Film Review: BRAVE


The new Pixar film is out on June 22, and it is called Brave, and it is wicked awesome. Wiki. I will attempt to tell you how awesome it is (‘review’ is probably a misnomer, since this is likely to be little more than lavish praise and gushing) but I really won’t spoil anything you can’t learn from the trailer or the cover of a new Brave coloring book now available at Target. Heck, I even picked photos that don’t reveal much. However, if you are a strict NO SPOILERS freakazoid, then don’t read ANY reviews until AFTER you see it. Just a suggestion. I won’t be blamed for your unhappiness.

My hero.

Last night I was privileged enough to catch an advance screening of Brave with my 4-year-old daughter. We were pumped, so pumped I didn’t mind relinquishing my cell phone. We are big Pixar fans, and all their releases (except that travesty known as Cars 2) are wonderful films. But even with such a high bar set by all those previous killer Pixar releases, I couldn’t have expected a film with this much depth, this many facets and which is successful on so many levels. In turns, and without seeming jumpy or forced, the film is mature, emotional, spooky, action-packed, hilarious, magical and gorgeous. It’s pretty impressive, all the things they managed to cram into this 93 minute movie.  But then again, this is Pixar. They are the best in the biz, right?

I predict an uptick in archery class registrations this summer.

Pixar films have always looked pretty sweet, so bright, sharp, and clean, but I knew something looked… different about this film, compared to the signature look of the older releases. It was realer. Smoother. Deeper. More natural. Better hair. Better facial acting, even. Turns out the studio totally reworked their hoosey-whatsis algorithmic thingys that make them there cartoon pitchers look real purty. As a result Brave looks incredible. The sound is stunning, too. Lush, pretty, and sometimes bone-shaking. The music adds an authentic feel, but it is not at all distracting. This is a flick to see at a quality cinema for full effect.

Mérida, self-rescuing princess.

Pixar folks must be taking some cues from their buddies over at Ghibli, because this protagonist is no swooning princess, but a feisty, independent young woman with nerves of steel. Meet Kelly MacDonald as Princess Mérida, the feisty redheaded you’ve seen in all the promos. You will likely get to know her well this summer as she grins at you from the side of your beverage cup. Well, this is one NEW kind of Disney princess. One of those self-rescuing princesses. And she really is not looking for a Prince right now, thank you very much, and she could probably kick my butt, and yours. Plus she’s funny, charming, brainy, a free-thinking progressive, a good sister, and a knockout with amazing hair.  She actually might not want to be a princess at all, because it interferes with thundering across the mist-drenched, gorgeously mystical looking Scottish landscape on a Highland Pony and loosing arrows with deadly accuracy at stuff.

Da fam.

We also have Mérida’s loving and impressive family, lead by one of those huge Pixar Dads (more of a mountain than a man, but a nice, funny ginger mountain), King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and an impressively together Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who is a bit severe and controlling for a young woman of Mérida’s tastes. She also has three hilarious non-speaking toddler prankster redhead brothers, who are responsible for a considerable amount of the hilarity, mayhem, sight gags and slapstick humor in the film. The cast is rounded out with three Scottish Clans filled to the brim with hilarious character types,  Mérida’s erstwhile Highland Pony Angus, an old wise woman, a scary monster of sorts, and of course, Scotland itself in a leading role.

Clan leaders! Haw!

Things open up with a young Princess playing with her loving mother and doting father on a gorgeous day in a sun-drenched field. It’s a glorious memory, really, a day which it turns out will live in legend, as a massive bear rears up to attack toddler Mérida and her fearless father throws himself between them and saves her life. In this, the first of many acts of bravery in this film, King Fergus loses a leg, and he is ever after locked in an Ahab-esque, life-long pursuit of the beast. Of course, the bear image recurs throughout the film, and we see the monster again before the film’s end.

Cut to the ‘present’ day 10th century, and Mérida’s parents applying pressure, as parents do, for her to make good and marry one of the appropriate suitors. Standard stuff. Mérida resists, which is no surprise, running off after a fight with moms. A rift in the family and a subsequent transformation lead to a surprising, moving, sometimes uproarious, pretty much jaw-dropping series of events. I cried four times, I think. I don’t think that’s saying too much in the way of spoilers.

A Wisp!

We also have a lot of neat details- the really cool recurring motifs of Will-O-The-Wisps leading our heroine to realize her destiny, haggis, Kilt jokes, Highland Games, stunning magic, and tons of mist. There is also a requisite stone circle, impressively ancient looking already in the 10th century, that figures in the story in a really creative way. All of this stuff is played in a way that feels authentic and natural. Even the kilt jokes, which are usually so stale, work fine. There are like 4 “nothing under the kilt” gags and I didn’t mind a bit.

This film is destined to be elevated to a spot near the top of Pixar’s cannon, which is no mean feat. Do yourself a favor and see it in a cinema with digital picture and sound this summer. You will be glad you did!