Seen: In 3D at the Harvard Square AMC/Loews in Cambridge. Just as it's closing.
I've been pretty goddamn excited for Brave for quite a while now, ever since I read about its first incarnation ("The Bear and the Bow") as the first Pixar film to be directed by a woman and of course the first to feature a female lead character. After the weird and still basically unexplained departure/firing/replacing of director Brenda Chapman halfway through production, I was still interested but less thrilled. Luckily the movie came out ok. The story centers on Merida, a plucky princess living in the Scottish highlands, who would rather shoot arrows all day and ride into the sunset than sit around with her strict mother learning ladyskills like sewing and corset-wearing. When a trio of hapless lords and their wed-able sons come calling for her hand in marriage, Merida works to change the fate her family has laid out for her. But things don't exactly go as planned.
I know that for various reasons this film has been getting negative, or at the very least mediocre, responses, and that's really too bad. I definitely understand viewers' problems with the plot- it's unfocused and at times uninspired. The story drags at points and the stakes didn't feel very high. BUT. Brave's strength resides in its attention to character, and especially in those characters' relationships. In my experience it's not particularly common for a family-type film to give so much attention to a mother-daughter relationship, and to do it so incredibly well, and for because of this I am grateful for Brave. Once I realized that their interactions with and understanding of each other would be the main focus, I stopped caring about the actual story, to be honest. I mean think about it, Ratatouille is one of my most-watched Pixar films, and the plot of that movie makes no fucking sense, so I can handle a somewhat middling narrative if everything else is great. And it is.
The animation is superb, of course, and I want to have a party in Merida's hair. I loved the sprawling Scottish countryside and various perfectly-paced visual wonders, including her target-shooting spree through the forest and her mischievous brothers' elaborate pranks. Kelly MacDonald and Billy Connolly lead a strong vocal cast with coveted Scottish accents, and there's a nice dose of fantasy and legend. The music is a little cheesy but it's no worse than Randy Newman's Toy Story songs, and while some of the humor can be sort of crude, this is a kids' movie and some lowbrow slapstick should be expected. I'm just glad there's finally a female lead in a Pixar movie, I mean jeez. It took them long enough but at least they did it right. Merida is a well-rounded, likable, and extremely strong lady who is believable for all her hormonal teenage flaws and rebellious actions. She's funny, clever, and independent, and makes for a compelling lead character as we watch her grow into a more responsible, compassionate young woman through her experiences with her mother. I just hope her Barbie doll comes with bow and arrows and a sword.
This movie made me cry, no big deal, and it's really good. If you give me shit about it sucking I'm going to assume you hate strong ladies and/or moms, which is too bad for you.
Pair This Movie With: The premise put me in mind of Beauty and the Beast, what with the whole changing-an-animal-person-back-into-a-human thing. For another strong depiction of a mother-daughter relationship I thought of Whip It, which similarly has a teenage girl trying to be a badass at the expense of her mother's hopes for her. Finally for more Celtic-inspired animation there's the beautiful Secret of Kells.
My original poster design for this film is for sale.