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Disney and Pixar’s newest collaboration, ‘Brave’, hit theaters Friday, June 22, 2012, challenging ‘Madagascar 3’ for the top spot at the box office for best kids’ film. It is the thirteenth film in Pixar’s lineup and continues the high standard set by the movies before it. ‘Brave’ is a whimsical, fascinating romp with stunning visuals, worthwhile characters, and exciting action scenes.
Major spoilers ahead!
Princess Merida (Kelly MacDonald) is the daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), the rulers of the Scottish kingdom of DunBroch. They are a happy family and responsible leaders of their clans. However, Merida’s rebellious personality and aspirations cause her to clash often with her mother, who wants her to be a respectable princess. In order to keep up traditions, the King and Queen send invitations to the other three clans under their rule so that the firstborn of each clan leader can compete for Merida’s hand in marriage.
Angered by her parents’ decision and aching for the freedom to make her own choices, Merida chooses to have her hand won in an archery tournament. She then competes to win her own hand in marriage, mortifying her mother. They have an intense argument and her mother destroys her bow and arrow while Merida cuts up the beautiful tapestry her mother wove for their family.
She runs away and is beckoned into the woods by Will O’ the Wisps, tiny spirits who guide people to their destinies. They lead her to a witch who runs a wood-carving shop and asks for a spell to change her fate. After bargaining with her, the witch gives Merida a dessert to give to her mother that will change her. Merida returns to the castle and gives it to her mother, but the spell actually changes her mother into a bear. Bears are feared and hated in DunBroch because of Mor’Du—a gigantic, brutal black bear that took her father’s leg and has been said to still roam the darkest parts of the forest.
Merida sneaks her mother out of the castle and returns with her to the woods, trying to find the witch’s home again so they can undo the spell. She eventually finds out that the spell will become permanent in two days if she does not repair the bond between them, both literally and figuratively, and her mother’s personality will disappear.
As expected with Pixar’s films, ‘Brave’ is absolutely gorgeous. The environments are rich and engrossing, from the vibrant green of the forest to the cold dwelling of Mor’Du. With or without 3D, the visuals are beautiful and add an extra layer to the story, as it is easy to feel every moment of excitement, danger, and emotion as the characters advance through their trials.
The story is strong and deeply rooted in traditional storytelling from European folklore, as well as modern tales about princesses choosing their own destinies. Merida is by far one of the most headstrong princesses in the Pixar and Disney line up. She is a sweet, fun loving girl, but she is also still a young girl who does not realize that her selfish actions can destroy both her mother and her beloved home. The writing does an excellent job of revealing the high and low points of Merida’s relationship with her mother, and by the end of it, both women realize their shortcomings and become stronger together.
Merida and Elinor’s relationship is the film’s strongest aspect, but the action sequences are right behind it. Merida’s problems are not only emotionally devastating—they are also life threatening. Twice, Merida’s mother starts to turn into a real bear and she is in danger of being killed. Furthermore, Mor’Du is without a doubt one of the scariest villains in Pixar’s history as he is a ruthless, almost indestructible force of nature.
While ‘Brave’ is an excellent film, there are some flaws here and there. The solution to Merida and Elinor’s conflict should have been brought up a little earlier because there is a lull in the action that can feel frustrating to some viewers. Most of the other Pixar films made the problem and the subsequent solution clear early on while ‘Brave’ hits the halfway point before providing the information.
It also might have been nice to see the sons of the three clans receive some sort of stake in the main plot and develop, because all three of them were in the same boat as Merida. The boys never got to show if they had any potential to become great leaders or independent thinkers like Merida. It is not a major flaw, but rather something that could have been explored more since the movie is relatively short.
Last, the fact that the witch gets away with cursing two separate people with awful afflictions is a bit of a disappointment. While she is not the main villain, she still indirectly caused misery and pain for several characters for the course of decades. In most Pixar films, the bad guys get what they deserve, but she does not and it does take away some of the enjoyment at the end.
Overall, ‘Brave’ is a fantastic entry into the Disney-Pixar collection and should not be missed. Children and adults alike can enjoy the wonderful effects and the heartwarming storyline. Don’t miss out.
Image Courtesy of Brave