When it comes to Pixar Animation Studios, not even they can spin immediate gold out of everything. Some need a little time to brew in the collective mind. Believe it or not, some of their films through the years have not been considered instant classics. The underdog films may be few and far between in the Pixar cannon, but they’re ones I watch often, even if some may think they’re forgotten. Most audiences still own those films even if they aren’t watched nearly as often as the rest. The ones I am speaking of happen to be A Bug’s Life and Ratatouille. It’s not that they’re what you could call “bad” Pixar outings; they just don’t seem to be as welcomed as the rest. So alas, the split vote returns again with this summer’s Pixar event, Brave.
In Brave, we meet young Merida (Peigi Barker) on her birthday, playing hide and seek with her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson). Her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), gives Merida the gift of a bow and arrow, much to Elinor’s chagrin. When they are attacked by the bear Mor’du, Fergus loses a leg in the process. Now adult Merida (Kelly Macdonald) lives peacefully in the castle with her parents and her hilarious triplet brothers. Elinor has decided that the time has come for Merida’s betrothal. Now, three clans of suitors have come seeking the hand of the King’s first-born daughter but must first compete in an archery contest. Here, Merida announces that she too will shoot for her own hand, infuriating Elinor in the process. After a fight between Merida and Elinor, the princess flees to the woods where she comes across the willow wisps that lead her to far more than just her own destiny.
Armed with a gaggle of directors (Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell) and writers (all three directors plus scribe Irene Mecchi), the film admittedly has some drastic tonal shifts. Probably due to history repeating itself as when Brad Bird was brought in to salvage Ratatouille. Director Mark Andrews took the reigns after Brenda Chapman was sacked. Until then she was highly touted as Pixar’s first female director. Things may seem a little more Disney-esque than normal but I blame that fault on screenwriter Mecchi. She’s had her hand in plenty of Disney films, mostly direct-to-video sequels. But looking at the tradition of female characters the Mouse House has brought along the way is there really anything wrong with that? Brave still delivers the expected visual feats even while the film dipping its toes into a few slapstick episodes, not that there’s anything wrong with that either.
Seemingly steeped in Scottish heritage and tradition (including the Highland Games) to folklore (the willow wisps), no kilt goes left unturned. Patrick Doyle contributes a fantastic score full of soaring bagpipes, harps, whistles, and fiddles. There’s lots of talk about changing your fate and finding your destiny. While it may have seemed like Pixar had their own figured out, I applaud the animation juggernaut for continuing to make feature films starring humans. Even if it seems that every time they do, the film is met with immediate trepidation — with Up being the one exception. The reaction from the screening I attended seemed rather split, which is exactly what happened back when Pixar released their first human-filled feature, The Incredibles. It seems that audiences just don’t take as kindly to animated films not filled with anthropomorphized animals or toys. However, not having those kinds of characters in Brave make it feel more like a real film rather than simply just another animated family feature.
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