Most of the talk surrounding Brave has been focused on gender and ideology. Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is a Disney heroine who doesn’t need or want a man, and doesn’t end up with one. For sociologists and ideologues, that’s worthy of a great deal of discussion, and there’s little to add to that discussion at this point. It is refreshing to have that “something new” in a children’s cartoon, but that’s pretty much all there is that’s fresh. Oh, yes, and Merida and her mom, Elinor (Emma Thompson) form the core of the story, making it a coming of age story focused on mom rather than dad.
Directed by Mark Andrews, Brendan Chapman, and Steve Purcell (the last listed as “co-director) and written by Chapman, Brave is the latest Pixar concoction, and is lovely to look at. The scenery, the animals, and especially, Merida’s unruly red crop of hair—all are lovingly rendered and are another step forward in computer animation. It’s a good thing, as the script is a little flat and leans on disappointingly old-hat Disney witchcraft to move things forward. Seriously? A witch? A spell? Almost 75 years after Snow White? And mom turns into (warming: spoiler alert) a bear? A bear? You’re NOT kidding?
The bear direction the film takes is odd at best and is a jarring turn of events, and a turn that doesn’t resonate with the viewer with much beyond possible mother-bear jokes. It seems a little shoe-horned into the plot. And the witchcraft is so old, so tired an element that I was frankly taken aback at its introduction, as well as disappointed that we can’t seem to escape witchcraft or the supernatural even in a children’s movie.
There are funny lines and some cute situations. Merida’s brothers are equal parts obnoxious and cute (at least in terms of what the plot does with them). And Billy Connolly as dad Fergus adds much-needed humor and warmth, and would steal the show if the script didn’t keep putting him into the stunted-growth category of the adolescent sitcom dads of the last three decades.
All in all, it’s diverting and somewhat fun. But the heroine, while anything but lame, is trapped in a story rigged with supernatural trappings that disappoint parents looking for something without a witch and spells, and borders on the lame for those hoping for a story that matched the freshness of its modern approach to its lead character. The film is the opposite of its heroine: She’s not concerned about her looks, and is fresh, energetic and original. The film is gorgeous, a little bland, and beyond it’s “don’t need a man” story thread, surprisingly unoriginal.