The marriage of Disney and Pixar was always something of a peculiar concept for one very specific reason: The Disney empire was constructed on a sturdy foundation of fairy tales that had already stood the test of time before Walt Disney managed to find tha… (more)
The marriage of Disney and Pixar was always something of a peculiar concept for one very specific reason: The Disney empire was constructed on a sturdy foundation of fairy tales that had already stood the test of time before Walt Disney managed to find that perfect marriage of artistry, technology, and storytelling to present them in a new way, while Pixar has always managed the impressive feat of simultaneously pushing the boundaries of contemporary animation while being bold enough to create its own modern mythology. And while for that reason the driving forces of the studios might seem fundamentally at odds, it could also be the reason that Brave -- Pixar's first foray into the world of princesses -- works as well as it does.
As a toddler, impetuous Princess Merida (voice of Kelly MacDonald) saw her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), do battle with one of the fiercest animals in the kingdom -- a horribly scarred hulk of a bear named Mordu. Though Fergus lost his leg defending his family, Merida and her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), managed to escape the beast before it vanished back into the forest. Years later, Merida has grown up to become not just a skilled archer, but also a beautiful princess who inspires a competition among the eligible bachelors in the land. But Merida has little interest in getting married, and the harder her mother pushes the issue, the more fiercely she resists it. When the tournament for her hand gets under way and a deep divide opens between mother and daughter, Merida makes a wish that threatens the future of both her family and the entire kingdom. Now, with only a brief window of time to set things right, Merida must summon the courage to atone for her mistake and prevent a past tragedy from destroying any hope for a peaceful future.
From the moment we first meet Merida, there's a sense of familiarity about the character that’s thoroughly endearing. The archetype of the headstrong princess determined to forge her own path has been permanently branded into our collective psyche courtesy of Disney. But unlike many Disney princesses, Merida has a strong sense of self-worth from the very beginning. This isn't a story about a maiden who finds her Prince Charming; it's going for something different, and as a result, any male with that particular aspiration ultimately proves incidental at best to the plot. In reshaping the familiar fairy-tale tropes into a new form, writers Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, and Irene Mecchi give us something rare -- an entirely original story that has the feel of a half-remembered tale read to us as a child. For that reason, it's easy to forgive the occasional lack of attention to detail in Brave. Unlike most Pixar films, there are moments here that seem to betray the reality that the movie has so effectively created, yet the overall story arc works well to give the impression of legacy, even if the specifics aren't exactly watertight. In addition, the emphasis on family effectively prevents us from drawing constant comparisons to other similar works in a manner that could ultimately prove detrimental to the film.
Of course, it practically goes without saying that the animation in Brave is frequently breathtaking. Whether the camera is focusing on Merida’s flaming corkscrew locks as they flow in the wind, sweeping across the Scottish countryside, or winding through the torch-lit hallways of a medieval castle, the attention to detail is nothing short of exquisite (although the use of 3D does little to enhance this effect, making the “flat” version the preferable of the two). So even though the notable lack of social consciousness we’ve come to expect from Pixar films prevents Brave from being the kind of nuanced classic that will grow with the young viewer, chances are good that parents won’t have any trouble losing themselves in the artistry on display while witnessing the genesis of a new fairy tale that their children can claim as their own.
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