Directed by: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell
Premise: An animated film about an independent-minded princess who rejects the young men who have come to suit her and her break with tradition causes chaos in the kingdom.
What Works: Brave is a unique entry in the Disney/Pixar filmography. Like the main character, the filmmakers attempt to break from or redefine the traditions and conventions of their genre. One of the recent trends in fantasy films is the revisionist fairytale as seen in Shrek, Snow White and the Huntsman, and The Brothers Grimm. These pictures adapt traditional storylines or characters and try to put a new spin on them, usually with uneven results. These characters and stories are cultural archetypes and their power over viewers is based in the audience’s shared understanding of what those archetypes represent. When the primary elements of the story are altered, filmmakers risk diluting the essence of the archetype, and thereby robbing the subject of what makes it interesting in the first place. Brave is more successful than other revisionist fairytales. This is a princess story, which is a major staple of Disney animation, but this film breaks or modifies tradition in most of the right places. For instance, Brave reimagines the archery contest from Disney’s Robin Hood through a feminist lens but it retains the heroism and skill of the scene. In that way, Brave retains the core values and ideas that viewers expect from fairytales in general and Disney’s animated adventures in particular and opens them up to new possibilities. The success that Brave has an animated picture is largely consistent with the trends that have distinguished Pixar’s other films. One of the high points of Brave is the film’s characters. Like The Incredibles, the characters of Brave are very well conceived and the film focuses on a family drama. The family of Brave has a lot of reality to it and the main conflict of the story occurs between the young princess (voice of Kelly Macdonald) and her mother (voice of Emma Thompson). Their relationship recycles some familiar tensions of parent-child conflicts but it does them very well, in part because of the writing but also because of the animation. Pixar has consistently been able to create a look for their films between live action and cartoons and Brave has some exceptional imagery. The mass and texture of the subjects and their environments creates a singular coherent style that allows the viewer to suspend his or her disbelief and enter into the film. The filmmakers have also created characters who emote convincingly and action scenes that are as visually exciting as anything in action cinema, including a bear fight that is far superior to a similar scene in The Golden Compass.
What Doesn’t: Brave gets weak in its second half. Although it is admirable that the film goes in some unexpected directions, the tone of the story shifts in ways that are incongruent with the first half and the plotting isn’t well thought out. Brave isn’t a bad film but because it comes from Pixar the movie has significant expectations to fulfill and it is not nearly as good as WALL-E or Up.
Bottom Line: Brave is a fun and satisfying film. It may not be the film that audiences were expecting and it doesn’t really break new ground but as a piece of animation it is well made and it does tell an entertaining and engaging story.
Episode: #394 (July 1, 2012)