While I personally have yet to strongly dislike any Pixar release, the animation powerhouse clearly does have two tiers of films: emotional films with powerhouse stories like “Toy Story 3” or lightweight breezy fun pictures like “Cars 2.” ”Brave,” resisting easy classification within the Pixar canon, straddles a very happy median between the two.
The humor is definitely more of the “Cars” variety, zany and perhaps a little sophomorically silly. Though it’s not a tearjerker like the “Toy Story” movies, “Brave” most definitely boasts the present, beating Pixar heart that has made them the preeminent name in animation for nearly two decades.
Boasting a spunky, independent hero looking for satisfaction, wisdom, and maturity who just happens to be a girl also makes “Brave” the feminist movie of the year. The film doesn’t forcibly adhere to any of the conventional coming-of-age conventions for girls, nor does it degrade her femininity by deriving all her strength from manliness. It’s a nice reminder that self-discovery and self-realization is not relegated to one gender.
And regardless of the protagonist’s gender, boys and girls, men and women, children and parents, can all have a rollicking good time with Scottish princess Merida (voice of Kelly McDonald). She’s a free spirit with a fiery personality and flowing red locks to match. Not to mention she could compete with Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games” for an Olympic gold medal in archery. She could be content to live happily just riding her horse and shooting targets with her trusty bow, but her royal lifestyle means that there are other plans for her future: betrothal.
Her mother, the prim and proper Queen Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson), is insistent that she follow rigid decorum and marry one of the first son’s of a tribal lord. But since this is a movie and Merida has quite a rebellious streak, she is hardly willing to go quietly towards impending nuptials. Her defiance ultimately leads to a quest that involves her younger trio of brothers eating lots of desserts, Scottish tribes finding bizarre ways to fight each other, dark magic, and some scary bears. Change, both external and internal, comes to the royal family, providing them the chance to see each other more clearly.
Knowing Pixar, the change occurring in “Brave” does not occur merely on the screen. Director Mark Andrews and the rest of the magicians bringing the movie to life hold a mirror up to the audience, asking us to examine how we deal with and judge other people. While learning how to listen to others and being open to change is hardly a groundbreaking theme, they endow “Brave” with an ageless appeal that allows us all to take something away from the film. Such a strong message coupled with raucous laughter makes Pixar’s latest feature remarkably fun, even if it doesn’t wind up as a remarkable movie for the studio in retrospect. A- /