Brave (Movie Review)

Brave is about a princess who doesn’t want to have to be a princess. Ironically, it’s the first Pixar movie that really feels like it wants to be a Disney movie. It features inspiring musical interludes and characters one step removed from the traditional funny sidekick. Even the central gimmick of rebelling against the princess lifestyle is less subversive than it’s made out to be; In reality, Princess Merida’s wonderful life is entirely due to her royal family. All her needs are met, she’s surrounded by servants who are never presented as equals, and her main complaint is that all that leisure time can’t take up 100% of her life. It’s a pity this couldn’t be bolder, because the novelty of featuring (gasp!) a girl in a starring role raised a lot of people’s hopes. This may not have everything I hoped for, but I think it still does more good than harm for gender roles in movies.

That’s because, even though it features a princess, this is still unmistakably a Pixar film. The visuals are stunning, even more for their design sense than the technical underpinnings, and the characters are given believable human emotions instead of stock lines. Pixar’s writing strength has always been in applying that depth to simply-defined characters, though, and this approach rings a little hollow here. Merida and her parents are the only characters not defined by a single quirky characteristic, and in line with their royal privilege, everyone else seems to exist only to be laughed at. Fortunately, the relationship with the parents is the focus of the movie. Even if Merida’s mother and father are taken directly from modern sitcom archetypes, those Pixar emotions make them worth caring about.

Brave’s plot will surprise no one, but it doesn’t always take the easy path. It’s willing to portray Merida as a bit selfish, and a couple scary scenes are very bold for a children’s movie. The Celtic culture never feels as well-defined as Pixar’s made-up worlds of talking cars and fish, though the beautiful landscapes and exotic touches are satisfactory for a fantasy movie.

If this review seems to be going back and forth a lot, then you have an accurate impression. The Pixar magic is definitely still here, but for the first time in years, it feels like they’re coasting along on habit instead of taking chances. A very good movie for kids and an enjoyable one for adults, Brave will entertain you for the evening. Just remember to hold it up to normal movie standards rather than those set by Toy Story and The Incredibles.

Grade: B-


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