Directed by: Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman
Written by:Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi (screenplay), Brenda Chapman (story)
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly and Julie Walters
Pixar has swept up diverse audiences of children, adults, film critics and casual movie watchers on fantastical journeys to their fully realized animated worlds. That unparallelled run in quality, box office gross and awards has made them an unstoppably positive influence on modern movies.
Until now, men have dominated the spotlight in Pixar’s movies just as they often do in most others. As the big studio “female” paradigm (very) gently shifts away from romantic comedies toward raunchier fare like Bridesmaids and action blockbusters like The Hunger Games, it only makes sense that the Mrs. Incredibles, the Jessies and the EVEs would start to occupy the center of Pixar’s spotlight.
With Brave, the studio gives us a Disney princess bound and determined to become the master of her own fate, Prince Charming and the glass ceiling be damned. That Scottish dame’s name is Merida (Kelly Macdonald), and though one might expect a story like this to be piled high with symbolic patriarchal battles, her main foe is her mother (Emma Thompson).
Merida is being groomed for marriage by her mom as if she were a prized canine competing for Best in Show. After an opening scene that uses sweeping visual movements to introduce us to serene Scottish countryside and Merida’s childhood, it’s time for boarding school. She narrates scenes of her being taught to be a lady with complaints and grievances, though her voice and the movie come to life when she says it’s her day off.
In her spare time, Merida rides her horse and practices archery, sometimes simultaneously. However, these talents can do nothing to stop her from being married off to keep the peace between the rival clans her king father (Billy Connolly) precides over. Brave makes several attempts to suggest that it’s not the father behind this practice, though, but the queen simply pulling his strings.
This is an attempt on the movie’s behalf to suggest that older generations of women and their fetishized traditions are a big reason why they are kept alive. Looking into the nuances of Brave‘s feminist politics yields little result, though. It is at its core a charming, well-crafted mother/daughter story.
Outside of the mandatory happy ending, the movie’s air of unpredictability is a huge asset. There are trademark fairy tale touches like a mischievous witch and vicious creatures, but they drift in and out of the story in brief flashes. Brave’s main conflict centers around Merida and her mother, though both end up heroes in their own ways.
This seemingly uneventful battle of the minds builds to a rousing, emotional climax. Directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman make a rich, truly cinematic experience out of the movie even with the patchy, awkward screenplay (which they co-wrote). It also helps that Pixar’s truly inspired voice acting choices are spot-on, especially Macdonald and Thompson. Most of the characters may be painted in broad, clumsy strokes, but those two come fully alive.
Merida and her unstoppably wild hair may not single-handedly overthrow the patriarchy or flee from it into the wilderness to live on her own, but she does not give up on fighting for the right to her own life. It is a mini-revolution made bigger because it’s released by a company notorious for primping up maidens and having them be swept away or rescued by the same generic prince. In Brave all the princes are buffoons, and the princess would rather rescue herself.