Brave features Pixar’s first heroine, a fiery tomboy named Merida (Kelly Macdonald) who follows in the grand tradition of Disney princesses. She’s determined to walk her own path in life despite the many responsibilities she has, a fact which her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) finds insufferable and unmaidenly. In her view Merida needs to start acting less like a wild beast and more like a proper, refined princess – particularly since her daughter is soon to be presented with a handful of suitors from the region’s most prominent Scottish clans: Dingwall, MacGuffin and Macintosh.
Merida, whose bouncy red hair is probably her most memorable asset, is having none of this by-the-numbers princess stuff that her mum keeps harping on about. Much is whined and blathered on about ‘changing fate’, with the opening act ultimately building up to the highly promoted archery tournament in which Merida displays her Hawkeye-level skills. At this point it seems like things are on track for a mature, high quality Pixar storyline but some angst and a witch later things soon devolve into one of those ‘curse that must be lifted before sunrise in a couple of days’ stories.
The familiar direction would have been fine if the film did something new with the material, but it doesn’t. Instead, Brave’s claim to fame is really only that it stars Pixar’s first female protagonist. Even so, Merida feels like a second-rate Arya Stark or Katniss Everdeen, certainly paling compared to other Disney princess. At least Jasmine and Ariel got musical numbers to sing to; Merida is saddled with a couple of montages set to folky music with forgettable lyrics. The whole time I kept thinking that Brave could have been so much more if it simply took a page from Disney’s fun-filled Tangled.
Brave is just bland, even from a visual standpoint. Sure, it’s technically astounding and there are definite moments of beauty, but it has a very generic medieval European look and feel that’s saturated by an earthy palette which drains a lot of the brightness, colour and vitality from the overall picture. Yes, the animation itself is impressive – the level of polish is what you’d expect from a Pixar film – but both the visuals and score lack the imagination and playfulness that was present in something like DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon.
The humour is there but also a little flat, as directors Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell rely on occasional rounds of slapstick and the vocal talents of Billy Connolly as Merida’s father, King Fergus, to convey the laughs. Connolly is great in the role and probably the highlight of the film – his overgrown character has an aversion to bears which becomes increasingly important as the plot progresses. What a shame it is then that the story doesn’t bother to do anything genuinely brave, coasting by on the safe and secure, tired and mundane.
A promising start folds to dull themes and a dearth of inventiveness, as Brave’s heroine Merida struggles to sustain the little magic on offer in what is otherwise a polished if unremarkable entry in Pixar’s lineup.