Merida (voice of Kelly McDonald) is a Scottish princess in ancient times. Merida’s mother Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson) believes that her only daughter is of age to choose a husband and settle down, but the strong willed Merida is used to riding her horse Angus through the kingdom, shooting her bow and arrow and climbing waterfalls, so the idea of marriage feels like a prison sentence. When Wisps lead her to a mysterious witch, Merida makes a wish that will change her fate.
Brave is Pixar’s 13th film, and after the critical misfire of Cars 2 last year, it is great to see the studio return to an original story, rather than relying on sequels. Kelly McDonald voices Merida, and captures the youthfulness and angst of a teen girl who is struggling against what is expected of her. The rest of the voice talent are equally as strong; Billy Connolly has some brilliant lines as Merida’s father Fergus, and the interaction between Emma Thompson as Elinor and Connolly is warm and fun. It stands to Pixar’s credit that they chose Scottish actors to play the roles in the film, rather than trying to teach American talent Scottish accents. We have already seen with Dreamworks’s Shrek that this does not always go down well, although Mike Myers’s accent was not too terrible.
Brave is beautifully animated – there are moments when it is hard to tell whether the scenes are animated or photographs – and the inclusion of a horse that behaves like a horse as opposed to being over the top and caricatured (Tangled, I am looking at you) is lovely. Humans have always been tricky in computer animation, and Pixar are constantly moving their technology forward to make the humans look better, and this shows in Brave. The human characters look more well… human than they ever have and, as well as this, the forests and fabrics of the film are beautifully realised.
Merida strikes out on her own and this works well for the most part – especially in the scenes where she and her mother begin to understand one another more – but there is an array of characters waiting in the wings that Merida could have brought into her confidence, and this would have helped the story. It is obvious that a choice was made that Merida would not end up resorting to a Prince Charming, but there are moments towards the end of the film where she, and those around her own age, band together and if this alliance were used throughout the film it would have allowed Merida to be part of the world of the film, while still remaining on the fringes. As well as this, the film relies on slapstick for humour and montages for the sake of moving the story forward, and this does not feel right for a Pixar film. Pixar has always used smart humour in their films, and if a character was using slapstick comedy, then it was a part of their character, not introduced for the sake of laughs.
Brave is a story with a lot of heart and a dark and twisty story that will keep the audience guessing. The inclusion of myth and legend into the Pixar canon is a welcome one, and the relationship between myth, magic and reality is gratifying. Brave is a new direction for Pixar, but one that could have done with a little more rounding out. Merida is a fantastic character and a great role model for children, but she never seems to quite learn the lesson that she cannot do everything on her own. That said, the animation is striking and the use of myth and magic is a lot of fun. In all, Brave is fun and beautifully realised, but the story is not as strong as we have come to expect and it does not strictly feel like a Pixar film.