Pixar's latest has all the makings of a brilliant, picturesque, fantasy epic: stunning visuals, heart, mystery, bears. What more do you need?
I'll get to that...
This is certainly a departure for Pixar, the studio this time going for a very Disney princess-goes-rogue tale instead of the usual off-beat approach. If anything, Brave is more like a darker, less bright-and-cuddly version of Tangled than a unique creation on a par with Wall-E or Up. Princess Merida is the heroic, red-haired lass and her story basically involves not wanting to be forced into marriage, running away, meeting up with a witch, turning her mother into a bear and trying to fix that very spell. She is understandably pretty whiny and only seems to be happy when riding a horse, shooting arrows randomly and being a bit of a spoilt brat. Her dad's pretty awesome, not just because he's Billy Connolly, but also because he's actually a fun, friendly guy. Unfortunately he is also a bit of a wimp and his wife well and truly wears the pants in the relationship: Merida's mum is pretty darn adamant that her daughter should just suck it up and marry Shrek, skinny Braveheart or Napoleon Dynamite.
Obviously, the whole arranged marriage thing doesn't go down too well and Merida is soon off to the woods where she follows a bunch of blue whisps video game-style all the way to some witch's cabin. It's there that the film really gets fun. That witch is great. Posing as a wood-carver despite being CLEARLY a witch complete with magic broomsticks and talking crows, she is a cartoony character who honestly deserved a bit more screen-time. Merida asks the witch to "change" her mother and by extension her fate because... yeah that's real specific. That won't backfire at all!
Poisoning mommy isn't going too well...
But it's cool, Mother Bear is adorable ^^
The film kinda turns into Spirited Away for a bit except in Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece, Chihiro fixed her problems through hard work and being really put to the test emotionally and physically. Here, no-one seems in a big hurry to do anything about this bear-morph issue. Merida and Mother Bear have like two days to reverse the spell and yet they spend HOURS catching crazy amounts of fish, making big speeches, worrying about other stuff... there's no urgency here. At first, you think both characters are about to set out on a desperate quest to find the witch and get her to fix the problem but instead you get little to no adventure: most of their time is spent going back and forth between the forest and the castle, locations we've seen time and time again.
The movie gets so distracted by the cuteness of its own bear people that it forgets to give us something substantial in terms of a quest. Those characters seem hell-bent on delaying the ending to this movie: all Merida has to do is fix a tapestry before sunrise. Should be easy enough. But no, first she has to bring Mother Bear back into the castle (why?!), then speak to everyone in order to change the arranged marriage law (surely not a priority), then sneak Bear Mom upstairs without getting noticed (again: why?), then get a key to try and leave the room she's been locked in (fix the tapestry first, no?)... it's all so unnecessary!
Merida actually starts fixing the tapestry whilst riding a horse and even tells the horse to be careful!
It's a HORSE!
Merida has her priorities all screwed up! And don't get me started on leaving a poisoned cake lying around for anyone to eat and turn into a bear themselves!
I'm just sayin': if your prime concern is, indeed, reversing some shitty spell then just do it, as fast as possible!
Brave isn't bad in that it looks terrific (although the 3D is disappointing), it has some great characters, some fun moments and it's very entertaining overall. But if you're expecting some epic adventure across weird, new locations with Merida having to battle some cool villains, you're in for a bit of a let down. Personally, I don't think this is a Pixar film I'd particularly like to see again. It was alright but frankly, after the likes of Up, Brave is a bit of a non-event. Sure it has some cute bears and stuff but I'm not sure if that alone makes an exciting, fresh, fairy-tale adventure.
I'm really not sure...