Movie review: Brave

Directed by: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Story: Brenda Chapman
Cast (voices): Queen Elinor – Emma Thomson
Merida: Kelly Macdonald
King Fergus: Billy Conolly
The Witch: Julie Walters

Synopsis:

Brave (2012 film)

Once upon a time in medieval Scotland lived an impetuous princess called Merida. Merida loved riding her pony and shooting arrows at different targets. Mainly artificial, immobile targets, mind you, nothing alive. Hunting? Who heard of hunting in the Middle Ages? At that time people and wild animals lived in perfect harmony as nobody, either noble or otherwise, ate venison, right? Ok, I digress…

Soon enough Merida found out that the life of a princess is not only about learning and pleasures but also about duties. Her mom, the queen Elinor, decided that Merida, a 16-year-old girl, should marry. Elinor wheedled her husband, King Fergus, into organizing a nice little contest; they invited three other clans and each of them presented the most worthy young men, candidates to be a husband of a princess.

Merida was angry, shocked and hurt but mainly shocked. How could her beloved mom do something like THAT to her when she, a spoiled teenager, stated several times that she WAS. NOT. READY. FOR. A. MARRIAGE (and of course she knew best)? Let me remind you that we deal here with a Middle Ages princess who is basically telling her mum to stick her ideas up her…long braid. Her dad, a big oaf of a king and a totally henpecked husband, was hardly of help. It was time for extraordinary measures. After a fight with her mom she tore off into the woods on her faithful pony and immediately was led by a will-o’-the-wisp to a cottage inhabited by a witch…er…magical wood carver. Making a deal with a witch is never a good idea but our clever Merida decided she knew best once again – she purchased not only a room-full of useless wooden statues of bears but also a small cake which could change the eater… quite dramatically.
As soon as she returned to the castle, Merida presented her mum with the cake, calling it a peace offering. Elinor, appeased, ate one little piece of it. The results, as always when you deal with magic, exceeded anybody’s expectations. All of a sudden Merida was faced with harsh reality – either she made things right soon or her life and the lives of her family would be tragically changed forever.
My impressions:
Brave, originally titled The Bear and the Bow, follows a prickly mother-daughter relationship with a dash of special effects connected with magic – a willful teenager confronts her stubborn mother, asks for help a complete stranger creating more problems than she’s ever believed possible and ends up solving them all. Fine, just fine.
I really wanted to be smitten by this one. The premise sounded so nice and enticing at first glance: Scottish Highlands and a Disney/Pixar cartoon  focusing almost completely on female characters; mind you it was not, I repeat, it WAS NOT about finding the love of their lives. I almost felt like cheering. Then my problems started.

 

All male characters were there to provide comedy relief, remaining as thin as cardboard cut-outs (so no, don’t invite your boyfriend/husband along to see this movie; it might have disastrous effects). There’s the idiotic father, completely dominated by his cool wife, and three triplet boys who are simply up to no good all the time and could have easily been one person, so similar they seem. There is also a bunch of fight-crazy, bombastic clansmen who just eat, drink, laugh loudly, quarrel, fight and strut about (small wonder they would lose their independence in the near future). It was funny for about five minutes but after a while I admit I  got bored, waiting in vain for somebody male with brains (such a thing exists, right?). In other words, somebody to break the routine in an intelligent way. At the end I found out that  this tale definitely wasn’t as fresh and groundbreaking as I hoped. For all the hubbub about Merida being Pixar’s first truly feminist princess, there is little evidence that she is anything more than a spoiled redhead lass, badly in need for a life lesson or two. She is also surprisingly weak – even compared to the other Disney princesses. 

Say what you might about Jasmine but she was far more independent and clever enough to escape her gild cage and then play along with Jafar to help Aladdin. Ariel knew what she wanted and had to work hard on her own in order to win over the prince. Belle had to work as well and overcome many obstacles to save the day and her beloved Beast. Merida, on the other hand, simply has to reverse what harm she did (and let me remind you she did it out of  her own sheer stupidity) and follow the steps laid out for her at the very beginning – not a particularly difficult task you must admit. If anything, it’s Merida’s mother who is the strong female, being more than capable of stopping the men right in their tracks, especially her husband. Yes, I appreciated the fact that Merida didn’t have to either fall in love or marry at the end (undoubtedly preparing the ground for the next installment in which she WILL marry as her mum wishes) but I felt a bit disenchanted by too many clichés, plaguing this movie. Mother/daughter bonding couldn’t carry the whole an-hour-and-half long film and it is hardly something new although I admit an evil step-mother is a far more popular trope.
What’s more…ok, I grant it, the visual effects were simply great. The shaggy, orange-red hair of Merida was done in a really ingenious way, along with many animals and landscapes, always animated to perfection. On a sensory level, Brave is almost entirely a delight. On a plot level and character-wise – nothing special.
Final verdict:
Overall, in my humble opinion, Brave is Pixar trying too hard. When you’ve built your brand on delivering on your promises, it’s devastating when you come up short. The film that starts off big and promising soon diminishes into a rather wee, schematic fairy tale with a heroine who is supposed to be kick-ass and then she isn’t because it was WRONG all the way. Yes, boys and girls, her mum did know better from the very start. Ha, show me a child, let alone a teenager, who wouldn’t be pissed off with such an ending. I myself was expecting so much more.
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