Movie Review for Brave

Conventionally Good

Brave

Action, Adventure, Animation | G | 1 hr 40 min
Columbia Pictures
It seems that the children’s film featuring a female lead character is becoming an increasingly rare thing. The economics of cinema have pushed girls to the sideline as movies continue to cater to the tastes of the boy market. This is why one has such high hopes for Brave which marks the first time that Pixar has a girl as the center of its movie. The film turns out to be a bit scattered, but still quite lovely. Strangely, the film spends too much of its time ramping up the comedy and the action, missing out on the emotional depth inherent in this story. But it eventually settles down and finds the heart of the picture.

Princess Merida (Kelly McDonald) has spent much of her life being groomed by her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) into becoming a proper lady. But Merida is a wild child who feels more comfortable climbing waterfalls than drinking tea. This conflict comes to a head when Elinor sets her up to be married to one of the three clans in the kingdom. Merida doesn’t feel ready and tries to find a way out of it. After a particularly nasty argument between mother and daughter, Merida heads into the forest and asks a witch to cast a spell to change her mother’s mind. But the spell has an unexpected effect, and Merida must find a way to rectify it.

Brave is immediately odd for its use of first-person narration in its opening scenes. The movie rattles out its exposition in a wave of character narration, even though the visuals seem to be able to convey that information already. Pixar made its name on being grand visual storytellers, never using words when they aren’t necessary. This movie seems to cling to its words, verbalizing every plot development and emotion. It’s a perfectly fine approach, but it seems to be a little less sophisticated than what we’re used to from the studio. In the same way, the story takes too long to get going, the first half of the movie so hedged in superfluous action and comedy that it never gets around to the plot’s main concerns.

But the movie does eventually get to the heart of the matter, and there it flourishes. It settles down and tackles the trickier parts of familial relationships. The movie doesn’t quite earn its emotions through its writing – the characters come off as a bit thin and stereotypical, and the main plot is rushed through, but the production brings those emotions to fore anyway. The film looks wonderful, and the expressiveness of the character models brings new dimension to the writing. A lovely Michael Giacchino score elevates every moment, giving every scene a sense of place and scale.

Vocal performances are top-notch. Kelly McDonald has a thoroughly lovely voice, and she imbues Merida with a sense of grace. The character is written to be a little one-dimensional, but McDonald gives her other shades. Emma Thompson’s undeniable regality shines through her onscreen avatar, Queen Elinor seeming even more queenly. And of course, Billy Connolly brings a raucous, energetic vocal performance that could only come from him.

Brave is a tad disappointing, especially since it is paired with the short film La Luna. The short basically tackles the same issues of family through a different filter, and it does it in seven minutes without any dialogue. The short is transcendent, and indicative of everything that has made Pixar so beloved over the years. Compared to that, Brave feels startlingly conventional. But separated from legacy, Brave is still a really good film, using lush, beautiful visuals to tell a heartfelt tale of family. It takes a while to find its bearings, but when it gets there, the emotions are real.

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