To say that I know every film made by Pixar is to say nothing. Give me a quote from Toy Story, A Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004),Cars (2006), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009), Toy Story 3 (2010) or Cars 2 (2011) and I’ll tell you the scene, setting, and act as well the arrangement of hair on the character’s head (or fins, or fur, or tires – whatever the case may be). It’s the muffled phrases I hear through the closed doors of my bedroom trying to catch up on sleep in the midst of another end-of-the-month mini apocalypse at work so I can recite any dialogue, I know every score, frame and inflection of the character’s voice, and I also know that the knowledge of that will do me good one day as it showcases some of the best writing in Hollywood (and elsewhere, arguably).
Therefore, I can state with authority that Brave is not so much Pixar as it is classic old school Disney (didactic and traditional, and yes, feminist characters are already a tradition if not a caricature). Even though the opening of the movie suggests tragedy of Shakespearean proportions (circa the demise of the lovely matriarch in Finding Nemo) there is nothing subversive, all-knowing and meta fictional in Brave; it’s a solid didactic story, old as time, and stories like this need to be repeated from generation to generation because their sheer purpose is reinstating the values that are true for all times. So the critics can get the stick out of their asses and stop moaning; not every cartoon needs to be a perfect example of post-modernist storytelling with its universality and self-obsessive winks back at itself. Brave is simple without being primitive, and to be quiet frank, it is comforting and refreshing. I am not surprised that the audience graced it with a brief round of applause.
There is something to say about the quality of animation in Brave. Just like every balloon in Up and every sea creature in Finding Nemo was realistic yet exaggerated, every patch of moss and sun spot on the green grass in Brave look true-to-life and fantastic at the same time, bursting with color and boasting scrupulous attention to detail.
The sweeping sequences of regal Scotland, mountains in clouds, majestic mirrors of lakes and rolling hills made me forget to breathe. This is decidedly a post-Avatar film, and the creators know exactly what to do not to pale in comparison. The palette and the play of light here with luscious greens and yellows of the happy forest, the blues of travelling lights (they have tiny hands, eyes and hypnotizing voices), the sun-stroked air are contrasted against the grey all-encompassing fog of the mysterious forest where a secretive witch abides. It’s all a treat for the eyes that were a little moist in my case.
Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a stubborn teenager always bickering with her OCD mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and seems to be understood only by her loving father (Billy Connolly), who’s lost his leg in a tragic battle with a huge bear. Merida insists on her freedom, even if that means freeing a strand of orange hair from under her demure headpiece. But there are matters more important to consider as the archer-princess is about to be married off to complete strangers. Merida has to learn the hard way what matters in life and is taught a lesson at the hands of an old witch (Julie Walters) who is a little forgetful so of course many things go wrong.
Even though there is a major plot twist here, the screenwriters Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, Irene Mecchi, and Steve Purcell rely on the simplicity of the story, making the movie slapstick-driven with fun characters such as Merida’s three mischievous brothers (sporting the same orange hair except it looks like they’ve slept in huge rollers since the day they were born). They are the dimwited pretenders for the princess’s hand, lovely but clumsy characters who are unnamable for spoiler-alert reasons. Director Mark Andrews adds some genuinely scary moments (with a huge bear who groans at the screen with fury, saliva stretching from fin to fin) to keep Brave more contemporary but for the most part the movie is absolutely child-friendly.
Merida is a character that continues the tradition of portraying fearless females who are stubborn and independent (like Tiana from The Princess And The Frog). Let’s just hope the trend won’t turn into a grand narrative of its own with little girls thinking that marrying off and being happy is something to be ashamed of. With stories like this, there is always a moral, and in Brave it’s the following: Be careful what you call your loved ones, or else they may grow some claws and teach you a lesson more literal than your innocuous ‘Bite me’ might have suggested.
Verdict: Easy on the eyes and the mind. A perfect excuse to spend the afternoon with your kid.