Run Time: 100 minutes
Only in a blue moon would I consider Pixar to be in a slump. This renowned animation studio, ever since the rise of Woody and Buzz in 1995’s Toy Story, has generally produced quality animated films to young, dewey-eyed audiences and, miraculously to boot, the adults who were dragged in. Fusing adult themes with children entertainment has been Pixar’s cross to bear. But after the dreadful Cars 2 and the now woefully disappointing Brave Pixar currently has lost that star from their lapel.
Too bad. Because Brave, in its premise, holds merit. Typically accused for their lack of spunky heroines, Pixar’s newest entry features a pint-sized Highland princess named Merida (voiced by Boardwalk Empire’s Kelly Macdonald), who carries her own triumph. Pitted against the forced marriage arrangements of her stern mother Queen Elinor (v.b. Emma Thompson) and tough but ungainly father King Fergus (v.b. Billy Connolly), Merida flees to the forest only to realize, in the end, that family is where it is at.
It’s a familiar narrative for Pixar, whose past films like Up and WALLE involve a character’s desperate journey to achieve certain destiny. Merida’s is for her individuality, which is in itself a chivalrous act. So it’s a noble destination, but the journey itself lapses the way Cars 2 did: underdeveloped supporting characters, wearisome slapstick, and overdrawn dramatic incident. There’s zero elegance to the plotting, with a lot of situations tossed at the screen without a sense of any gentle and assuredly deep themes simmering beneath.
Pixar maintains, however, some of their usual strengths. Brave includes stellar voice acting, folkish visuals, and a wondrous score by Patrick Doyle, who uses harps, fiddles, and bagpipes to wrap us up in the Highland world of the 16th century. Our eyes won’t glaze over thanks to that visual-aural flair and they at least bring some energy to an otherwise formulaic and pat story.
What’s so typical about Brave is not necessarily what happens, but the emotions scattered through it. Directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, the former a right-hand man of Brad Bird and the latter a writer for Pixar’s corporate partner Disney, build this story with basic themes about family, hope, and individuality and, thus, we are only affected at the same calibre.
The supporting roles, such as Merida’s triplet brothers and her three potential husbands, only serve the plot for in-passing laughs to tide us over while Merida switches locations. Even Julie Walters voices a witch, who apparently plays a key role but turns to narrative pixie dust in mere seconds.
The defense of Brave, I suspect, will be Merida’s character. She’s resourceful, clever, and lively and fans may appreciate Pixar for creating a folk tale about a frizzled hair female warrior, who denies the age-old obligation to be some Scotsman’s princess. But Merida’s determination isn’t reflected in the efforts of Pixar, that’s script scrapes the two-dimensionality of recent Disney movies like the ho-hum Tangled and average DreamWorks pictures.
My hopes are still high for the Pixar brand. But truth be told: Brave is a mediocre animated film, especially for the much-beloved said studio. My prediction is that kids will enjoy Brave, because it is full of action, slim comedy, and colors that pop off the screen – literally, if you catch it in 3D. But adults will be bored, underwhelmed by Brave’s curious lack of depth and a mid-point character twist that will make you think – “what, that’s it?”. Put the bow away, Merida, this arrow has missed the mark.