The 13th feature film from Pixar sees the studio break away from their own traditions while revisiting many of their favourite themes. At its heart, Pixar has always seemed like a company full of fathers: their most popular films including Toy Story, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc and Uphave dealt with the relationships between men and their children (or surrogate children). Whether its Woody coming to terms with Andy growing up and leaving him or Nemo’s father learning that he can’t be too over-protective of his son, these films are enormously commercial films that feel like intensely personal projects as well.
Brave, surprisingly, is the first of their movies with a female lead character. For a company that prides itself on invention and innovation, it’s a little baffling how it took that long for them to make that leap. Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is a Highland princess who struggles with the life her mother (Emma Thompson) has laid out for her. The queen has made plans for her to marry into one of their allied clans while Merida wants nothing more than to control her own destiny. The rest of the plot is something that Pixar has managed to keep largely under wraps, so we shan’t spoil it here, but we will say that it involves magic and owes a lot to European fairy-tales.
At its core however, the story is about mothers and daughters and the mutual misunderstandings that are present in most family units. This central conflict doesn’t always seem as fully developed as it was in Finding Nemo, perhaps because the characters all fall into certain archetypes: the domineering mother, the strong-willed child, the gregarious yet passive father. This almost falls in line with its fable-like tone, but some of Pixar’s devotees may take umbrage with the simplicity. By the time the story reaches its third act however, any resolutions feel well earned and in the meantime, Brave delivers on the thrills and the laughs.
This being a Pixar film, the visuals are of course exceptionally beautiful, creating a picture-perfect version of Scotland’s glens and forests that will surely shore up the Caledonian tourism trade for years to come. The Scottish characterisations could easily have gone down the Shrek route, but the mostly-Scots voice cast lend a sense of authenticity to the dialogue: a young lord voiced by Kevin McKidd, speaks in a broad Angus dialect that can’t even be deciphered by the other characters.
This is not a ground-breaking piece of work from Pixar, but it still is head-and-shoulders above anything their rival animation houses are producing. Kids will definitely love the action and the humour and adults will appreciate the beauty in its craftsmanship. But by not pushing the envelope as aggressively as they have in the past, Pixar have left themselves open to the criticism that they’re being anything but brave.