Pixar is a Heartwarming Bastard
There was a lot of pressure on Brave to be a good movie, given the fiasco that was Cars 2, and it's easy to be disappointed when a hyped up film isn't perfect. I think a lot of people have fallen into that trap with this movie. No, Brave isn't perfect. But it is gorgeous, groundbreaking in terms of gender roles (for Disney, anyway), and thoroughly delightful to watch—not to mention utterly heartwarming. But, then, heartwarming is what Pixar does best.
Brave is set in ancient Scotland, where Princess Merida (Kelly MacDonald) has spent her life trying to dodge princess schooling in favor of riding through the forest on her horse, practicing archery. Her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), utterly disapproves of this unseemly behavior, but her father King Fergus (Billy Connolly) seems to encourage it. When Elinor arranges for the three clans to present their candidates for Merida's husband, though, she's had enough—and she asks a witch (Julie Walters) to change her mother so that she can change her fate.
The change is a little bit more literal than Merida intended (which, honestly, she ought to have seen coming given her incredibly vague wording), and she has to enlist the help of her three devilish younger brothers Hamish, Hubert and Harris to try to get everything back to normal. Oh, also, there's something about a King Bear, Mor'du, who once bit off Fergus' leg and is sort of a plague to the kingdom. He's kind of important, too. But not, like, Main Antagonist important—this film is actually rather lacking in an antagonist, which is a huge departure for Disney.
In fact, this movie is a departure from the usual Disney fare in a number of ways. The most notable—and, to me, exciting—is the complete lack of a love interest for Merida. That might seem like a small thing, but given the fact that Disney is the epitome of “getting married and living happily ever after,” it's nice to see them take a more modern stance, particularly for a female protagonist. What's more, the movie isn't about finding love at all—it's actually about Merida's relationship with her mother, and their struggle to find an understanding, which is something pretty much everyone can relate to in some form or another. Moms will love the character of Queen Elinor, by the way--she's tough, smart, and actually *gasp* has wrinkles and greying hair. An aging woman who isn't evil, you guys! You can hardly call it a Disney film at all.
But Brave isn't just Disney—it's Pixar, which means that the animation has to be spot-on. Don't worry. This film is absolutely gorgeous, especially Merida's hair. I wouldn't be surprised if her mane had its own animation team. Every visual element in this movie is stunning, both on a micro and macro scale, from the individual hairs on Merida's head to the sweeping mountain vistas to the mysterious glimmering of the will-o-the-wisps. The attention to detail really pays off.
I said before that Brave isn't perfect, though, and here's why: the plot of the thing is quite confused in a number of places. There are several places where the action felt forced, like Merida wasn't really driving the story so much as just following along where it--or, rather, where the will-o-the-wisps--wandered. Add to that the incredibly buffoon-like characterizations of every single male character (except Merida's brothers, who were easily the smartest dudes in the whole thing) and you have some fairly glaring issues. But, over all, Brave was pretty awesome and it definitely ranks among my favorite Pixar films so far.
And in case you were wondering, the pre-film short, La Luna, is adorable. It features a trio of men—grandfather, father, and son—who are responsible for the care of the moon. Unsurprisingly, the short earned an Oscar nomination, which is practically a given for Pixar shorts at this point. It is also well worth watching, if only for the “awww...” factor.