Have you noticed that Disney doesn’t kill parents off anymore? I think The Lion King was the last one, and that was nearly 20 years ago. I’m really not giving anything away with this question, as the mortality of neither parent in Brave is ever placed in serious doubt. Even though the story does deal with the potential of loss in a very creative way, the end result packs the emotional equivalent of a Nerf ball and lacks any real resonance.
Brave is the story of Merida, a young princess growing up in Scotland, more influenced by her love of the land and her boorish warrior father, King Fergus, than the reproachful looks and regal grooming of her strict but loving mother, Queen Elinor. When Merida is told that she is to be betrothed to the one of the eldest sons of three allied clans, essentially relegating her as a prize of the Highland Games, she declares that she will compete in the games to win her own hand and her independence. Using her deft skills in archery, she easily defeats her three suitors.
This defiance causes a rift between Merida and Queen Elinor. After a heated debate that ends with Elinor throwing Merida’s beloved bow into the fire, Merida storms out into the woods. Following the will-o’-the-wisp off the known path, she stumbles across an old witch masquerading as a wood carver. She begs the witch to sell her a spell that will change her mother’s mind about the arranged marriage, thereby changing her own fate.
Brave certainly puts a twist on the classic fairy tale outline, but the recognizable beats and patterns remain. The young royal that begins the story as headstrong and arrogant learns a valuable lesson about love, respect and responsibility. The princess in this tale is still defined by marriage but, in this case, she is running away from prince charming instead of waiting to be rescued. There is a happy ending, but the protagonist doesn’t really need to sacrifice anything for that achievement. The peril is mostly emotional, and the loss is largely temporary.
For me, the story fell a little flat. It seemed that there were a lot of great ideas driving the narrative, but nothing was given enough room to breath so everything came up short of its potential. It seemed like an entire season of a TV show that had to be condensed to fit a two hour running-time. All of the information was there to tell a coherent story, but it lacked the necessary embellishments to really make it legendary. And legendary is what I’ve come to expect from Pixar.
What I’ve also learned to expect from Pixar is great an amazing visual vocabulary, and it is in this respect that Brave truly delivers. A program was written specifically to govern the movement of Merida’s 1500 strands of curly red hair, and the result is mesmerizing. The subtle movement of background foliage and the natural flow of water over rocks in a river is so natural that it seems effortless, despite being the result of years of research and testing. This movie is beyond gorgeous, and will definitely be the looped movie that will sell 10,000 HD televisions at Costco.
The bonus features on the disk were also up to Pixar’s high standards, including art galleries, behind the scenes footage, conceptual work, alternate scenes and short films. In fact, I would recommend picking up this Blu-Ray solely for “La Luna,” a beautiful five-minute movie without any dialogue that nearly moved me to tears.