Dir. Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
(2012, PG, 93 minutes)
Brave is an uncharacteristically modest film from Pixar. A small trash-collecting robot traveled across the stars and back in WALL-E. The octogenarian from Up drifted to the Southern Hemisphere in a floating house. By contrast, everything that happens in this fairy tale adventure takes place more or less within walking distance, the villains are minor, and the core conflict is simple and familiar. None of that makes this a poor film – it’s a good one in fact – but the stakes do feel lower than usual, especially for a film that purports to be a mythic quest.
Pixar sets an unusually high bar for itself, that a film like this could seem disappointing. It takes place in the Scottish Highlands, where proud, independent-minded Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is pressured by her equally strong-willed mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), to act like a lady and pick her future husband from the first-born sons of neighboring clans. Desperate to change her fate, Merida wanders into the woods, where a witch gives her a spell that, much to her surprise, turns her mother into a bear.
That’s more or less the story, which moves from Merida’s castle to the woods, then back to the castle, and back to the woods again. It’s possible the entire kingdom consists only of castles and woods. But it’s a visually striking film, with an energetic score by Patrick Doyle, sweetly whimsical character design, and the emotional core of the story, the relationship between Merida and her mother, carries the film with surprising warmth. This may be minor Pixar – closer to Monsters Inc. or Cars than to nearly perfect films like Ratatouille and WALL-E – but a minor success is a success nevertheless.