Visual splendor aside, Pixar's stock Scottish fable is let down by a serious lack of imagination.
Disregard the Luxo ident and typically charming complementary short, and there’s something irredeemably un-Pixar-like about Brave.
In some ways, the studio’s thirteenth feature is its most progressive. In gutsy young Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) it boasts the first Pixar heroine, and there are notable artistic milestones, too (this is by some distance Pixar’s most beautiful film).
But a dynamic female lead – even one whose coming-of-age isn’t legitimised by the pursuit of some impossibly chiseled Prince Charming – isn’t enough to remedy the lack of ambition in this stock Scottish fable.
Through a sequence of sweeping establishing shots we’re transported to the heart of the Scottish Highlands, a backdrop as dramatic and untamed as Merida’s cascading copper locks, sometime during the tenth century.
Merida, an outdoorsy, independent young woman, is horrified to learn that her parents, bovine King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and pushy Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), have invited three neighbouring clans to join them in finding her a suitor. Determined to shape her own fate,
Merida defies custom during an archery contest between the first-borns of each clan chief, plunging the kingdom into chaos with a single twang of her bow in the most explicitly feminist scene in Pixar’s history.
Merida is role model, action figure and new-school Disney Princess all rolled into one. A freckled crossbreed of Katniss Everdeen and Rebekah Brooks, her rebellious streak will excite younger viewers – but not so much as to upset Middle America (one cynical piece of scripting has Merida vehemently proclaim her heterosexuality, just to dispel any faint insinuation that she might be a lesbian).
And yet Merida’s story is neither contemporary nor socially relevant enough to raise Brave to the heights of Pixar’s other family value-oriented adventures, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo. Indeed, for a film about finding the courage to break free from tradition, Brave is disappointingly conventional.
The big question is, why would a studio that has built its name on the present-day escapades of a big-hearted cowboy, missing fish, lovesick robot and Michelin-starred rodent suddenly opt for a Far, Far Away yarn more typical of its parent company? There’s no obvious answer.
What is clear, however, is that two years and as many sequels into the current decade, this sub-Tangled shopping cart of pilfered fairy tale motifs – from bubbling cauldrons and charmed potions to accursed beasts and mystical woodland sprites – suggests Pixar’s sense of imagination no longer matches its appetite for technical innovation. Your move, DreamWorks.
Pixar’s first female protagonist heads up its first original story for three years.
It’s not Cars 2 bad, but Brave is way below the studio’s gold standard.
Visual splendour compensates for the narrative shortcomings and lack of emotional depth. Just.