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Brave - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-
Animation: A-

Is it unfair to compare any given Pixar film to every other Pixar film that came before it? Perhaps not, but it's unavoidable when a studio has a history of output like this one. Really, no other studio does. That said, Brave may not reach the excellence of the likes of Finding Nemo or WALL-E or Toy Story 3 -- but it's by some distance better than last year's disappointing (at least by Pixar standards) Cars 2, which rather makes it a relief, honestly.

Actually, I felt like Brave just about scratched the surface of greatness. It only barely falls short on that front. Indeed, it has a whole lot going for it, not least of which is its much-discussed, first-ever-for-Pixar female protagonist. Sure, she's a princess, but Merida (a lovely Kelly Macdonald) neither pines for nor finds a prince in this story. In fact, there's no prince at all. What a concept! And let's be serious: that's no small thing.

Granted, DreamWorks Animation cheekily subverted fairy tale conventions with Shrek ten years ago. On that front, Disney and Pixar are a little behind -- really, it's more than just about time. But, well, better late than never. Disney still has an archive of enduring fairy tales with princesses waiting for their princes to come, all of which continue to resonate in a way the Shrek series, massively successful as it's been, certainly will not for as many generations. There really is something different and unique about Brave. It presents a self-sufficient young woman with straightforward sincerity. There is no cynicism here, which works better for it.

That said, Brave is also ridiculously silly, in a way no other Pixar film before it has been. Plenty of others have been gleefully absurd, but that's not the same. There's a certain cleverness of storytelling that Brave lacks, and it seems to think cranking up the silliness makes up for it. This is a movie, after all, in which the queen (Merida's mother, voiced with characteristic warmth by Emma Thompson) is subject to a spell that turns into . . . a bear. Mother and daughter must mend their relationship -- while the mother is a bear.

How does this spell come to pass? Well, Merida is somehow taken by surprise that she must choose between three other Scottish clans for her otherwise arranged marriage. And she's having none of that! Queen Elinor, preoccupied with tradition, is having none of that. Merida finds the requisite witch in the woods (actually a rather funny sequence) who casts the spell to "change" her mother, in an attempt to get her off her back. The result? She's turned into a bear. This is not coincidence: Merida's father, Fergus (Billy Connolly, of course), lusts for vengeance against a bear that tore his legs off in Merida's childhood.

So, really, Brave takes a fairly conventional path when it comes to the fairy tale story arc, which is something many critics have complained about. I don't really have a problem with it; it kind of makes sense, when the filmmakers are clearly intending to take the fairy tale format and give it a modern spin. In that, they succeed, and charmingly so.

Indeed, even the silliness -- most of which is derived from Elinor coping with the fact that she's been turned into a bear -- is generally rather charming itself. This little problem extends to Merida's triplet little brothers, who entertain us with their trouble making. This is one example of how Brave actually sets itself apart as a Pixar film: as in other films by the studio, the joy is in the details. Paying attention to the background, and many of the minor characters, has its many rewards.

The animation is exemplary, as always, although it's not quite as strikingly intricate as, say, the coral reefs in Finding Nemo, or as spellbinding as the space portraits in WALL-E. It is, however, wonderfully lush and green, as any film set in Scotland (of any era) should be. This is perhaps the one area in which Pixar has never once disappointed: the animation is a feast for the eyes.

But, okay, Brave is not perfect. But it is worthy of the Pixar canon, it manages to be compelling for adults as well as children, and there's little doubt that children will love it. And honestly, flawed or not, the world of cinema is better for having this feisty red-head with no need for a prince as a role model for those kids to grow up with.

Kelly Macdonald and Emma Thompson have their work cut out for them in BRAVE.

Overall: B+
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