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Review: Brave (2012)

Brave

Rating

Director
Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Screenplay
Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Irene Mecchi
Length
93 min.
Starring
Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson
MPAA Rating
PG for some scary action and rude humor

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Soundtrack

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Review
Walt Disney originated the animated motion picture princess story archetypes. His creations in films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty were definitive examples of how the genre should be delivered. When Pixar arrived on the scene in the late 1990's, they took the animation arena to a new place, reinventing many of the basic precepts laid out by its forbears. Yet, until now, Pixar has never tackled a princess story. With Brave, Pixar proves it not only knows how to tell stories outside of its wheelhouse, but even knows how to embellish and improve the very medium that, for 70 years remained largely unchanged.

Brave tells the story of a young Scottish princess groomed from childhood by her doting mother (voiced by Emma Thompson), hoping to prepare her for marriage to one of the three other clans in their kingdom. Merida (Kelly Macdonald) takes more after her father (Billy Connolly), the booming, enthusiastic king of the land whose appreciation for food, drink, tales and fighting have rubbed off on her. A master archer and capable swordsman, Merida finds the constant feminising her mother has been doing with her is grating and unnecessary, for her destiny should be hers to control, not someone else's.

In order to placate the frustrated clans, Merida's mother Elinor has sent a summon to the leaders of the great clans to bring forth their first born child to compete in a tournament for the hand of young Merida. Based on a longstanding tradition, the kingdom's laws are diametrically opposed to Merida's wishes. She wants to marry the man she loves, not be forced into it. Merida hatches a scheme to defy her mother and compete for her own hand. Displaying archery prowess unlike any have seen, her willful defiance angers her mother than a heated fight leaves a lovingly-crafted tapestry in ruins and the mother-daughter dynamic on the verge of collapse. Merida seeks out a witch in the woods who gives her a small cake to provide to her mother to change her attitude and help amend Merida's fate. As you would expect, the results of the terrible tart drive the story as Merida and Elinor attempt to locate the witch so they can reverse the spell before it becomes permanent, removing the curse placed on Elinor.

In grand Pixar style, the film tells a complex plot made simple for young viewers while enticing older audiences with rich details and satisfying humor. Brave takes the princess genre and upends many of its long-held traditions. Merida doesn't need a man to save her, her own conviction and inner strength guide her towards a solution. Everything that must be done to break the spell rests within Merida's hand. She made the rash decision and she must fix it. Likewise, there is no pretty bow tacked on at the end wherein our heroine is wedded to a handsome prince so they can live happily ever after. Happiness will reign, but wedlock isn't required. This forward-thinking approach defines how Pixar has created countless classic films.

The voice cast make the film sparkle in a way many animated films don't. As in the tradition of excellent voice work Disney established during their 1990's revival, stunt casting doesn't factor in. Emma Thompson and Billy Connolly are the most recognizable names in the cast, yet few went into the film just to see these two stalwarts perform. And perform they do. Thompson, donning a believable Scottish accent, is a marvellous force in the film. Her Elinor is passionate, determined and loving. While the terrific character design work helps deliver the performance, Thompson is the one who sells it. The same can be said for the divertingly astute performance of Connolly as King Fergus; the gentle, yet tenacious Merida; Julie Walters as the crazy, confused and cryptic witch; and even Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd and Craig Ferguson as the heads of the three clans who don't get much character development, yet perform well nonetheless.

Even with solid performances, no Pixar film is a success without stunning visuals. Dealing with human characters so infrequently, when they do give us the opportunity gaze at their talents in realism, we learn that they still have the capability to create lush environments and people to inhabit them. There isn't a scene in the film that isn't filled with unparalleled detail or spendlor. The sweeping, epic nature of the film is conveyed perfectly by the top animators in the business. If you compare this film to any number of other lesser studio efforts and its undeniable just how masterful their work is. In terms of creativity, Hayao Miyazaki comes close, but even he can't hold a candle to the animators at Pixar.

As far as Miyazaki goes, a lot of Brave can be considered a testament to the talents of the Japanese animation master. Miyazaki has frequently focused on strong heroines in supernatural situations who must push back against the forces working against them. His characters have a tenacity of spirit and mind that have made him one of the foremost craftsmen of our generation. While Brave doesn't quite hold to Miyazaki's traditions, it is a fitting tribute to their significance. Pixar head John Lasseter has long been a fan of Miyazaki and it's no doubt this factor played into the decision to greenlight this specific film, their first to tackle a female lead and hopefully not their last.

While the film has a few bumps in its well-paved road, the film moves by quickly, never letting its flaws drag it down. It's a joyous, exciting and emotional journey that fits perfectly well into Pixar's canon and shows Disney a thing or two about progressivism. For all of their strong heroines like Belle in Beauty and the Beast or Tiana in The Princess and the Frog, Disney forced them into a satisfying relationship at the end of the film. These princesses weren't looking for true love, but they found it. Brave doesn't seek it and doesn't need to. The many adventures in which Merida engages are enough for the audience. Like WALL-E and Up, Pixar redefines the traditional animated narrative with satisfying results.
Oscar Prospects
Guarantees: Best Animated Feature
Probables: Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Sound Editing
Potentials: Best Picture, Best Sound Mixing
Review Written
June 29, 2012

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