Pixar has traded in robots and talking toys for bagpipes and flowing red curls in their latest, beautifully rendered feature, Brave.
Written and directed by Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell, Brave is the story of Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly McDonald), a young Scottish Princess who would rather shoot a bow and ride a charger than thread a needle and learn to dance. King Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) have other ideas, however. They need her to wed one of the sons of Scotland's clan chiefs, to stabilize the realm and keep the kingdom united.
Merida hates the idea of having to wed at all, especially to a boy she doesn't know, so she starts searching for any means to get out of the looming betrothal. This leads to some sticky situations involving witches brew, demonic bears, will o' the wisps, and—you guessed it—archery.
Brave is a beautiful movie. The animation team did a fantastic job, especially with Merida's intricate and lively red curls, which take on a life of their own in some incredible shots. Pixar rewrote a lot of their animation software to handle production on Brave, and it shows.
The film also makes great use of 3D. It never once gets "gimmicky"—nothing deliberately pointing out of the screen directly out at you, etc. In other words, the movie isn't self-aware of its 3D powers—it just classily blends them into the overall art direction to add a wonderful sense of depth to the visuals.
Brave runs wild with Scotland as a location. All of the scenery, from the castle to the rolling moors, dark forests, and Stonehenge-like architecture, looks gorgeous. The music backs this up nicely, with a Celtic-infused score of drums and pipes and fiddles that manage to maintain a distinctively Scottish feel all while remaining in the background and not becoming too overbearing.
The script plays out at a nice pace as well. The movie manages to tell a compelling story about the tension between freedom and obligation, and the classic gap in communication between parents and their teenage children. All of these themes get answered nicely and in due time, and without resorting to heavy-handed plot devices or exposition to force the point of the story home. Brave is a well-done tale of familial reconciliation, and does a nice job of being fair to both sides on the issue of Merida's impending nuptials.
There are some truly hilarious moments in the movie, as well, particularly when Merida's potential suitors and their clans all show up to compete for her hand. Empty male bravado and competitiveness is satirized with relish, and the Queen often has to restore order amongst the squabbling men. Merida's younger brothers are also fantastically funny, and provide a lot of silent, visually driven comedy.
All of these elements combine to make Brave a treat.
While there isn't anything truly innovative in the themes that are explored here (a Princess who doesn't want to live up to the expectations her society places on her) and some of the characters are more stereotypical than in the other Pixar greats, these are just a couple of minor notes that, at the end of the day, really just prove how respected Pixar is as a company and how much we have come to expect of it over the years.
All in all, Brave was a well-made, entertaining, and beautiful movie that will leave you appreciating both your family and bagpipes more than you already do—and that's a good thing.
What did you think of Brave?