Is there anything quite as frustrating as a movie not as good as you’d hoped? Misplacing your keys, perhaps a close second. So Brave is the latest animated film from Pixar, and it’s not what you’d likely expect. Unless you mistakenly thought this was a Disney princess movie, in which case you’d be correct. It’s a better than average Disney princess movie, but there are enough problems that it pales in comparison to most other Pixar films (the Cars duology notwithstanding). As one of those “post-feminist” pieces, it’s better (again) than most, but it gets quite predictable and in the end, leave not much of an impression.
The movie tells the story of Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), the eldest of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) who rule the various Scottish clans in the fictional kingdom of DunBroch. As part of the “deal” with their alliance, Merida is to be betrothed to one of the firstborn sons of the other three clans, Dingwall (leader voiced by Robbie Coltrane), MacGuffin (leader voiced by Kevin McKidd), or Macintosh (leader voiced by Craig Ferguson). These characters are amusing, vaguely near-offensive Scottish caricatures, but the movie isn’t about them.
It’s about the relationship between Merida and Elinor; the Queen wants her daughter to be a proper lady and learn some responsibility for her people, while Merida wants the freedom to do what she likes and not be forced into a marriage with a stranger. Merida is a capable person in general, expert with archery and riding. She chafes under the obligation and lack of choice indicative of the era, and following magical spirits called Will O’ the Wisps, she finds a witch (Julie Walters) to get a spell to change her fate. And specifically, get her mother to back off the whole engagement business. The nature of the spell and what it leads to is the strongest part of the film by far, and the elements I wondered if they were truly going to go somewhere unique.
But ultimately, it ends up back in that “headstrong Princess that doesn’t want to get married” trope and doesn’t quite manage to escape the cliche. Without delving into spoilers, it’s not possible to do a complete analysis of the failures and successes of the movie, but the real problem is that all the pieces work well. The animation is beautiful and fluid, the voicework perfectly in sync, and the humor well placed — but that humor isn’t as dangerous or incisive as Pixar has been in the past. Nor is the movie truly presenting anything other than a very typical lesson of “don’t be a jerk to your family”.
With all the talk of changing fate, I hoped for something not so pat and derivative of Disney. It’s a Disney princess movie that could have been more.