Aug 07, 2012|
(USA) Animation/Adventure. Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell. Voiced by Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson, Julie Walters. Category I. 100 minutes. Opens Aug 9.
For a film that breaks new ground by hiring a female writer-director and featuring a female protagonist for the first time in Pixar’s testosterone-dominated history, “Brave” is surprisingly conventional and toothless. Set in medieval Scotland and centered on a flame-haired princess on a quest to defy her destiny, the studio’s 13th feature is powered by dazzling visuals and a brilliant voice cast, but lacks the wit, heart and imagination that have previously made Pixar the unchallenged champions of animation. While children are likely to gleefully sit through the spirited adventure yarn, adults hoping for another “Toy Story” or “The Incredibles” will probably be disappointed.
Glasgow native Kelly Macdonald revisits her roots as she lends voice to Merida, the free-spirited first-born daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). The film brushes over her childhood, depicting mainly a birthday dinner when an overjoyed Merida gets a bow as a gift from father and the family narrowly escapes a bear attack. Fast forward to her adolescence, and the plucky lass is now a wild beauty with a passion for nature and archery. But what of her mother’s strict rules and insistence on making her a proper, ladylike princess? She’s not a fan. What terrifies Merida most of all is the upcoming betrothal ceremony, where princes from the three other clans will compete for her hand.
Legends of the kingdom’s tragic past—as her mother tries to make Merida understand—are cautionary tales of how breaking tradition leads to horrible consequences. So when the headstrong princess decides to publicly humiliate the wacky trio of suitors by defeating them in an archery match, the furious queen throws her daughter’s bow into the fireplace. Riding her enormous horse Angus, Merida flees into the forest and stumbles across an old witch (Julie Walters), who grants her a rash wish that will change her fate. But of course, her fate is not the only thing that’s changed—the wish turns out to be a curse, and it’s down to Merida to make things right.
With a Katniss Everdeen-esque heroine and echoes of “Mulan” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” the film is hardly original or imaginative (with the exception of a major plot twist that I won’t reveal). The “girl empowerment” theme has become a bit of a cliché in today’s cinema, while the central relationship of the warring mother and daughter—previously captured with insight and humor in Disney’s “Tangled”—is superficially depicted here. The characters are arguably interesting, especially the foolhardy King Fergus and his fellow immature clan leaders, who deliver most of the film’s effective, if not smart, Scottish-flavored gags (“Feast your eyes!” one says to another as he lifts his kilt from behind). A quartet of Scottish actors, including comedian Connolly and talk show host Craig Ferguson, do a great job voicing the man-children. Rounding up the strong cast, the three big-name actresses are all in fine form, too.
As the standard of animation nowadays has been raised to near-perfection, “Brave” is visually stunning. The misty forest, the glistening water and Merida’s voluminous, bouncy red tresses are all created with impeccable detail. The charming landscape and culture of Scotland also play a big part; two-time Oscar-nominated Scottish composer Patrick Doyle’s score pays an endearing homage to its beautiful Celtic music.
However, despite the impressive efforts in the production department, the story fails to move or enlighten, which is usually what Pixar does best. Unlike deeply touching tales such as “Toy Story 3,” “Up” and “WALL-E” (I sobbed through 60 minutes of that 100-minute film—don’t judge), “Brave” leaves an emotional vacuum at its core and has no more heart than “La Luna,” the delightful five-minute short that’s played before it. About the only moral lesson you can take from it is the trite “be careful what you wish for.” As for the sinfully predictable and corny ending—it’s safe to say that nobody who has ever seen a Disney or Pixar movie will be amazed by it. Alas, although the studio’s decision to redress the gender imbalance in film is commendable (albeit a tad late), a more inspired story for the likable and valiant heroine would have been nice.