Movie review: ‘Brave’ showcases Pixar’s first heroine

By Madiha Arsalan

Not only has Pixar been long overdue for a non-sequel film since 2009’s “Up,” but the renowned animation studio has also never featured a female as the protagonist in any of its previous films.

“Brave” fills that gap in a visually awe-inspiring film by featuring a bold and spirited Scottish princess who rebels against the traditions of her land. The film is set in the brilliantly rendered medieval Scottish highlands, and follows Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald).

While she is a princess in her late teens like her Disney counterparts, Merida has no interest in wearing puffy dresses, attending fancy balls or finding Prince Charming. She is wild, effervescent and would rather spend her days riding her horse Angus or firing her bow with stellar accuracy.

Merida’s mother, Queen Elinor(voiced by Emma Thompson) is affectionate and devoted to Merida and her younger triplet brothers, but disapproves of her daughter’s prowess with weapons and wants her to get married in accordance with tradition. Merida rebels against her overbearing mother’s wish¬es and insults her suitors, riding off into the forest where she encounters a witch and makes a wish that proves to be disastrous. “Brave” more or less revolves around the feminist ideals of female strength and independence. Merida not only rejects her suitors, but she also displays greater expertise than them in the use of weapons. While Queen Elinor attempts to transform her daughter into a debutante, Merida remains impossible to control.

Queen Elinor, while very devoted to tradition and decorum, does not come across as meek and passive. She plays the role of a proper queen and dotes on her family, but can be fierce and outspoken when interacting with them. In other words, there is a depiction of subtle feminism in her character as well.

Pixar excels at the technical level, with every minute detail of the characters and their surroundings delivered with such expertise that viewers find themselves pulled into the haunting Scottish highland forest. Merida’s fiery and unruly hair is full of movement — with each curl portrayed to perfection. The voiceover work is exceptional, and the film overflows with vibrant colors and realistic movement, but more importantly, it breaks away from traditional princess tales and focuses on the much more relatable story about a teenage daughter’s bond with her mother.

The film depicts realistic emotions that evoke a sense of familiarity in its audience, illustrating the universal relationship between mother and daughter. Merida and Queen Elinor share a deep sense of attachment, but also experience turmoil brought on by impassioned fights regarding differences of opinion on Merida’s future. Merida struggles between her intense need for independence and her deep sense of regret. She is brave, as the film title suggests, but she is also vulnerable. Pixar remains true to its ideals of creating unique themes and breaking boundaries. The complexity of the underlying motif is handled with characteristic Pixar finesse.

The film does not contain any major flaws, but is somewhat different from earlier Pixar films. “Brave” lacks the sharp wit that Pixar is often associated with. This does not mean that the movie is not funny. It consists of an ample amount of humor that comes from Merida’s high-strung Scottish clansmen, her jovial father and her mischievous brothers.

The film capitalizes on its characters’ goofy behaviors, and the comedy contained within the film is of the slapstick variety, which is more of a Disney element. In fact, the movie contains some very familiar Disney film ingredients, such as the presence of a familiar looking witch and a feel-good moral to the story.

Merida’s interaction with her mother is funny and heartwarming in some parts, and heartbreaking in others. The animation is breathtaking, and the movie does a magnificent job portraying a unique and somewhat edgy Disney fairy tale. In a sense, “Brave” is an excellent amalgamation of Pixar and Disney characteristics.

What the film lacks in wit, it makes up for in its ability to elicit deep emotions from its audience.

“Brave” releases in theaters this Friday.

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