“Brave” is Pixar’s first attempt at a Disney princess film, but the studio home of Buzz Lightyear and Lightning McQueen still doesn’t get girls.
Headstrong Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), a flame-haired Scottish lass, wants neither crown nor prince. She would rather be riding her horse or making mischief with her triplet brothers. Her prim-and-proper mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), doesn’t know what to do with her, and neither do Disney and Pixar.
It makes you wonder if we’re supposed to see this as a metaphor for the Disney-Pixar relationship, where the once-rebellious animated powerhouse is corseted into a corporate fairy tale.
Disney stumbled financially with “The Princess and the Frog” and artistically with the tacky but popular “Tangled,” while Disney princess merchandising became the subject of justifiable hand-wringing by feminist mothers.
“Brave” may be an apology for all that, but it’s also Disney’s first princess movie made by Pixar, which was acquired by the House of Mouse in 2006. It’s Pixar’s first film with a female protagonist, and, until writer/director Brenda Chapman was replaced last year by Mark Andrews, it was to be the first Pixar film directed solely by a woman. It also is pointedly not a musical.
In Merida, we have a tomboy encouraged by her doting father, King Fergus (a raucous Billy Connolly), much to the consternation of her mother, who is determined to femme her up for her three prospective suitors from once-rival clans. Meanwhile, King Fergus regales the visiting clansmen with his oft-told tale of the bear who took his leg.
Merida knows she can beat her suitors at her game of choice — archery — but the story fatally veers into Brothers Grimm territory when Merida asks a woodworking witch (Julie Walters) to put a spell on her mother. The result of that spell might be one of Pixar’s better computer-generated wonders — if you could see it. The 3-D glasses make everything too dark.
What follows after the visit to the witch’s workshop — which, along with Merida’s hair, is easily the movie’s highlight — is a muddle, both visually and in terms of storytelling. To reverse the spell, Merida must “mend the bond torn by pride,” which means she must heal the rift with her mother, which has nothing to do with pride or bravery and requires no compromise on Merida’s part.
It’s not hard for Merida to refuse her suitors; these Scotsmen are so boorish even William Wallace wouldn’t have let them in his army.
But “Brave” is less a feminist parable than a child’s wish-fulfillment: Why can’t Mommy be more like me?
Like all Pixar films, “Brave” is preceded by a short, in this case the Oscar-nominated “La Luna.” The appealing film features a boy weighing anchor on a moon piled with shooting stars. Fittingly, it shows Pixar retreating to its girl-free safety zone.3-D or not 3-D?
No notable 3-D thrills. “Brave” takes place mostly at night and in an underlit castle; the glasses just make it dimmer.What others are saying
Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune:
“The colors are stunning, the animation lush, photo-realistic and wet. And if they haven’t progressed as far as some in animating the human face, that’s just as well. Princesses are supposed to look otherworldly.”
•Christy Lemire, The Associated Press:
“The usual depth of story and well-developed (Pixar) characters simply aren’t there. It’s a pleasant diversion but, comparatively, a disappointment.”
Melissa Anderson, Village Voice:
“Despite some distracting, convoluted plot points — there’s too much tomfoolery among the king, the lords from the other clans and their scions, perhaps to broaden the film’s appeal to boys — Brave is, well, brave enough to suggest that the ‘pride’ that wreaked such havoc wasn’t only Merida’s defining trait.”
•Kate Erbland, Film School Rejects:
“Simply put, ‘Brave’ is a poor Pixar feature, but it’s a wonderful Disney princess film.”About the hair
• Merida’s hair required two entirely new software systems, filmmakers told the Wall Street Journal. Her tresses are made up of 1,500 individually sculpted curves that are programmed to bounce and interact with one another. Another software program was created to make the hair react realistically to movement and surroundings.
• L.V. Anderson lamented on Slate that Pixar chose to pass the “fiery redhead” stereotype to another generation. “For most of the film, Merida’s hair is a semi-autonomous character unto itself ... functioning like a sticker on her back that says ‘feisty,’ ” Henderson wrote. “Kids are impressionable, and movies should stop selling them the same stories about looks having something to do with demeanor.”