Pixar’s reputation for delivering quality animated films was impeccable. Then Cars 2 happened. One year later, they’re back trying to prove they haven’t sold out by releasing Brave, which is a first for several things at the studio. It’s their first fantasy film and their first film with a female protagonist. But can these help make this film stand out, or is this another misstep in the wrong direction?
Brave tells a very simple fairy tale; one that takes many elements from the classics without feeling like a rip-off. It has enough Grimm-esque inspiration not to feel like a watered-down version of the tale (the sort you’d expect from a Disney production) and makes the film feel more unique than you’d expect. The characters are well fleshed out and you come to care about them, and I think that is mainly thanks to the main mother-daughter relationship; a dynamic rarely seen in films but one that Pixar pulls off to great effect. Merida and her mum feel like a proper bickering family, and their arguments about what is right don’t feel like they’re just there to serve the story. On the other hand, there were certain moments I felt logic went out the window purely to push the plot forward. I know these tropes are part of the whole fairy tale aesthetic, but it could have been much better executed. Overall, not the best tale Pixar has told, but is still a much better and more thought-out one than most would put into a kid’s film.
As I said, the characters of Brave really sell the story and that is helped by the great voice acting. Kelly Macdonald plays our heroine Merida with plenty of Scottish charm and the feistiness of a teenager to make her a believable character. Some may say she comes off as bratty and selfish but, as I said to those who had similar complaints about Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man, SHE’S A TEENAGER! Her behaviour is completely natural for her age and makes her seem not only more human, but emphasises the significance of her character arc. Also great are Emma Thompson and Billy Connolly as her parents; the three of them share fun and different dynamics between them that lead to some great comedy moments. But arguably the best characters are three who don’t talk: Merida’s wee brothers. Their antics lead to some hilarious physical comedy and while some may compare them to the minions from Despicable Me, I think they are far superior to those yellow rascals as they feel more like actual characters and they actually serve more of a purpose to the plot.
Pixar’s quality of animation has always been well above standard compared to those of Dreamworks and Sony, and that continues with Brave. As a Scotsman, I can tell you the designers clearly did their homework in researching the look and feel of the Scottish highlands with some very clear influences from certain areas. This leads to some stunning landscapes and beautiful vistas that further make this fantastical representation of Scotland feel more real. Less amazing but still great is the character design. While quite similar to other films of its ilk like How to Train Your Dragon or Tangled, the design still feels unique and no two characters look alike (other than the triplets, but that makes sense). The artistic style is easily among Pixar’s best and will be hard to top in the years to come.
In conclusion, while Brave isn’t among Pixar’s best (my personal favorites being the Toy Story trilogy, The Incredibles and Up) it is still a great family film and the best animated film I’ve seen this year. It’s made me all but forget the sour taste of Cars 2 and I look forward to more great films from Pixar in the future. Let’s just hope a prequel to Monsters Inc isn’t as stupid as it sounds…