Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Kevin McKidd
Rated: PG, for some scary action and rude humor
Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Bottom line: A a cowardly movie afraid to try anything new.
Let’s play “Name That Studio.” I’ll give you the basic story elements of “Brave” and you guess which studio produced it.
Here goes: A headstrong princess doesn’t want to follow her family’s traditions; she visits an old witch who lives in a secluded cabin in the woods; the witch gives her a spell in the form of something to eat; the spell goes wrong; someone gets turned into an animal.
If you think this sounds like a typical Disney movie, you’d be right.
But “Brave” is the newest release from Pixar, a studio that has steadily declined since it became a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Co. in 2006.
As you can see from the little game above, there is no longer any distinction between Pixar and its parent company.
“Brave” is beautifully animated but tells a completely conventional story culled from the same playbook Disney has been using since 1937.
It’s also a waste of a great character.
Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a force of nature. This Scottish princess charges through life with an inner fire as brilliant and arresting as the explosion of red curls that is her trademark look. It only takes a few minutes to fall under her spell.
Merida wants more than just the arranged marriage her parents are forcing on her. She wants to be independent, to have the same experiences as the boys and to have an uncommon life. And we want this for her.
Which is why it’s so disappointing that after the first act, the movie traps Merida into a familiar Disney princess role.
In a fit of rebellion, she follows a trail of will-o’-the-wisps into the forest, to a witch’s cottage. She buys a spell that promises to change her fate. The spell doesn’t work as she expects, though, and for the remainder of the movie she must protect one bear, fight off a different bear and learn to compromise those passionate aspirations that made us care about her.
“Brave” is one part “Mulan” and one part “Brother Bear.” It isn’t a bad film; it’s just average and forgettable.
Despite some quite scary scenes, my young son enjoyed it. But he had forgotten about it by the following day. There is a chance that young girls will enjoy it more because they’ve got a female lead to latch onto.
“Brave” has been billed as a double shot of girl power. Merida is Pixar’s first female protagonist, and Brenda Chapman was the studio’s first female director.
First, Merida is not a terribly empowering character. She is definitely fiery, strong-willed and fierce with a bow. But ultimately, she does very little to break down gender roles in the clan-driven society in which she lives.
Quite the opposite, actually. Merida’s journey forces her to embrace the more traditional feminine roles she initially resists.
Second, Chapman was removed (a polite way of saying fired) from the project in 2010. She originated the concept, which was based on her real relationship with her daughter, co-wrote the early drafts of the screenplay and contributed enough directorial work that she is still credited as one of the directors. This was her baby.
Chapman and everyone at Pixar have been mum about why she was fired. The party line for both is that “such personnel changes are common in this business.”
I have no idea whether there is more to that story or not, but what I do know is that the person for whom this was a labor of love was fired midway through the process, and the end result is mediocre.
We just have to wonder if the film would have been better had Chapman been allowed to complete it.
“Brave” is a broken promise. We were told it would be a new direction for Pixar, something fresh and novel. Instead, it’s incredibly predictable and seems designed to add another merchandisable princess to the Disney stable.
Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.