Brave (2012)

Pixar animation’s previous two feature films have both been sequels to their most popular titles of easily the most recognizable characters ever to be put on screen. While the last one, Cars 2, didn’t leave the lasting impression the studio hoped for, Brave, the next film from the revolutionary studio, co-directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman steadies the ship by going back to an original idea. Every technical aspect that has made Pixar a household name can be found throughout Brave, Pixar’s first attempt in telling a fairy tale story that made Disney animation what it is today.

With each film, Pixar animators continue to impress and improve upon the already breathtaking animation that has come before it. Brave provides the same spellbinding style, offering almost limitless pops of colors to expansive, never-ending landscapes all moving fluidly in the background while its human characters interact with one another in the foreground. There are details in every frame, each one can hypnotize a viewer and make you forget everything else that is happening on screen. And every time the camera pans across the beautifully constructed world, we as the audience get to be in the same headspace as the character, getting lost in the beauty the horizon has to offer before setting off on their journey. What it would be like to have the backdrop of medieval Scotland as a backyard.

Braves story conceived by the aforementioned co-director Brenda Chapman who also wrote the script with her directing partner and Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi is a familiar one. Like I said, its reminiscent of the classic Disney animation stories of princesses that is synonymous with the corporate brand. The difference being the moving background of CGI becoming its own character, compared to the 2D animated style. All the tropes one would come to expect in a story of misunderstood teenage princesses can be found, beat for beat.

Set in medieval Scotland, the story focuses on princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) and her daring ambition to deviate from normal princess duties. Annunciating, betrothals, dress fittings and other boring things that princesses are forced into to keep traditions moving forward as new generations grow up. Whereas what Merida finds infinitely more interesting is found outside castle walls, on the back of her trusty horse, in the woods involving a bow and arrow – something she was drawn to at an early age. Pushing Merida to be a princess and focus on nothing else is a very demanding mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Because of their differentiating perspectives, both Elinor and Merida are instantly at odds with one another over how Merida should live her life.

The conflict comes to a boil when Queen Elinor invites the other three clans to offer a son for marriage, furthering the alliance between clans. Each suitor when introduced becomes less remarkable than the last, leaving the fathers that overshadow their sons. To prove their worth, Merida suggests an archery tournament to win her hand in marriage. Easily, the reluctant princess shoots circles around the boys that would take her hand in marriage. There are many fairy tale tropes that can be found in Brave, and they can be seen coming a mile away making the film lose its focus and be forced into predictability.  

Like all of Pixar’s filmography, Brave will automatically catch the eye of any younger viewer looking for a fun and humorous story to get lost in for 93 minutes. The repetitive quest for desserts from the younger brothers will lighten the mood with every unique idea they get for stealing said food. But for the older viewer, there isn’t much to latch onto aside from a challenging yet full of depth mother-daughter relationship that transcends the depicted genders. For a majority of the film, it’s the misunderstanding between Elinor and Merida that serves as the conflict and as true as it is in this story, the translation fits reality. How often are the rebellious teen and traditional parent constantly bickering with each other?  At the center of the rocky relationship is a poor habit of listening to the person not just hearing what they have to say and responding to that.

To make matters worse for Queen Elinor, her husband King Fergus (Billy Connolly) often supports his daughters decisions to rebel against tradition and make her own path into adulthood – only strengthening the conflict and the necessity for the two to communicate differently. Attempts are made but to no avail, normal talking doesn’t do the trick. Both characters can easily talk to themselves, getting their ideas out in the open but when face to face, it’s nothing but argumentative tactics. And because this is Pixar’s first ever fairytale, an alluring witch (Julie Walters) disguised as a woodcarver becomes the catalyst for mending a broken relationship.

It’s in the witches misheard warning that a solution is presented without much mystery behind it. The spell in question, which was the easy way out of having to choose a less than favorable suitor turns the queen into a grizzly bear. On the second sunrise, if the spell isn’t broken, the transformation becomes permanent – a usual fairy tale trope. As soon as the transformation occurs, the once argumentative mother and daughter become closer, finally getting to the root of the issues.

For its themes, Brave speaks to the human condition, challenging the very relationships within to be better off than they were before. All it takes is a little compromise. When it comes down to the message, listening and being understood is far more valuable than talking at someone, forcing them to uphold traditions that don’t fit their individuality. There is plenty to admire within Brave, a deviation from the wildly original stories that have pushed Pixar to the forefront of animation but still a story worth telling backed by fascinating mythology, unexpected laughs around every corner and unbelievable visuals.

Screenplay By: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman & Irene Mecchi

Story By: Brenda Chapman

Directed By: Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman

Music By: Patrick Doyle

Cinematography: Robert Anderson (camera) & Danielle Feinberg (lighting)

Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd

Where to Watch: Disney Plus

Edited By: Nicholas C. Smith

Release Date: June 22, 2012

Running Time: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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