Set in medieval Scotland, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) presents his daughter Merida (Kelly Macdonald) with a bow and arrow and ever since, she's become something of a tomboy, riding off into the woods to practice archery and be a free spirit. That is until her mother, Queen Elanor (Emma Thompson) announces that Merida will be betrothed by one of three allied clans. She's not really ready or willing to go through this despite her mother's pleas for keeping tradition. The clans arrive to compete in the Highland Games to compete for Merida's hand. She announces that she will compete for her right to remain single, but this causes a dispute between her and Elanor. She cuts her family tapestry in anger and flees to the woods where a group of will-o-wisps lead her to a witch's hut in guise of a wood carver's shop. She agrees to give Merida a spell to change her fate if she buys all of her carvings with a family medallion. She gives it to her in the form of a cake, which she gives Elanor. It causes her mother to transform into a bear, catching Merida off guard. Turns out Elanor is now in danger because of her husband's hatred of bears from a big demon one named Mor'du got his leg and has since seeked vengeance. They escape thanks to her brothers and overtime in the woods, mother and daughter have to work together to break the spell. The witch isn't there, but leaves behind a riddle, "mend the bond torn by pride". Merida theorizes that she can reverse the spell by repairing her family tapestry. They set off back home until the wisps lead her to an ancient ruins, where they find out that Mor'du was the emperor from a legend Elanor told Merida. They escape the demon bear but now have to sneak Elanor as a bear, but losing control of her human personality, back in her room. Fergus finds the bear thinking it's Mor'du and chases her to a Stonehenge like clearing. Merida rushes to defend her while sewing back the tapestry, but the real Mor'du shows up. Elanor kills Mor'du by luring him to one of the stones and crushes him, releasing his spirit. Merida covers bear Elanor with the tapestry and when it doesn't seem like it's working, she returns to normal. The two now have a better relationship with each other, the clans depart, and we end with the two riding horses in the wilderness.
Let's start with what my friend considered "off": the story. It's not a bad story by any means, but it's one that we've seen before in other animated movies. It's a princess that wants her freedom. If you read my Disneyear reviews, then you know now what I'm talking about. This story and main character have been used a dozen times before. Not only that but there's a few elements from Brother Bear in the mix too. It lacks the creativity and magic Pixar is so famous for. There is depth and some interesting twists in the movie, but it's not as groundbreaking as the other Pixar movies, so it comes off a little bit of a disappointment. Again, it's not a bad story, but it is the weakest aspect of the film.
But are the story flaws overly distracting? Honestly, no. The rest of the movie is really good. The animation for starters is some of the finest you'll see in the movie. I mean wow. This environment looks so photo-realistic. The designs of some of the characters are a little cartoony, but it does work since it's a fairy-tale movie. I also love the attention to detail not just in the animation, but in the voice acting. Every actor in this movie actually does have Scottish heritage. That's really cool and something pretty rare to find in animated movies. There's also the aspect of this culture. Just like in Brother Bear, you get hooked to these people and culture from minute one and whether or not the culture is correct, it still make for interesting fables and myth. But unlike Brother Bear, it does stick with this aspect all the way through. In fact, legends are what drive the story from start to finish. It's almost as if Pixar looked at Brother Bear, saw it's potential, and fixed all it's errors from the middle of that movie.
|I like the designs of these wisps, by the way.|
Some of the characters may have been done before, but they're still enjoyable. Merida, for starters, may be someone we've seen in other Disney films before: she's the fiery free spirit that wants to make her own choices and fights her own battles and so on. But I think what makes her stand out though is that she has quite a bit of bratty teenager in her, as evidenced by the lack of morality she displays in trying to change her mother's mind about her upcoming betrothal and yet heaps of bravery, as she shows when confronted with what she's done to her Mother. She does realize her choices have consequences and does what she can to fix them. I also love Kelly MacDonnald's performance too. There's such a genuine sweetness in her voice that transfers well to Merida.
King Fergus is a great comedic character, as expected when Billy Connolly plays him. He's a lot of fun and the scenes with him and the other clan leaders does make for fun comedy. Merida also has these three brothers that are mischievous and do get some good scenes. The best character, by far though, is Elanor. As a queen in a fairy tale, her role could have been type-casted for the villain or just unlikable. But the movie shows that she does indeed love her daughter and only wants to keep tradition in her kingdom. She does know her relationship with her daughter is on the rocks, but what's interesting is that both characters are kind of stubborn at first. It's after Elanor turns into a bear is when it gets even better. The scenes where she tries to act proper as a bear just kill me! The two begin to learn about and from each other as they bond while trying to fix the spell and their relationship turns out for the better They also added this interesting aspect where she would constantly revert personality from human to ursine as the spell progresses. Like I said, this is Brother Bear done right. It's far, far more engaging and timeless. This is really where the heart is.
Brave doesn't quite hold up to the other Pixar films because of a rather weak story, but it comes close. These are memorable characters with a compelling world and culture they live in. The animation is some of the best from the studio, but I wish that the film had more creative energy and magic to back it up. This could have been a masterpiece if it didn't have such a been-done story, but it's still enjoyable as is. It's not a great movie, but it is good. If you're still interested in seeing a Pixar fairy tale or just want an entertaining film to see this summer, I'd say go check it out while you still can.
And this is where Pixargust ends. Again, thank all of you so much for sticking with me this month and sharing your thoughts and ideas about these movies with me. I'm sure you have your own opinions out there so get out there and share them so I can see them. And remember: even the worst from Pixar is still better than the best from Michael Bay. I guess when Monsters University comes out next year, I'll be sure to share my thoughts here. Thank you so much and take care.