finding Nemo or (ugh) Cars.
I really like Merida. I know the whole rebellious tomboy princess thing has been done before, but she wasn’t unreasonable or stubborn to the point of being pigheaded like most of these types of characters are. It’s hard not to sympathize with both her and her mother Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson). These two ladies are from different worlds, ironically, and have a hard time communicating because of it. The ultimate antagonist would then simply be circumstances.
The three lords and their sons are a riot. The fathers are aggressive and proud clansmen who have mixed histories with each other, while the sons are a little dim and completely unsure of what and who they want to be. It’s great to see that highlighted, and especially nice to see that there’s not a single one who will wind up being the logical love interest.
Merida’s father, Fergus, is a fantastically complex character. Between his pride and his unusual sense of humour is a deep affection for his family, and a distasteful resignation to tradition. He’s patient and kind, but over-the-top and combative. And how can you go wrong when you’re voiced by Billy Connolly?
For that matter, it was nice to have so many Scottish actors in roles. I was half-expecting Sean Connery to pop in as a dragon (or something), but no such luck. Too bad. Emma Thompson, while being a Brit, pulled such a convincing Scots accent that I didn’t even remember it was her. Also hearing Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, and Robbie Coltrane bicker is worth the price of admission alone.
I’m having a really hard time finding some fault to the movie. Writing and pacing were excellent, animation was top-notch, acting was great…yeah, I see no reason why I can’t give this film full marks. Possibly one of Pixar’s bests, but definitely one of my favourites.
Rating: 5/5 Sour Grapes