The pervasive sentiment among critics so far is that Brave feels more like a Disney movie than a Pixar movie, but that doesn’t take away from this film’s achievements. I’ve never seen an animated Disney film pull off a mother-daughter relationship half as satisfying as this one, and while the plot may stumble across some rote and familiar territory here and there, it’s still an immensely satisfying story that gives ample reasons to care about its characters. Brave not only has a beautiful setting and gorgeous animation, it’s also an empowering tale that encourages you to live by the old Terminator 2 mantra, “there’s no fate but what we make.”
As others before me have pointed out, 2012 is certainly the year of the bow on film, with arrows flying from all corners of the cinematic landscape (The Hunger Games, The Avengers, Immortals, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, even The Five-Year Engagement). Princess Merida (Mcdonald) doesn’t take kindly to the news that she’ll have suitors competing for her hand in marriage, so she uses her archery skills to buck tradition and compete for her own hand. This greatly displeases her mother, Queen Elinor (Thompson), who has tried to raise Merida in the ways of royalty despite her daughter’s stubborn attitude and love for the outdoors. But when Merida stumbles across a witch in the wilderness and purchases a spell from her that will “change [Merida’s] fate,” she forgets to read the fine print and endangers not only her own family, but the future of her entire kingdom.
Thanks to its location and accented cast, this film will undoubtedly draw comparisons to DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon from 2010. (Trivia: Craig Ferguson stars in both movies.) But Brave swaps the “boy and his pet” story for a “girl and her mom” one, and while some of those narrative elements bizarrely end up crossing over between the two films (I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say more than that), Brave should be judged on its own merits. The movie takes a strange turn when the spell is put into motion, and though it lacks the sophistication a lot of Pixar’s previous films possess, it should be celebrated for wonderfully intertwining its “message” within the essential plot (instead of tacking it on as an afterthought, as many animated films seem to do).
Merida is a stubborn heroine, but the writers made some great choices with how she resolves the film’s main conflict. Though constantly at odds with her mother’s ideals, the two actually learn from each other as the film progresses and the knowledge they gain from each other becomes essential to their survival. I also really appreciated how the movie is devoid of a love interest for the protagonist, keeping the mother-daughter relationship the focal point instead of bogging the story down with an unnecessary romance.
Brave’s story goes to some strange places, but because its emotions ring true, I’m willing to forgive its few missteps, including a less-than-brilliant score. Perhaps that sums up a lot of my colleagues’ problems with this film: Pixar’s stellar reputation might actually be hindering it here. It’s next to impossible to live up to the studio’s previous track record, and just because something is “less-than-brilliant” doesn’t mean it’s not good. If everything Pixar does is of the absolute highest caliber, then movies like Toy Story wouldn’t stand out as modern classics. Brave isn’t a work of genius, but it hits its mark anyway, accomplishing its goals and even leaving me a bit choked up at the end. As a film that makes you want to walk out of the theater and immediately hug your own mom, it also seems destined to be a Mother’s Day classic. We’ll just have to wait and see what fate has in store for it. Until next time…