After a turbulent several-year journey, Brave is ready to open in the US this week on June 22. With some mixed reviews appearing on Rotten Tomatoes, some are questioning if Brave will be another Pixar hit or a clunker for the studio. Our spoiler-free verdict is below!
When one thinks of Pixar Animation Studios, their fresh and original stories immediately come to mind. Toy Story challenged common animation conventions of the 80s and 90s, the Pixar’s string of recent hits such as Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up have continued to innovate with bold new ideas. Brave has everything lined up to be one of Pixar’s most unusual films yet, featuring their first female lead and their first period story. Does it deliver on that level? Not quite. But Brave is still brimming with Pixar’s signature charm, emotion, and magic that some missed in last year’s Cars 2, making it one of the most purely entertaining movies of the year.
Brave is the story of the high-spirited Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) and her mother, the restrained Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who struggle to communicate their feelings with each other. After Merida acts out against her mother, a mischievous witch (Julie Walters) allows the princess to unleash an ancient curse upon the kingdom. Circumstances prevent Merida from conversing with her mother, and the heroine sets out to save the kingdom before it falls into ruin. The concept of communication permeates throughout Brave, measuring Merida’s development and her strength as a character, and it’s a brilliant throughline to uphold the tale.
It’s a fairly straightforward story, and despite a second act that stalls a bit, it’s done extremely well. However, it all feels familiar in a way that’s unusual for Pixar. The first act is reminiscent of Disney classics, but manages to distinguish itself; in the latter parts of the film, though, allusions to gags and story beats from movies like The Iron Giant and How to Train Your Dragon are difficult to ignore. In comparison to the refreshing originality of WALL-E and Up, for example, Brave disappoints. The real magic, however, is found in the film’s masterful execution.
Brave is by far the most ‘balanced’ Pixar movie to date. A few of the studio’s productions can get a bit too comedic halfway through and briefly lose sight of the story’s themes. Brave, on the other hand, is consistently funny, tense, and subtly touching throughout. All three acts have a solid mix of entertaining jokes, exciting action, and important character beats. Something for everyone is present in every part of the film, and Brave will certainly entertain audiences in a way that movies such as Finding Nemo achieved. The character relationships that are established early on help make every scene feel grounded and relevant to the story.
One of the strongest lineups of characters ever in an animated film truly brings Brave to life. Merida and Elinor may sound cliché on paper, but their dynamic is complex in a way that most animation fails to achieve. Merida is clearly headstrong like many ‘tough’ female leads, but moments of silliness and vulnerability make her feel real. Similarly, Elinor is carefully painted to be overbearing towards Merida, yet still showing motherly care. King Fergus (Billy Connolly) expresses admirable loyalty towards his family, and the three bickering Lords (Kevin McKidd, Robbie Coltrane, and Craig Ferguson) manage the delicate balance of being silly and over-the-top without getting annoying. And best of all, the characters are sold through their subtle quirks and animation rather than through trite backstories.
Speaking of animation, the artists at Pixar really blew it out of the park with this movie. Scotland proves to be a fantastic setting for the film that sets it apart from any other movie to date. The world in Brave is moody and magical, but still tangible and real. The attention to detail in the environments is staggering; even the moss on the trees gently sways in the wind. The lighting is incredibly striking as well, bringing some of the studio’s most beautiful images to date to life. But more than anything, the character animation really carries Brave to another level. Merida is one of the most expressive and lively characters in any Pixar film due to her facial subtleties and striking red hair. The animation greatly deepens her character by displaying her more playful side while also enhancing the impact of her more sensitive moments. Strong poses and amusing facial expressions also do a great job of selling the film’s hilarious comedy; the physical humor throughout Brave is surprisingly effective thanks to the great animators at Pixar. The gorgeous visuals alone make Brave worth the price of admission.
Much like the visuals, a solid soundtrack and excellent sound mix act as a perfect complement to Brave‘s story. Patrick Doyle’s score, though not as memorable as Giacchino’s work with Pixar, adds a layer of authenticity to the film through inspired Scottish instrumentation. Julie Fowlis’ Touch the Sky and Into the Open Air alongside Birdy and Mumford & Son’s Learn Me Right are rather homogenous, but bookend the film well and facilitate a connection between Merida and the viewer. The real standout song, though, is Emma Thompson and Peigi Barker’s Noble Maiden Fair, a moving Gaelic tune that strengthens some of the movie’s most beautiful moments. In addition, the sound mix (optimized for Dolby Atmos) is powerful and expertly balanced throughout. You’ll do a double take every time you hear the magical sound of a Will o’ the Wisp entering the scene, and the ferocious roars of the film’s bears will make the cinema shake.
Overall, Brave might be the least original Pixar film, but it still lives up to the studio’s high standards. It’s difficult not to fall in love with Merida, Elinor, and the colorful characters that surround them. The spectacular sets and lighting, energetic animation, and rich musical score make Brave an incredibly special film. Ultimately, one has to question: if a film makes you laugh, shed a tear, and stay on the edge of your seat, is it really at fault for lacking originality? Even if it’s not Pixar’s best movie to date, does it really matter? The film will undoubtedly be a hit with audiences worldwide with its boundless appeal and beauty; even with a fairly predictable story, Brave is a winner.
La Luna: I nearly forgot that the long-awaited La Luna was set to be attached to Brave, so when the title card appeared I was pleasantly surprised. Written and directed by Enrico Casarosa, La Luna has the simplistic elegance of a great storybook with a touch of Pixar wit. The rising sense of unabashed discovery is magical, especially in a world of constant online leaks and spoilers. The 3D effects in La Luna are also some of Pixar’s best yet, enhancing the depth of an already astonishingly beautiful film. It’s one of the finest Pixar shorts of all time.
Brave and La Luna together form one of the best theatrical experiences of the year so far. Order your tickets now for Brave‘s North American debut on June 22!
Have you seen Brave or La Luna yet? Share your thoughts below!