Film Review: Brave

Much of the talk regarding the latest Pixar effort has been about the gender of the protagonist, since this is the studio’s first film to feature a central heroine. Watching the film, it struck me as a fairly redundant talking point, since Disney films have long featured heroines who are almost exactly like this one. Do Pixar really need praise for being late to the party? More importantly, the lack of a female protagonist until now seems like an extremely mild issue in the overall scheme of things, especially when they have featured wonderful female characters in co-starring or supporting roles, like Mrs. Incredible and Finding Nemo‘s Dory.

Brave is set in ancient Scotland, and tells the story of the tomboyish princess Merida, who rebels against her mother’s traditional ideas as to how a young woman should behave. Instead of learning how to sew, she practices archery and climbs the nearby cliffs. One day, the time comes for Merida to accept the hand in marriage of one of the local young Lords. When she refuses, her mother insists that it must be done – that it is her duty. Merida hops on her horse and flees the castle, desperate to escape her fate.

The opening section of Brave, which revolves around the three local tribes who are warring for the right to Merida’s hand, is very entertaining, and moves along at a brisk pace. As with every Pixar film, it is filled with clever sight-gags and some witty lines. Merida is an instantly appealing heroine, and is capably voiced by Kelly Macdonald (the State of Play miniseries, No Country for Old Men). The script does an effective job of making us understand the position of her mother, Elinor (Emma Thompson), even as we are aligned with Merida. Billy Connolly provides good comic relief as Merida’s rather oblivious father.

Most of the shots in the trailer are from the opening section, which meant that once the larger plot kicked in, I felt a surge of excitement; I had absolutely no idea where this film was going. That excitement lasted for a few scenes and then gradually subsided. The main story is serviceable, but takes a decidedly pedestrian route. I won’t go into plot details, because it is best to approach this film fresh.

Aside from the character of Merida, the approach to gender is predictably standard – men are meat-headed and like fighting, while women are easily scared and care too much about manners. They are the same as you would find in a 90s sitcom. In fact, it occurred to me at one point that the main characters in Brave have fairly similar roles to the family in The Simpsons, with Merida in the Lisa role.

There are some effective moments in the later stages of the story, and the ending is reasonably moving. Brave is a solid, entertaining film, even if it never hits the heights of many contemporary animated films.

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3 responses to “Film Review: Brave”

  1. Jen says :

    “Aside from the character of Merida, the approach to gender is predictably standard – men are meat-headed and like fighting, while women are easily scared and care too much about manners.”

    I always think it’s interesting that in tales like these, where someone is fighting against gendered biases, it often seems to come at the expense of the very thing they’re fighting for. Have one strong female character? For some reason every other woman in the story only likes pink and barbie dolls. I understand it makes the narrative easier to structure, but it also acts to undercut the story you’re trying to tell. I have to admit, from the trailers this is why I wasn’t curious about this movie, which is maybe unfair.

    • Cashier de Cinema says :

      Well said. And sure enough, the result here is that the ‘progressive’ aspects end up feeling somewhat superficial. The writers seem to have genuinely embraced Merida’s mindset, and want to champion it, but they are hampered by this need to draw attention to it as being against the norm. Surely it would have been more interesting to set the story in present day and simply have a tomboyish heroine…?

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  1. Brave « News Wahl - June 21, 2012

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