‘Brave’ new girl, same old tale
Taking her best shot: Princess Merida of “Brave.”
Updated: August 13, 2012 3:49PM
★ ★ ★
If “Brave” had been made by any other studio, it would more than pass muster as a beautifully rendered, generally entertaining and even occasionally moving revisionist fairy tale with bonus points for making a half-hearted effort, at least, at rewriting the rules for proper princess behavior.
Considering the same film as a product of Pixar Animation, however, it’s hard not to be disappointed at how conventional a tale it turns out to be.
The most promising thing about “Brave,” in the year leading up to its release, was that it clearly was going to feature a strong female hero: A development that was a surprisingly long time coming, considering Pixar creative honcho John Lasseter’s deep admiration for the girl-power films of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.
And “Brave” goes a reasonable way toward fulfilling that promise. Olden days Scottish princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is an independent-minded tomboy who is far happier thundering through the forest on horseback and practicing her archery than learning embroidery, lute-plucking and related dainty, decorous arts from her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson).
What’s more, she has no interest whatsoever in romance, particularly when it comes to the lunkhead princes her mother has in mind for her. Instead of taking this vigorous character and setting forth into unexplored regions, however, “Brave” quickly veers off into familiar Disney territory — and there it stays.
Having figured out a bit late in the game that her mother’s lifelong coaching (“A princess must strive for perfection; a princess does not stuff her gob”) has been designed to make her marriageable, Merida has a hissy fit and storms off into the forest.
There, she encounters a witch of the old-crone variety and asks for a spell that will change her life — by changing her mother. There’s a drawback, however. The witch’s charm changes the queen into a bear, and since King Fergus (Billy Connolly) has a particular prejudice against that species (a demon bear having eaten one of his legs earlier in the story), Merida must escape with her into the forest and search for a way to break the spell.
On the plus side, “Brave” was developed and co-written and directed by a woman, Brenda Chapman, who also co-directed the 1998 Dreamworks animated adventure “The Prince of Egypt,” and she coaxes at least a semblance of substance from the mother/daughter bonding that ensues.
All three co-writers and directors (including Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell) are new to Pixar, however, and their vision has very little in common with the adventurous and sophisticated storytelling of the studio’s directorial heavy-hitters, such as Lasseter (“Toy Story”), Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo,” “WALL-E”), and Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”).
While “Brave” is not emotionally unsatisfying and it has no shortage of entertainment value (action and adventure alternating with frequent doses of surprisingly juvenile slapstick humor) and it certainly is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, from its misty, medieval forests to the startlingly lifelike quality of Merida’s long red tresses, it still feels, ultimately, like a betrayal of its spirited heroine.
Bold, brave and possessed of mad skills with a bow and arrow (as an archer, Merida makes Katniss of “The Hunger Games” look pathetic), she deserves something better than demotion to willful teen in need of a moral comeuppance and acceptance of subservient status.