In the last half a decade Pixar have released Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3. All recipients of the Best Animated Oscar. All absolute, bona fide classics. To suggest that the studio is flailing and failing simply because of the critical failure of Cars 2 (which incidentally still coined over half a billion worldwide) may be one of the greatest premature death shouts since Jeff Goldblum was murdered via Twitter. Brave, while falling slightly short of the aforementioned hits, is testament that a Pixar film is still an event to be cherished.
Princess Merida is less than pleased with her lot in life. Expected to be “a lady” by her overbearing mother, Merida simply wants the freedom to eat, play and love as she likes, happier to be riding and shooting then sitting and sewing. When her arranged marriage – through competition between the first born sons of the three adjacent clans – draws near, Merida looks for a way out. And before you can say, “Al bee fie tin for ma ooon hand” traditions have been affronted and mother and daughter are at each others throats. In more ways than one…
For all of the criticism levelled at Cars and its follow-up, the accusation of lack of wonder when it came to animation wasn’t one of them. Here, again, Pixar deliver. From the rolling hills of Scotland to Merida’s hair boasting 1500 individual curls to Merida’s horse (which are, so we’re told, famously quite hard to draw) the film is a feast for the senses. It may be more Disney cute than Games Of Thrones dirt but the world still comes alive in the interior castle walls and exterior of lochs under sky.
Again Pixar does a cracking job of picking the right actors to voice the parts. Where other animators would Americanise the Scots to the point of filling the Loch’s with Pepsi Max, here we have the highlands’ own Kelly Macdonald in full native tongue, complete with rebellious Northern spirit encapsulating Merida’s primary want of the freedom to choose her own path. Considering the actress’ poor onscreen relationship choices – Glaswegian heroin junkie, Atlantic City crime lord, sex addicted fraudster – it’s pleasing to see (or rather hear) her not bothering with all that mess, content to be dancing under waterfalls solo rather than holding hands and kissing under floating candles.
Brave‘s focus on familial affection over the more traditional ‘princess meets prince fairytale’ is the move that differentiates it from the Disney stable that some have worried it may err to close to. But, at the risk of offending the Pun God, the 13th feature of Lasseter and co. could be Brave-r. Where Wall-E was allowed an entire dialogue-free act to himself and Up had the cojones to montage a lifetime, Brave never really leaps the bar. Most importantly it never really has the moments that define the classics, Buzz’s first flight in Toy Story, the critic’s lament of Ratatouille. For the first time ever you could genuinely debate whether Dreamworks did the ‘world’ better with How To Train Your Dragon.
Still even without these solo instances of exceptionalism Brave is 500 miles better than the majority of other family fare, and 500 miles more when it comes to the brilliant animation.
Better than simply Och-Aye, Brave does for mothers and daughters as Finding Nemo did for fathers and sons. It may only be a minor miracle of animation and storytelling but it’s a miracle worth catching on the big screen. In six months time it’ll nestle nicely on the DVD shelf along with the rest of the Pixar output that we’re lucky enough to have given to our generation.