Pixar has built its reputation on smart family films that save a knowing wink for the adult audience without jettisoning good storytelling. With Brave, all of the correct ingredients are here and cooked up with decent sprinkling of enjoyable charm. The final product however feels like a bit of an uninspired imitation.
Set in the olden days of Scotland (or at least a charming back-of-the-shortbread-tin reimagining of it) the film centres on Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a young princess with a talent for archery. Although clearly not of the sit-nicely-and-eat-your-greens school of daughterhood, she only starts behaving like the typical movie teenager when the Queen, her overbearing mother (Emma Thompson), calls the three clans – who have maintained a strained peace over many years – to the King’s (Billy Connolly) castle to offer suitors for her daughter’s hand in marriage.
Merida has a tense relationship with her mother – although the Queen wants the best for her daughter, Merida feels it is at the expense of what she herself may want in life. Seeking a route to alter her destiny, a brief encounter with a witch goes awry and she must embark on a quest to make right her mistakes and her relationships.
Although the film is charming enough, the whole endeavor feels lacking in much ingenuity. For the sort of cinematic excursion Pixar has served up over the years, the fact is that Brave is a bit cowardly. Focusing on a mother-daughter relationship will only get you so far in the originality stakes. At the heart of Brave is a lovely story about finding your own path in life, whilst appreciating what your parents may want you to achieve and understanding that even the frustrating things they may do are born out of love. However, every plot turn can be foreseen as if it was announced with a bagpipe fanfare and, perhaps more damningly, the character growth come the end is pitiful to non-existent.
The animation is stunning, and actually does a very good job of bringing this romanticised version of the mediaeval Scottish landscape to CGI life. By using Scottish actors for the most part, the film also avoids having a Mike Myers catastrophe in the accent department. It’s perhaps a shame the comedians behind many of the peripheral characters don’t get more of a chance to flex their comedy muscles, particularly the legendary Billy Connolly. However, the knowing Pixar humour is still present in the odd place (Clan MacGuffin, anyone?) even if it seems absent for the most part.
Overall, Brave is a charming diversion lacking the inspiration needed to make it linger in the memory. Despite some excellent animation and voice acting, the story itself all flits by a bit easily and predictably whilst sidelining some of the more original and idiosyncratically Pixar moments. Brave isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination but this tale is enjoyably forgettable – which some may view as a major disappointment.