Review: Brave (2012)

By Jason McKiernan


Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson
Director: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
Country: USA
Genre: Animation | Action | Adventure | Comedy | Family | Fantasy
Official Trailer: Here

Editor’s Notes: For an additional perspective on Pixar’s Brave, check out Julian Wright’s review.

We critics often speak in hyperbole, be it in the positive or the negative. Monumental declarations are our stock-in-trade, for better or worse. With that in mind, I want to say it is with honest consideration and great frustration that I submit this monumental declaration: Brave is the most disappointing Pixar film ever made. That is not to say it is the worst; to the contrary, this is possibly the most beautiful of all Pixar movies, with bright colors, lush landscapes, and a fluidity of movement rarely seen even in CG animated epics. It is also the first Pixar film to showcase a female protagonist. Yet for all its technological and gender progression, Brave almost feels like it’s sliding backwards, since its positive aspects are in service of a weak story.

…this is possibly the most beautiful of all Pixar movies, with bright colors, lush landscapes, and a fluidity of movement rarely seen even in CG animated epics.

Original content has long been Pixar’s bread-and-butter. For all the memorable Pixar characters that have inevitably spawned sequels, the digital giant’s original films have, for the better part of almost 20 years in the feature filmmaking business, represented a continual boundary-pushing verve, from Finding Nemo to Ratatouille to WALL-E to Up. After a two-year span of nothing but sequels – and a year before we get the first ever Pixar prequel – Brave arrives with big shoes to fill. As the studio’s only original film during a five-year stretch, the film shoulders the weight of masterpiece expectations. Perhaps that’s not fair, but it is based on the respect Pixar has earned over nearly two decades of consistent ante-upping.

Based on those expectations, this story of a rebellious Scottish princess who yearns to change her fate is a well-meaning regression into the lightweight hijinks of the lesser group of Disney’s classic hand-drawn animated features (not The Lion King or Aladdin, but Brother Bear or The Emperor’s New Groove). Very little of the sophistication we’ve come to identify with Pixar is on display here, save the staggering visual palette, which is as gorgeous as ever. And while the story’s base conceit – essentially eschewing Disney’s traditional father-son stories to tell a defiant mother-daughter tale – is remarkable in theory, its underlying emotion is completely undercut by a screenplay so diverted by goofy caricatures, broad humor, and plot “twists” that reduce the film to a standard-order kiddie flick.

Yes, there are elements of Brave’s plot that have been expertly concealed in its advertising materials – so concealed, in fact, that discussing the film’s story would spoil the surprises. On its face, the film tells the story of Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), a defiant princess with a shock of bright red hair and a penchant for mischief, whose hulking-but-lovable father (voiced by Billy Connolly) and strict, repressive mother (voiced by Emma Thompson) arrange for three suitors to compete for their daughter’s hand in marriage. But Merida, fierce and independent, feels restrained by the royal order and desires to live a life of her choosing. Our heroine’s desire to “change her fate” becomes the film’s primary theme, which could be powerful if the screenplay didn’t devolve into a story that sucks all originality and emotional attachment out of it.

…“Brave” is a very generic title for a movie that doesn’t have a clue what to do with its ostensibly solid concept.

I won’t spoil it here, but Merida inadvertently brings forth a curse that she must undo – that’s where the titular bravery comes into play, though in retrospect, “Brave” is a very generic title for a movie that doesn’t have a clue what to do with its ostensibly solid concept. Once the “secret” is revealed, we can feel the air swiftly seeping out of the balloon: Brave is not the Pixar masterwork we’ve all been waiting for (interestingly, La Luna, the Oscar-nominated short that plays in front of the film, skews closer to the “masterwork” label).

However, it’s still Pixar we’re talking about, after all, and while the studio is capable of churning out bad films (see: anything featuring talking cars), Brave is certainly not one of them. The animation might be Pixar’s best yet, with the gorgeous cascades of Scottish landscapes – not to mention Merida’s flowing hair – filling the screen. And the decision to center the film on a fiery female presence is very brave indeed, especially in this modern climate where a high percentage of movies focus on men struggling to dominate women in one way or another. The failure to capitalize on that breaking of gender ground – in spite of its flimsy humor and lazy narrative, which are both legitimate issues – is what ultimately seals Brave’s fate as the most disappointing Pixar film to date.

60/100 ~ OKAY. Brave is valiant for its attempt to add female empowerment to Pixar’s long list of filmmaking accolades, but it’s failure to capitalize on that gender solidarity with an original and emotional story makes it the most disappointing Pixar film ever.
Awards Pundit & Senior Film Critic. I married into the cult of cinema at a very young age - I wasn't of legal marriage age, but I didn't care. It has taken advantage of me and abused me many times. Yet I stay in this marriage because I'm obsessed and consumed. Don't try to save me -- I'm too far gone.