Originally published in 2012, but let’s take another look, shall we?
Bairns, bodhrans and brogues…. Doesn’t everyone want to be in Scotland? Disney/Pixar is really hoping you do, with the release of their newest animated feature, Brave. I liked it. But I really, really wanted to love it. So that’s where the empty little hole in my soul is coming from. Though it is good to see that archery is the new black this season, with Brave taking up the bow & quiver alongside Katniss from The Hunger Games and Hannah’s…Hannah. Why before you know it, we’ll even get the vote!
Princess Merida is an adorable little thing. She’s the apple of her father the King’s eye, but she doesn’t exactly do what her mother the Queen would like. And by that I mean Merida does the opposite, railing against the inhumanity of it all. So when Merida is “of marrying age” (as always with Disney, it’s somewhere between the first blush of puberty and 18), she’s not too happy about being fixed up with some kid guy she doesn’t know. So she decides to take matters into her own hands, and as you’d expect this lands her in situations that she never expected.
It’s a beautiful film. Absolutely gorgeous. Pixar is only getting better, and with Brave I swear I could almost count the threads in Merida’s gown, and see each individual hair on her head (btw, have computer animated sheep ever been this fluffy? I say nae.) However, all that gorgeous can’t hide a story that’s more Disney Princess than Brave New World. This was a film that was supposed to blow away the usual girly-girl storylines we’ve all come to know and tolerate because the little ones that surround us love ‘em. But instead of sweeping vistas and an “epic fantasy adventure”, we get the same ol’, same ol’, with Scottish accents. Now I love myself some redheads – probably this close to drooling obsession – but all the ginger in the world can’t make me dance with joy if there’s no joy to be had. So, with Brave capering about like Bluto in Animal House, I felt like Flounder after his brother’s car gets trashed; appreciative of the capering but ultimately not impressed.
It’s like the filmmakers had a great idea — hey, let’s make an amazing heroine who wants to take charge of her life! — and then didn’t know where to go from there. After Princess Merida shoots for, and wins, her own hand (and that’s no spoiler, that scene is all over the television ads), she’s sent on a goofy quest to Appreciate Her Lot, just like any good princess would. Oh, there are big bears, little bears, a crazy but nonthreatening old crone, and plenty of running amok (think bedroom farce without the sex or quite as many slamming doors). But all that arm-flailing doesn’t distract from the fact that this film is the same story with some lovely Celtic calligraphy tossed in.
Speaking of Celtic, there’s some gorgeous music here by real honest-to-goodness Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis, as well as current airwave favorites Mumford & Sons and U.K. singer Birdy. They also got some great actors to voice the characters, including Billy Connolly and Emma Thomson as the King and Queen, Julie Walters (Molly Weasley!) as The Witch, and Kelly Macdonald as Merida. Then there’s the gleeful trio of Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd and Craig Ferguson as clan leaders, who promptly steal every scene they’re in.
Back to where Brave went wrong. If Disney/Pixar had simply touted the film as their latest story-telling adventure, I would have thought it was adorable. Instead, it was trotted out as the second coming of awesome, with a game-changer of a storyline about an empowered princess. (Hey wait, didn’t we see that in The Princess and the Frog? Yes, and done better.) Just look at that movie poster: girlfriend is badass! (The Japanese version is even more amazing; behold!)
I’ll say that the beginning of this film is truly amazing, with a serious empowerment vibe and a story that could have gone in a new and fascinating direction. But instead, like Merida, the creators of this film decide to follow Wil-o-the-Wisps off that promising trail and onto a different path. Sigh. Doesn’t anyone know that following Wisps will bring nothing but trouble? Shoulda asked me, I’d have told ‘em. Cue the bears and the goofy villagers! The moral of this story is a good one, but after all this time isn’t “love each other” a bit twee? Great theme, but I liked it better when it was Freaky Friday.
Brave’s opening act, the short La Luna, was a beautiful piece of feel-good wonder that I’m sure we’ll all see fêted at next year’s Oscars. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to Wreck It Ralph and Monsters University, the two films we got to see teaser trailers of before the main event unspooled. Because let’s face it, until female animated characters can get their creators to see them as fully fleshed, the better movies will be sportin’ dudes.