It’s got the plucky, fire-haired young girl—Merida, as voiced by the adorable and marvelous Kelly Macdonald—and the stunning animated representation of the Scottish Highlands. I mean it’s gorgeous. There is a King(boisterous Billy Connolly)and Queen(awesome Emma Thompson)as Merida’s parents. And you even get a creepy witch(Julie Walters)to keep things hopping. It’s light and fun and I bet it looked fantastic in 3D. Still, I pined for more. Even my 7 and 5-year-old were fidgeting after a half hour. Let’s be honest…Pixar is in a bit of a slide. I mean “Ratatouille” and “WALL-E” were masterpieces. Both won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2007 & 2008, respectively. Those two were followed by “Up” in 2009 and “Toy Story 3” in 2010, same wild critical praise, same Oscar results(btw, I LOVE “TS3”, but not as enamored with “Up”—if you are keeping score at home!). But 2011 brought us the execrable “Cars 2”. It’s the worst film of the Pixar franchise(the first “Cars” from 2006, while pleasant, isn’t exactly the high point of the canon either). So, if “Brave” was expected to be the bounce back—sorry. It’s kinda fun, and it’s a step up from “C2”, but it’s so far below the aforementioned quartet, that it’s a dishonor to even tally them in close proximity. “Brave” simply doesn’t measure up.
You’ve heard this tale before. The princess who’s simply not satisfied living the cloistered life of female royalty. She’s an archery expert after all(cue the ripping off “Robin Hood” split-arrow scene), and her free-spirited ways simply don’t jibe with the plans of the King(Mr. Connolly)and Queen(Ms. Thompson)…aka Dad & Mom. And when her loving parents decide to push forth with forcing her into an arranged marriage, Merida decides that enough is enough. She discovers a witch in a cabin in the woods, and coerces her into creating a spell to “change” her mother—with the hope that Mom will no longer support giving her daughter’s hand away to someone she doesn’t love. Well, “the best laid plans of mice and men”…and princesses apparently. Merida feeds her Mom some witch-enhanced magic cake, and it “changes” her alright. Into a bear. Then her three little brothers eat some, and they become bears too. Merida, unable to locate the spell-casting witch, does find a message left by the old crone in the now abandoned woods cabin. Merida, while staving off her bear-hunting Pop, discovers that she has less than 48 hours to change everybody back to their human form—or the spell becomes permanent. This involves some nonsense with a torn tapestry, followed by a variety of chases and close calls, culminating in an attack from an evil, “monster” bear that took the leg of Merida’s father(he walks on a wooden one now)many years before. Whatever will our spirited heroine do?
I was perfectly fine with most of “Brave”. It has a lot of energy, and the voice acting is inspired. Sure, there are some easy cultural stereotypes brandished about(I guess it’s okay, because they are Scottish), and it’s pretty darn predictable(more so than usual, even). So, why complain when it looks good and goes down easy? Some will blame first-time feature director, Mark Andrews(the replacement for first-time Pixar female director, Brenda Chapman). Then, others will opine that yours truly is nitpicking and difficult to please(not completely unreasonable). But I didn’t set the bar—Pixar did. And when you hold “Brave” up against some of the renowned Pixar classics, you recognize that there’s really not much more you can label it than a decided step down. Grade: B-