Following on from the commercially successful, but critically derided Cars 2, animation house Pixar have created another original film entitled Brave. Wanting to create even more ground-breaking graphic design, Pixar stripped away their old animation software and built it anew for the first time in 25 years and Brave stands as the first film to use the Dolby Atmos sound format. These were all decisions implemented after the mauling given to Cars 2 and the staggering commercial flop of John Carter. They needed a solid hit, which is exactly what they get with Brave, but nothing more.
Set in the Highlands of Scotland in the 10th Century, Brave follows Scottish Princess Merida (Kelly MacDonald) the strong-willed eldest daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Her mother sends word to heads of the other clans of the area, Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane), MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd) and Macintosh (Craig Ferguson) to bring forward their eldest sons to compete for Merida’s hand in marriage. Not wanting to have her destiny chosen for her, Merida flees to the forest where she meets The Witch (Julie Walters) who promises to ‘change’ her mother and give Merida the ability to choose her own fate.
The first thing to note is just how wonderful Brave looks. Pixar’s redesigned software gives the Highland setting of Brave an incredibly haunting and beautiful appearance, while Merida’s curly red hair itself shows just how far animation has come since Monsters’ Inc.. Brave’s opening act is a rip-roaring adventure full of character with and invention. There are slow-motion arrows, comic fighting and the most unappealing group of ‘Prince Charming’s’ ever committed to film.
The voice cast are spot on and the Scottish accents throughout lend credibility to not only the story, but the overall sense of time and place. Other than Kelly MacDonald giving pathos and sympathy to her bold tomboy princess, Billy Connolly’s King Fergus, a loveable brawling oaf with a soft heart for his rebellious daughter provides one of the strongest performances, while the majority of the big laughs are saved for his unvoiced triplet sons Harris, Hubert and Hamish whose level of mischief and mayhem will raise a smile to even the most cynical of critics.
The wonderfully stylised setting for the action and the level of detail in the characters faces gives the animators the opportunity to further enhance their already sterling reputation for slapstick comedy and Brave is at its best when playing up to this. Yet it feels more like a safe film than previous releases from the ultra-successful animation house and despite it’s incredible opening scenes, Brave quickly slips into the routine of a standard Disney animated film.
Set against the narrative backdrop of a mother-daughter relationship, in the same way Finding Nemo was a father-son relationship, Brave dips in to the vast reserves of Disney’s back-history providing a feisty modern Princess in an ancient world. The resolution is rushed and confused but the comedy is solid and entertaining, but Pixar are pulling their punches.
Gone is the confidence that lead to greats like Ratatouille, WALL-E or Toy Story, replaced with a certain are of safety from a production team reeling from the first set of serious and justified criticisms ever levelled against them. On a par with A Bug’s Life and certainly less ground-breaking than previous films, Brave is an exercise in righting the first wobble of a group of people previously thought above such things. It’s good, but it’s not great.