Filmdom is currently going through a love affair with the bow and arrow, with the ancient and elegant tool the weapon of choice for many a hero and many a heroine. Now if only they could hit the mark. Merida, a stubborn young girl with hair of fire is the latest protagonist to adopt the bow, and while her aim is true, forging a straight, purposeful line from hand to bulls-eyes, her story is one that meanders, never sure where it’s going, and often way off target.
Brave, Disney Pixar’s beautifully animated film is anything but brave, pandering with sights and sounds and lacking any substance whatsoever. Set in the gorgeous backdrop of medieval Scotland, Princess Merida wants to choose her own path in life, one that doesn’t involve acting like a lady or being betrothed by young princes. Her mother directs her every move, while her father, a big and brash loveable oaf, is more concerned with showing off his hunting trophies and telling of a legendary encounter with an evil bear.
There is much potential, or rather was, with a riveting star and an opening and closing scene of much drama and emotion. There is nothing in between, however, and certainly nothing underneath. It opens with precocious young Merida playing games with her family, only to be interrupted by a ferocious bear that may startle even the most courageous of youngsters.
From there, Merida grows to be a typical youngster, lashing out against her mother’s wishes, and her father grows up without a leg, having lost it in the fight against the bear. This is all established in the first minutes, but there is not much else that seems to happen over the rest of the movie. It is a tired tale of a headstrong youth made none the more interesting by any of the supporting characters. Both Merida and her mother come off as simple caricatures, an act that seems far beneath Disney in their animated history.
Merida runs away (naturally), encounters a witch (of course), and makes a wish that, as you may have guessed, has unforeseen consequences that may or may not force Merida into realizing she was mean to her mother all along. Here’s a hint: it does.
All of the great components that make up so many Disney Pixar movies, like the Toy Story franchise, The Incredibles¸ Wall-E, and Up – compelling characters, moral ambiguity, humour adult and childish, and charm—are all left out of Brave. It seems that someone had an idea that a flame-headed princess with a dulcet accent would be enough to carry a movie. Merida is visibly striking in every scene, and some of the vistas are breathtakingly lush—it is a triumph of animation. There is nothing else, though, settling for jokes that would only amuse toddlers and make the rest of the audience roll their eyes.
It’s not for toddlers though. In fact, I’m not exactly sure who it’s for. Toy Story and Wall-E, among those others, succeed before of their universal appeal, because they tell a story that has meaning and humour for children and adults, with enough whimsy and even drama to be welcoming yet challenging. Brave has nothing for anybody. It relies on dull stereotypes to elicit laughter: would you believe that there is a brawl between drunken Scottish men, or a prince with an incomprehensible accent? Unfortunately there is.
Even as the jokes are mediocre and tailored to only youngsters, a dramatic closing scene that evokes Beauty and the Beast may be too much to handle for the kids, and only serve as an appeasement to adults who sat through being insulted for an hour
With Dreamworks pumping out hits over the last few years like Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon, and the latest installment of the Madagascar series, Disney would be wise to collect themselves and figure how to put out the quality films they are known for.
Simply gorgeous to watch, and utterly ridiculous to comprehend, Brave fires a dozen arrows into the sky, hoping for nothing more than that one will actually find it’s mark.