There is a bar that has been set by Pixar that began when they first put out Toy Story back in 1995 (wow, was it really that long ago!?) that not only their, but all, computer animated films have been compared to since and, despite a few blips, Pixar have generally remained top of the CG animation pile though their consistent output.
So, its fair to say I came to Brave with certain, very high, expectations.
On my first viewing of the ancient, mythical Scotland set morality tale I did think it had reached Pixar’s previous top points, on second viewing though, I’m not so sure. However, as my expectations were quite so high that’s not to say it is in any way a bad film.
As with all Pixar, and most of the best Disney, films there is a message behind the, at times chaotic, adventure story.
Possibly, in Brave this is slightly more pronounced than in some of Pixar’s other films, but thankfully, it’s a message I think many people can relate to with a daughter (Merida, voiced by Kelly Macdonald) and her mother (Queen Elinor, voiced by Emma Thompson) exploring their own relationship through Merida’s adolescence and into adulthood.
On top of this we get an array of characters of the caliber we’ve come to expect from Pixar with Billy Connelly’s King Fergus, who is obsessed with revenge on the bear that took his leg, to the other lords of the Kingdom of Dunbroch and their eldest sons, who are all vying for the hand of Merida, all of whom serve to provide the major comedy aspect of the movie with King Fergus bridging the gap between the movie’s macguffin (a word on which the script plays a fun pun) and the main plot.
While the main plot and emotion may not strike a chord as much it seems many think Up and Toy Story 3 do (I have yet to see either so will reserve my own judgment on this) the characters and animation are where Brave really shines.
Throughout the visuals are stunning but there are a few set pieces that really highlight this. First is our introduction to the teenage Merida as she rides out on her shire horse Angus to explore Dunbroch’s glens and lochs ending with a visually stunning series of shots as she climbs a cliff under a waterfall.
This whole sequence, as well as great montage plot device, basically acts as Pixar showing off how they can create some hyper-realistic water effects and make realistic landscapes in a film that is still very much in the tradition of Disney’s ‘princess’ series that began with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 and of course adds to every scene featuring Merida where her hair is something of a set piece in itself in terms of animation.
Later we get scenes set in the forest with fire and bears on-screen and again, as well as working for the story, they are a chance for the animators to show off their ever-growing technical skill with the fur on the bears, in particular, being right in a way I’d not seen before in animation.
The story itself possibly goes through one contrivance too many which, at one point, made me wish they’d just cut to the inevitable chase but, that said, it would then have been a very short film and missed out a couple of great gags involving Merida’s triplet brothers.
Brave may not be up to the near perfection standard that Pixar have reached in the past but, none-the-less it remains a great entry into their canon and a really enjoyable film in general that does many of the things the studio do best, which includes balancing the “Disney-ness” of their stories with a certain level of irreverence that doesn’t slip too far into the self and pop culture references but makes them more than palatable for the whole family.