A young Scottish princess named Merida is sick and tired of her Queen mother telling her the proper way to behave as a member of royalty. Even worse, she is expected to marry one of the young men from three neighboring tribes as a gesture of maintaining peace. What Merida wants is her freedom, which she experiences on her days off when she teaches herself to become a brilliant archer.
Merida is an unusual lead for a Disney/Pixar film, as she is feisty, female, Scottish and possessing awesomely curly red hair. Coming from the studio that gave us Finding Nemo, everything about Merida and her world is vivid and beautiful. I was especially awestruck every time someone splashes water, as it never looked like animation at all.
To no one’s surprise, the animation in the new Pixar film is spectacular but the story is strange and ill conceived. I won’t give it away but there is a second act twist that takes the tale in an odd, clumsy direction that all about shoots the whole film in the foot. There are elements here that are appealing, such as the rollicking humor, collection of reliably wacky Scottish stereotypes, a bit of magic and a core theme of the disconnect between a mother and daughter.
Too bad none of these ever come together. The plot thread of the kingdom full of rowdy Scots provides some cheap laughs but never pays off, beyond some surprising CGI butt shots. The glowing blue “forest whisps” look and even sound cool as they flitter about but aren’t much on character. Same for the witch, brought in for story and comic relief purposes but is a clunky non-villain.
Most pivotally, the gap of age and understanding between the stubborn queen and her free-spirited daughter isn’t handled well. If you think about it, the way the story deals with their disconnect is mean spirited and inconclusive. I like that Pixar designed a film with a strong willed female lead with a desire to express her independence but, for all her intelligence and pluck, the movie doesn’t deserve her.
Rated PG for “Scary Action and Rude Humor,” I’d advise parents to consider the former a warning for their under 10-year old kids. A little girl sat next to me at a preview screening and, frequently during the film’s mid-section, kept saying aloud, “this is scary, I’m scared!” Later into the film, she started to ask, “Mommy, can we go home?” I don’t recommend entirely taking the advice of a small child into consideration, but I knew how she felt.
After last year’s pretty to look at but dismal Cars 2, this is another dud from the otherwise reliable Pixar. Maybe I’m putting them on too high a pedestal after making, to name just a few, Toy Story, The Incredibles, Up and Wall-E. On the other hand, their gift has been applying extraordinary visuals to cleverly shaped stories with endearing characters. Here, the story is a wash-out that the gorgeous visuals make just-watchable.
Considering the big action set pieces found throughout Pixar’s best films (the pelican chase in Finding Nemo, the conveyor belt of doors in Monsters Inc. and the climax of Up), nothing here feels exceptional and the ending lacks excitement and doesn’t give a needed emotional closure. The first 20 minutes are promising but, once the story takes a crucial wrong turn, the whole thing feels off.
The only thing I will remember about Brave years from now are those awesome, unruly locks of red hair, but not much about the girl whose hair it was, nor the adventures she had.
Rated PG / 93 Min.