By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin June 22, 2012 at 1:05AM
If you have kids, you’ll want to take them to Brave, and they’ll almost certainly have a good time. If you’re an animation buff, you may have quibbles with the film, which looks great but isn’t up to Pixar’s high standards in terms of story. That’s the problem with creating so many innovative and memorable movies: when you do something that’s “merely” pretty good, it feels like a letdown.
Storytelling has always been the studio’s strong suit, quite apart from its groundbreaking digital animation and production design, which get the lion’s share of attention. But Brave, which was writer-director Brenda Chapman’s attempt to make a modern-thinking princess tale, feels a bit formulaic. (The project was taken away from her at some point; Mark Andrews assumed the role of director and helped revise the screenplay.)
The heroine is Merida, a bold young Scottish princess with free-flowing, flaming red hair (and voiced by Kelly Macdonald). She rejects feminine stereotyping and the ministrations of her mother (Emma Thompson), who tries to prepare her for a conventional life as queen. She’d rather spend her time hunting in the forest with a bow and arrow. When her frustrations with her mother reach a boiling point, she does something impulsive that she comes to regret. That’s a story point I’d rather not spoil, but it’s at this juncture that Brave skids off the beaten path and becomes downright strange.
I’ll give it points for originality, but that story twist is so bizarre that it knocked me for a loop. The movie tries to make up for this detour with a heart-tugging, emotional finale, but the buildup to that moment has been undermined, so it doesn’t have the impact it should.
That’s the grownup in me talking; kids may not, and should not, care about “story development.” But even if they leave the theater smiling, I wonder if they’ll take Brave to their hearts as they have other Pixar (and Disney) movies.
Needless to say, Brave looks terrific. The Pixar production team has created medieval Scotland, layer by layer, and designed a colorful cast of characters to populate the foreground as well. At one time they wouldn’t have been able to animate a character with hair like Merida’s; now, it’s one more challenge they have met and conquered.
I root for Pixar every time out and want to love their movies. My disappointment with Brave doesn’t mean it won’t please its intended audience. I wish it success so that Pixar can continue experimenting and exploring.