Pixar's first tale to center on a female heroine introduces us to Merida, who is, ironically enough, an adventurous tomboy. She loathes her loving mother (the queen) for pushing her into the very feminine royal life laid out for her based on the traditions of her people. This resentment eventually boils over, and Merida rides off into the woods in an act of protest. During this glorified tantrum, she stumbles upon a mysterious group of stones and magical blue 'wisp' creatures. These beings lead Merida to the cabin of a bumbling witch with a penchant for spells. Merida strikes a deal with her to 'change her destiny' in exchange for a valuable necklace. Of course the new destiny is worse than her original one so Merida spends the rest of the movie trying to, as we Bay-Staters know how to say all too well, 'reverse the curse!'
As usual for Pixar, the animation is nothing short of breathtaking. A young girl sitting behind me at the theater gasped “So beautiful!” when the film opened to a stunning shot of an animated Scottish coastal community. The way the animators craft the different settings for our characters in such vivid color and detail is almost worth the price of admission alone...almost.
Where the film falters is with both the overall pacing and with the development of an antagonist. The beginning of the movie seems to drag, especially for a fairy tale geared at young children. The first hour could have been told in half the time, and gets quite repetitive as it drives home the point that Merida is not happy with her life. She is like the child version of Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love – both being whiny characters that have so much yet want something different. Once Brave does begin to move along plotwise, it becomes a disjointed tale in search of a villain. Is it the witch? The demon bear? The queen? Merida herself? Maybe all of them? The narrative doesn't take the time to establish any one evil to root against, which leaves older, more mature viewers a little impartial to the outcome.
For a story so lacking in a developed villain, it is surprisingly violent, taking advantage of every last bit of the 'PG' rating. From constant sword/fist/bear fights to one character getting crushed to death by a large stone, I was taken aback by how far Pixar took the intensity of this story. While other Pixar movies have had dramatic scenes, this one strikes me as the first I would say real young children would not enjoy seeing. I wish the film had leaned more on the humor, because when Brave tries to be funny, it succeeds brilliantly. There are a few comical sequences with devious little triplets that save the film from being a complete disaster.
All that criticism aside, this is a perfect movie for preteen/middle school girls who can handle cartoon violence and want an ultimately positive message. For the rest of us, Pixar's latest is simply a disappointing Scottish legend that borrows from better animated films of a similar vein (see the far superior Spirited Away). It's not the worst way to spend your money at the multiplex, but it's certainly not worth rushing out to see if you aren't in the target demographic. In my movie-going opinion, I would give it a 5 out of 10.
Did you see it? What did you think?