Movie Review: Brave
Rating: PG (some scary action, rude humor)
Length: 93 minutes
Release Date: June 22, 2012
Directed by: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
Stars: 4 out of 5
In "Brave," Pixar goes a much more traditional storytelling route, one that closely resembles that of its partner Disney. In a typical Disney princess movie, the young girl is misunderstood and doesn't want to lead a life that her parents have set out for her. There is usually some kind of magic or witchcraft involved and animals that serve as friends. "Brave" has all of these elements, yet it does not feel formulaic. That is a credit to the screenplay by Irene Mecchi, Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell.
The movie is centered on a young Scottish princess named Merida (Kelly Macdonald), who has an unruly mop of bright red corkscrew curls atop her head. She is taught by her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), to always strive to be the best at what she is doing. Elinor is desirous to make her daughter a smart and enthusiastic young woman. The mother and daughter seem to have a close, loving and respectful connection. That is, until her mother announces that Merida must select one of three pre-chosen men to become her husband.
In the fictional version of Scotland in the film, the country is run by four different clans. Elinor and her husband, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), run just one of the kingdoms. As is customary, a princess must marry other royalty, so Merida must choose one of the princes from the other three kingdoms. They are all brought to her, but in a typical fashion, they are all buffoons. Unsurprisingly, she wants nothing to do with any of them.
Merida begins to fight with Elinor, insisting that she would not take any of the three as her husband. This is the only place where the script doesn't make total sense. Why would Elinor go through such great pains to raise a capable, independent daughter, only to force her to be married to a fool from another kingdom? The audience is aware that this was how it was traditionally done several centuries ago, but it's sad that Elinor would raise an ambitious daughter only to try to force her to be subservient later.
Thankfully, that is the only anomaly in what is otherwise a very solid and well-done film. Merida, despondent over her fate, jumps on her trusty steed Angus and runs away into the forest. She follows the will-o-the-wisps to a cabin where an old witch lives. The witch offers Merida shelter and listens intently to her tale of woe. Merida asks her if she can use her magic to change her mother's mind about her impending nuptials.
This is where the comedy really starts in earnest, because the witch agrees to change Elinor. What ends up happening, though, is that Elinor becomes a bear. This "change" is not what Merida had bargained for, and she, of course, feels guilty about it. She tries to help her mom assimilate to life as a bear until she can figure out how to get the spell reversed. In the meantime, her triplet baby brothers also suffer the same furry fate, becoming cubs.
The comic relief continues when Fergus finds out what has happened to his wife and sons. Due to a horrifying encounter with a bear previously, he is deathly afraid of bears. Chaos ensues, as does much hilarity. Though viewers know that eventually Elinor and the triplets will become human again, the bear scenes are so laugh-out-loud funny that you may wish they could stay that way forever.
The biggest difference between "Brave" and other standard Disney films is that Merida has nobody else she wants to marry aside from the princes. This is in stark contrast to, say, "Aladdin," where Jasmine wanted nothing to do with Jafar because she was in love with Aladdin. Merida is a tomboy who has yet to develop a real interest in boys. She doesn't want to marry at all. This is a refreshing change from the usual princess story formula.
The actors all do a fine job voicing their characters. A particular standout is Billy Connolly, who plays the king-sized King Fergus brilliantly. There is nothing quite like the sound of his surly Scottish brogue turning into a girly squeal when he sees the mama and baby bears for the first time.
There were four screenwriters and three directors for "Brave." Usually, that many chefs in the kitchen would spoil the brother. This is not the case with "Brave," which shows that even when using a somewhat formulaic story, Pixar can still do no wrong.