Great expectations are set when Pixar releases a new animated film. With a history of creating great films like Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Wall-E, and Up, it is easy to forget that Pixar has also made some not-so-great films, like A Bugs Life and Cars 2. And if one is not careful, one’s expectations can be set too high. As for Brave, I walked into the screening both excited and a little leery. Fellow journalists, who had previously screened the film, believed I would love the film, especially as they knew that I would be attending with my two daughter’s, one of which is a fiery, curly redhead, and that the story line is one of mothers and daughters. But what blew me away when the theater lights dimmed and the curtain rose was not the story line or the fabulous characters — both are good, but I will get to that later — but rather the stunning animation, especially the jaw-dropping landscapes. The Scottish countryside so beautifully depicted is inhabited by fully-fleshed characters, and of course Merida’s (Kelly Macdonald) amazing hair.
So, lets talk animation, the element that stands out. Merida’s locks are the most amazing animated detail in Brave; Pixar dedicated two years and created special software just to get those bouncy curls right. It is this attention to detail that has garnered Pixar such praise and accomplishment in the world of animation, creating films that are just that — films — rather than dumbed-down cartoons. The landscapes give Avatar a run for its money, and for anyone that has had the pleasure of visiting Scotland, a realness that is hard to believe.
The story line: the opening of the film feels every bit Pixar, but as fellow TATM critic John Clark perfectly articulated in a text message to me after screening the film himself, what follows is pure Disney. (I do not mean that with any negative connotation.) The story, while a bit more Disney-esque than other Pixar films (it is about a princess after all) is solidly written. Merida (Macdonald), a Scottish princess, daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) is about to be betrothed. Wishing to change her own fate, she enlists her own skills at archery and a little magic, but of course things do not go as planned, and Merida must mend a bond that is broken before it is too late.
Yes, very Disney. The characters already feel like ones we know and love, and Merida certainly could be crowned an official Disney princess joining the ranks of Cinderella and Snow White. But what Merida has that the classic princesses are lacking is a modern, more open relationship with her parents. It is a much fresher perspective on the world, and in that sense a much more Pixar than Disney film.
Either way, Brave is a film to see with your entire family (and one to see in 3-D). The charm of Scotland, the old-world setting, and a very modern princess are sure to entertain generations to come. And who knows, when the next generation of princess characters appear on screen, perhaps someone will be comparing their stories to the then-classic tale, Brave.