If you had the chance to change your fate, would you?
We have come to expect a lot from Pixar. Starting in 1995 with the first Toy Story, the groundbreaking studio has produced a string of instant classics, the likes of which include Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up. And let’s not forget the two Toy Story sequels, the most recent of which — Toy Story 3 — was nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including a nod for Best Picture and a win for Best Animated Feature.
Our expectations have grown so much over the years that last year’s effort, Cars 2, was lambasted by critics and audiences alike for not being the “instant classic” the studio was capable of churning out.
So when the first reviews for Brave came out and they weren’t overwhelmingly positive, the blogosphere began to buzz that Pixar’s magic may have run out. Well, rest assured, it hasn’t, and more importantly, the concern over its newest film isn’t warranted.
Brave tells the story of a princess, Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), who wishes to be able to live her own life but is forced by tradition — and her Queen mother, Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson) — to follow her duties in the kingdom. This means she must sit around and watch while the eldest sons of three Scottish lords — three unsuitable suitors, in Merida’s opinion and mine — try to win her hand at a huge royal festival.
Merida’s sole say in the matter is the contest of choice, by which the young lads will attempt to win Merida’s hand and heart. As a masterful archer, Merida opts for the young men to show their talents with a bow and arrow. Knowing full well that the three suitors aren’t worth her while, Merida enters the competition herself to win her own hand.
Though she puts the arrow through the bullseye on all three attempts, that doesn’t mean Merida can just thwart tradition. When the Queen won’t relent despite Merida’s repeated appeals, Merida ventures off into the woods to get away from the ceremony. Here, she stumbles upon wisps — magical creatures that she has seen one other time, when she was very young — and follows them into the heart of the woods.
What she finds is a wood-carving witch, who gives Merida a chance to change her fate. At least, that’s what Merida thinks. The witch conjures up a spell in the form of a pastry, which Merida then gives to her mother as a peace offering. But instead of changing Merida’s fate, the pastry transforms the Queen — into what I won’t say, but the film’s previous title is a dead giveaway — and subsequently forces the mother-daughter pair, who very rarely see eye to eye, to come together and reverse the spell.
It’s a rather conventional story, and has the name “Disney” written all over it, which makes sense given its crew of screenwriters has experiences working on Disney’s Lion King franchise, among others. To say the story feels like a Disney story isn’t a bad thing. I’m just saying that it doesn’t have quite the same flair and originality as Pixar’s recent masterpieces.
Some excellent moments of comic relief come in the form of three sweet tooth-having tots — Merida’s three prince brothers — that are constantly on the lookout for various desserts. And we also get a great set-up in the beginning of the film, revolving around King Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly) that, unknowingly at the time, foreshadows how the second half plays out.
I’ll refrain from spoiling the story for anyone who hasn’t yet seen the film, but once the major event in the film takes place, the rest of the movie is fairly predictable. But this is where I disagree with a lot of the criticism of Brave that you’ll find online. While many fault the conventional storytelling at work, I actually find that the movie feels fresh despite its lack of twists or turns.
And that, I think, comes from the genuine emotion that we see on-screen. Was Merida selfish for doing what she did? Yes; as a teenager, selfishness comes with the territory. But upon realizing what she has done, Merida knows she must make amends and right her wrongs. In the process, Merida becomes closer to her mother and “mends the bond broken by pride,” as directed by the witch.
There are two legitimate pieces of criticism I did have about Brave, however. One, my biggest issue, is about the motivations and the morality of Merida. She gives her mother the magical pastry without knowing or even asking about the consequences of such an act. But I was able to overlook this in some sense; after all, Merida was asking for something that would change her fate, not her mother’s. As I understood it, this act is one of selfishness and shows Merida’s naiveté. It sets her up for her chance at redemption by allowing her to realize her faults and learn from them.
The other criticism I have is that a lot of stock was put into childish humor, something that Pixar isn’t known for. One scene — found in the trailer, actually — shows one of the lords, whose son is competing for Merida’s hand, mooning the other two lords. The rest of the childish humor is, in most cases, physical humor, such as the twisting of one’s nipple during a fight and things to that effect. It doesn’t damage the film, but it does make me wonder why the filmmakers chose to go down this strangely un-Pixar route.
Unfortunately, though, a lot of the criticism over Brave has come from comparing it to films like WALL-E and Up, two excellent films that are just as original in their telling as they are in their story. But those comparisons simply aren’t fair. Films should be reviewed on their own merit, not on the merit of their companions and peers. And in reviewing Brave on its own merit, it is an unequivocal success.
Brave may not be the best or most personal Pixar production, but it is still a darn good film.