Coming off by far its worst film ever, last year’s blatant toy tie-in cash-grab “Cars 2,” Pixar Animation Studios comes about halfway back with its new film “Brave.” While the movie looks great and has some impressive characterizations, it’s quite lacking in the plot department, and is missing that special something that most of the Pixar classics have had.
The product of four writers and three directors, “Brave” is notably Pixar’s first movie with a female protagonist, first fairy tale, just the third (after “The Incredibles” and “Up”) with a human protagonist. It’s Merida, a teenaged princess in 10th-century Scotland with a taste for adventure and a flair with a bow-and-arrow.
Blessed with a huge shock of curly red hair that makes her uncannily resemble News Corp phone hacking scandal figure Rebekah Brooks, Merida longs for swashbuckling adventure, but her mother has other plans- namely, betrothal to one of three princes.
The film then takes a very strange turn that I won’t spoil here, but let me just say it takes things in a sort of underwhelming direction. “Brave'”s use of magic is one of its more problematic aspects- Merida, at various times, is led in different directions by blue fairies, known as “wisps,” who are moving, floating, deus ex machinas.
And this I found problematic. Merida has a fight with her mother in which she’s pretty unquestionably right. Then the wisps lead her into the forest, to a witch, in order to be taught a lesson. Why? Why does she need to be taught a lesson? She was right!
Different characters’ motivations, at different times in the movie, make little sense, and the ending is underwhelming. The third act is the same as the third act of nearly every Pixar film, as William Goldman once pointed out- all the characters take turns rescuing each other.
“Brave”‘s ultimate lesson? “Listen to your mother.”
This isn’t to say “Brave” is all bad. Visually, it’s stunning- Merida’s hair, by itself, is more of an impressive special-effects achievement than four or five full movies I’ve seen so far this summer. Even though its in 3D and didn’t need to be, the animation is superlative.
The film also does great with all of the Scottish stuff, from the action to the vistas to the accents, as the cast features a virtual who’s-who of non-Sean Connery Scottish actors: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane and Kevin McKidd, as well as the English Emma Thompson and Julie Walters. I bet Mike Myers is pissed off he wasn’t offered a part.
“Brave” is the first Pixar release since the passing of Steve Jobs, and it’s dedicated to Pixar’s founder and onetime CEO, their “partner, mentor and a friend.” There’s also a character- who’s both loud and rail-thin- whose name is “MacIntosh.”
While it has those plot problems and is overall not up to the level of the “Toy Story” films, “Up” or “The Incredibles,” “Brave” has quite a few things going for it- a great lead character, stunning animation and a complete lack of Larry the Cable Guy among the voice cast.
Note: The seven-minute Pixar short that plays before the film, “La Luna,” is an absolute gem, and totally exudes the Pixar magic in a way that “Brave” itself never quite does. So don’t come late to the theater.