REVIEW: Brave [2012]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG | Runtime: 93 minutes | Release Date: June 22nd, 2012 (USA)
Studio: Pixar Animation Studios / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Director(s): Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman / Steve Purcell (co-director)
Writer(s): Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman & Irene Mecchi / Brenda Chapman (story)

“Mend the bond torn by pride”

Following two of Pixar Animation Studios’ most successfully original films, WALL-E and Up, came a pair of sequels that honestly left me a bit wanting. While most would agree with me on Cars 2—although I still liked it for what it was—I’m sure many think I’m crazy for being a bit disappointed in Toy Story 3. By far the funniest of the series, you cannot deny that the emotional resonance so intrinsically connected to the studio was lacking until a tacked on finale that tugged at the heartstrings without any real substantial build-up. So, color me excited when I began to see the atmospheric, intellectual trailers for their newest yarn set against a 10th century Scottish backdrop. The outside the box thinking we knew and loved appeared to have returned.

Difficult to tell exactly what was coming besides the gloriously animated red hair of lead character, Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), its air of mystery captivated me into thinking this could be a huge step in the right direction as far as genuine storytelling goes. There weren’t glimpses of an eagerly handsome prince on the prowl or talking animals connecting our heroine to nature. No, Merida was very much aligned with the film’s title, Brave, in that she marched to the beat of her own drum. When girls her age were supposed to learn etiquette and the wiles of womanhood as marriage loomed, this Daddy’s girl was very much an adventurer donning her bow on journeys through the forest to climb high mountains and live with a freedom in her heart that helped her forget the prison wrought back home by tradition.

Directed by new blood—although still members of Disney’s sprawling family—Brave‘s creative minds do come with a pedigree in magical storytelling. No stranger to the limelight with the Oscar-nominated short One Man Band and recent screenplay for John Carter under his belt, Mark Andrews‘ feature directorial debut came with the help of original storywriter Brenda Chapman—a veteran herself of hand-drawn masterpieces The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. And with Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi at their side, this quartet of bards crafted a tale of a princess with strength of character unlike any we’ve seen before. Never does Merida feign helplessness in order to blackmail lustful suitors into fulfilling her ever whim or need a man to swoop in and save her from danger. She’s too busy smiling towards the fact she can outfight them all to even fathom such vulnerability.

No, this princess has but one enemy: the customs thrust upon her by birthright. As such, we discover young Merida’s mother, the Queen (Emma Thompson), to be the villainous entity standing in her way of happiness. Devoid of any ill will, Elinor wants only to prepare her teenage daughter for the daunting day-to-day operations running a kingdom will soon require. While King Fergus (Billy Connolly) roams about town seeking the evil Mor’du—a bear that took his leg years ago—it’s the Queen who keeps order and control. Desperate attempts to instill such responsibility into her daughter unfortunately only tears them apart as the fateful day arrives for the princess to choose her groom. Two independent thinkers with such differing opinions on the future will always manifest friction, though, as neither can honestly listen to the other being too caught up in their own stubborn selfishness to blink.

The film becomes an exercise in the allure of modernity as independence begins to outweigh the handcuffed culture ruled by the suppression of love and desire in lieu of duty. While the old guard holds tight to such regulations, the new sees progress and a way of living free from their oppressive constraints. But, as these foreign ideas could light the fuse of war against tenuous allies, there isn’t time to instill such change with any careful consideration. Due to the authoritarian nature of Elinor and the rebellious angst of Merida, an even-headed debate is simply not in the cards. More extreme measures are therefore taken when the young girl’s tantrum explodes with the destructive force of an atomic bomb as witchcraft threatens to dissolve all hope for peace through the guise of a tiny blueberry cake.

It would be a disservice to now divulge in details of the inspired adventure setting Merida and Elinor onto a path towards mutual understanding that follows. Playing on themes introduced early on, however, their fantastical journey is one so ingrained with the family’s history that they can’t help but see beneath the surface of their own petty wants. The stakes crescendo as the work of an entrepreneurial witch (Julia Walters) opens their eyes to how black and white conflict can become if neither is willing to accept the gray in between. Love’s bond is stronger than the customs all too eager to rip the soul from even the brightest of lights. Played with equal parts delightful humor in the absurdity of their situation and a palpable fear in the horrible reality not breaking the spell holds, we find the Queen’s teachings sunk in after all. Their application has simply evolved with the changing trend of independence.

A simple fable of magic and dream conjured along a path lit by ephemeral will-o’-the-wisps could easily be seen as weak or uninteresting. But both descriptors would be wrong. Brave proves to be a strong tale of one’s fight for our individuality and the reconciling of our place alongside our parents as adolescence becomes adulthood. Great, comedic performances from Connolly, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, and Craig Ferguson as the kingdoms’ patriarchs always looking for a good fight; hilarious antics courtesy of the ingenuity of Merida’s triplet brothers; beautifully composed Celtic sounds from Patrick Doyle sung by Julie Fowlis; and gorgeously sumptuous environments run through a misty haze on horseback all add to the heartfelt relationship at the film’s core to make it family friendly and possessed by a meaningful message. Whatever your beliefs, love and family should always come first and never be sacrificed.

[1] Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) following a Wisp. ©2011 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
[2] (L-R) KING FERGUS (voiced by Billy Connolly), QUEEN ELINOR (voiced by Emma Thompson) and MERIDA (voiced by Kelly Macdonald). ©2011 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
[3] MERIDA. ©2012 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

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