Pixar-thon: Brave

Welcome to the final installment of Pixar-thon. I was hoping to get this done a lot sooner, but things kept getting away, but this movie is still in theaters and is still relevant to this series. So finally, here’s my long-awaited review of Pixar’s latest film, Brave.

Merida is a strong-willed Scottish princess with a passion as wild and fiery as her hair. Needless to say, the strict, male dominant traditions of her country don’t really fit with her rebellious spirit. Her father is completely accepting of his daughter’s determination, but her more rigid and overbearing mother doesn’t quite see it that way. When Merida runs away after a failed attempt by her mother to marry her against her will, she runs into an eccentric witch who grants her one wish. She wishes to have control over her own fate, but the witch instead places a curse on her mother, and a race against time ensues to reverse it.

So I just basically spent the last couple of months bowing at the altar of Pixar and praising everything they do as a godsend (well, almost everything), and while they had their bumps along the way, I will still defend them to the end because they’re basically carrying the torch that was passed to them by Disney. Up to this point, all of their movies seemed like their own creations and it was easy to forget that they are in fact property of the Big Mouse. In fact, some would go far as to argue that they’re the only thing keeping Disney afloat. Brave is quick to remind us of this as it is the most Disney-esque movie that Pixar has ever made. Sometimes this works to its advantage, but other times it seems to work against it.

I’m actually kind of surprised that it took this long for Pixar to make a movie with a female lead character. For the longest time, the premises for their films, despite having universal stories, have revolved around incredibly boy-centric themes like cowboys and spacemen, monsters, cars and superheroes. Sure, they’ve made some good female characters like Jessie, Dory, Elastigirl, Colette, Edna and Eve (if that counts), but they were side characters, they weren’t the main focus. Merida is a very likeable protagonist. To me, she seems more human than most Disney princesses because her personality is a lot closer to that of a real teenage girl. I think everyone at some point in their life has met someone like Merida. She’s feisty, independent, she knows what she wants in life and isn’t afraid to fight for it. She loves her family, but occasionally clashes with them. She sees the flaws in her society and isn’t afraid to not just point them out, but do something about it despite some societal stigma. Basically, take the best traits of Belle, Jasmine and Mulan, and you pretty much have Merida in a nutshell.

I especially love the family because like how Merida’s personality is closer to a real teenage girl than the average Disney princess, the family dynamic is closer to a real family than the average Disney royal family, who mostly spend their time as background space only used to move the plot. Both the mother and the father only want what’s best for their daughter, but they express it in very different ways. The father is more supportive of Merida’s free spirit, but only insist she follow tradition because said tradition says so or because of his wife’s prodding. The mother is a lot more strict and oppressive, and insists that she follows tradition even at the cost of her freedom and forcing her to be something she’s not. It’s easier to hate her at first because her ideals are so contradictory of what Merida wants, but unlike any of the evil stepmothers that Disney was once so fond of, she means well and she actually cares for her daughter and only wants what she thinks is best for her, even if they don’t see eye to eye. Because of this, I believe that Brave is a good mother/daughter movie.

If you ever saw the trailers for this movie, then you know that they reveal very little of the main plot. I immediately assumed it was going to be like Wall-E and have a huge plot twist that turns the entire movie around. Well, I was half right. There is a twist in the second act, but it isn’t as shocking and once it’s revealed it was pretty easy to predict the rest of the movie. I knew from the get-go that Brave was going to end with Merida and her mother going on a journey together that forces them to put their differences aside and in the end they both develop a better understanding of each other. It’s kind of the reverse of Finding Nemo, where they learn from each other from being together instead of being separated. That would’ve been all fine and dandy if it were something different instead of treading the beaten path. I was expecting better, not just because it was Pixar, but because it was Pixar doing something new. Cars 2 frustrated me because it was a blatant display of apathy made solely to make a quick buck and sell more merchandise. Brave frustrated me because it felt like Disney was pressuring Pixar to be more like them. The first half was great and showed a lot of promise, but the last half, aside from a few bits, was cliché central.

Just like Cars 2, I felt like the final message in Brave was a bit tacked on. Sure, there wasn’t much you could do after what they did, but again, I was expecting something more, especially since they already covered it in one of their previous movies. Throughout the second half, I was reminded of some of the Disney movies from the early 2000’s like The Emperor’s New Groove and Mulan. Granted, neither of those movies are particularly bad and Brave utilizes some of their traits well, but I’ve seen it all before. There were a few especially egregious moments that didn’t really ruin the movie for me, but I caught myself facepalming more than once. I guess you could say I’m spoiled and that I hold such high regards for Pixar that I was bound to be disappointed, but I couldn’t help but think that they could’ve done something else with this scenario. Maybe I’m just judging it for what I want it to be instead of judging it for what it really is, and for that, it wasn’t all that bad. But hey, I could be worse. They could be singing.

All in all, Brave is a double-edged sword. It has its flaws that hold it back from being truly great, but what it does well, it does really well. Despite all I’ve said, Brave is still a pretty good movie. Not their best, but definitely not the worst. If I had to rank it, I’d put it in the middle right between Monsters Inc. and Ratatouille. The animation was gorgeous, the music was breathtaking, the voice acting was great, and Merida has risen in the ranks of my favorite Pixar characters. Regardless of its problems, it was still really enjoyable and I recommend it if you’re not bothered by some of those Disney clichés.

I give Brave 7/10.

Thirteen down.

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