A “Brave” new animated face



dir. Mark Andrews

Release Date: Jun 22, 12

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Pixar’s latest, Brave, tells the story of Merida (Kelly MacDonald), a young woman with a penchant for archery who also happens to be princess of a long-ago Scotland. Her parents volunteer her to be betrothed to one of three suitors, first sons of the big three Scottish clans. Merida has little to no interest in being a princess, and volunteers to play for her own hand, thus upsetting the clansmen, and more frighteningly her mother. This is where the tale truly begins. See how quickly I got us there? If only Pixar could have taken note.

While the story stays true to the “family” theme that Pixar loves, it doesn’t exactly follow through. We have an extremely strong focus on tension between Merida and her mother, Elinor (Emma Thompson), who come off as polar opposites. But there’s little to do with the relationship between her  and her father Fergus (Billy Connolly), or her mischievous tiny triplet brothers. The boys at least provide many a Kodak moment, and much humor.  At the same time, that does allow the focus of the dynamic between a teenage girl and her mother. They clash over duty and honor (Elinor) and youth and rebellion (Merida). It should also be noted, that very rarely is Merida referred to as “princess,” as is so common in Disney tales of young royalty.

For Merida’s ultimate act of rebellion against her mother, she finds her way to a witch’s cottage, where she requests a spell to change her mother’s mind on marriage. Now, there is no clear reason as to why Merida is so against marriage. Is it her youth, and not wanting to be told what to do? Does she just not want an arranged marriage? Is she fighting for social injustice? The questions could be endless, but all we hear is Merida whine, adorably in Scottish brogue, “I want meh freedom!” The character of Merida can be frustrating as well.

Merida’s hair is a perfect representation of the character: Her red hair is wild, unruly and bold, much like her. When the spell kicks in, which I won’t say what it involves, but it has a grisly effect on her mother. The entire time that her mother looks like she is moments from death, Merida is too concerned asking about her thoughts on marriage. This makes the character come off as completely selfish, which made me a bit sad. She should have shown at least a little concern for her mother.

Parts of the plot come off as conventional, by Pixar’s standards. But it can’t truly be fully blamed on their association with Disney. This is also a Pixar film that passed hands halfway through. The initial director, Brenda Chapman, was fired halfway through filming, where Mark Andrews took over. Unfortunately, that can be seen in the film. It’s not bad, but something feels “off.”

The potential that something could be missing is clear, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. I still found the film quite enjoyable, but that could be due to my own “mommy issues.” Merida’s spunk was wonderful, but definitely could have been reined in so that it came off as less petulant teenager. I spent some of the film rooting for Merida to grow up just a smidge, so she would understand her mother and the situation a bit more. While there is no clear villain in the film (at least one that has a common presence), I took it as Merida being her own worst enemy. If only she could be less stubborn.

The side characters were highly enjoyable; as I mentioned, her three brothers provide much comic relief, and her father (while quite oblivious to the goings on of his family) is warm and fun. And of course, being Pixar, the film is visually stunning. I saw it in 3D and it was the first I’d seen since How to Train Your Dragon that I felt got it right. It wasn’t overdone, and there were even a few scenes that made me jump in my seat. It’s still wonderful, because it’s still Pixar. It’s not Cars, it’s more The Incredibles, if  The Incredibles had pieces missing.