Pixar has been around long enough for everyone to have a favorite Pixar movie. And why shouldn’t we? Pixar has produced some incredible feats of cinematic art, showing us amazing unique worlds, memorable characters, and stunning animation. I think their worst Pixar film was Cars, and even that was good! The latest Pixar movie, Brave (2012) goes in a different direction than its predecessors, but still remains a great film.
Set in Scotland in a rugged and mythical time, Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a flame-haired Scottish tomboy with an unmatched skill for archery. Her parents, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), love her and her triplet brothers dearly. A free-spirited young woman, Merida lives for days that she can ride her horse, practice archery, and explore the world. Elinor does her best to show Merida how to be a lady, but to little avail. When Fergus and Elinor arrange a tournament to determine a suitor for their daughter’s marriage, Merida defies an age-old custom sacred to the burly, uproarious Scottish Lords. Merida begs for a spell from an eccentric witch (Julie Walters) to help change her mother’s mind about the marriage. It does more than that; Elinor is turned into a bear. To further complicate things, King Furgus had his leg bitten off by a bear years prior and has been abhorrent towards them ever since. Unsurprisingly, when he sees his wife as a bear, he fails to recognize her.
Brave has a quintessential fairy tale quality to it. Which is odd since that is customarily Disney’s territory. It’s a well written story in the tradition of an old Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson story that we should be familiar with, yet it’s unlike any fairy tale I recall hearing before. It’s has a magical influence, though not enough to make it an over the top, high-end fantasy.
The 10th century Scotland setting was beautifully captivated in Brave. The characters all have lovely Scottish accents and wear traditional medieval clothing and kilts. The music in Brave is absolutely gorgeous, emphasizing lots of Celtic drums, bagpipes, and flutes. It complements the setting brilliantly and forces us to be swept up in the story.
Holding true to tradition, Pixar shows us unprecedented and beautiful animation. The Scottish countryside looks so lush and detailed, truly worthy of the country on which it is based. Pixar has done some impressive feats of animating hair and fur in The Incredibles and Monsters, Inc. These are nothing compared to the detail in Merida’s hair. She has this wooly mane of lovely red hair. The sheer number of curls that they had to get to move naturally in every frame is mind-boggling! On top of that Merida is an action princess; she has lots of movement to account for. It took Pixar six months to develop a new “hair” computer program to get Merida’s hair movement to look natural. Merida has some of the wildest hair imaginable and it complements the character amazingly well. She’s a wild spirit. She wields her beautiful curly mane in confidence; it’s part of who she is.
Speaking of characters, Brave has introduce to us some remarkably well written and developed ones. Fergus and Elinor are archetypal parental figures with lovable quirks and mannerisms that they would remind anyone of their own parents to at least some degree. Fergus loves telling stories of his younger days and how he lost his leg, joking with his kids, and getting into at least as much trouble as his children. Elinor is the rational one of the pair, worrying about what’s best for her children and making sure they understand propriety in any situation. The main conflict arises between Merida and Elinor as their interests and wills clash. Both think the other doesn’t listen them, and they’re both right. Brave constructs a resonant tribute to mother-daughter relationship that is every bit as moving as the father-son dynamic in Finding Nemo.
One of my favorite parts of Brave was that Merida doesn’t get married. There’s an oft overused theme of the character wanting to make their own path or not get married. Every single time this has happened, the character is married before the credits roll. But Merida doesn’t settle down or consent to be married; she is still the free spirit who actually does carve her own path. I think seeing a strong female protagonist like Merida actually following through with her decision about not letting society dictate her life is empowering to witness, regardless of the viewers’ gender.
I have to admit that Brave wasn’t quite the groundbreaking cinema event we’re accustomed to seeing from Pixar. That’s not to say it was bad. In fact, the worst thing I can say about Brave is that it’s a great Disney movie, not so much a Pixar movie. But upon intruding on classic Disney territory, we get a believable female protagonist and a story with a lot of heart and Celtic tradition. I think this is worth catching in theaters, and if you aren’t put off too much by it being more Disney than Pixar, I’d say get a copy on Blu-Ray. I will.
What is your favorite Pixar movie? Why do you like it so much? Comment below and tell me all about it!