At Last, a Lass 

Pixar finally features a girl but doesn't give her quite the movie she deserves.

Brave falls prey to formula.

Brave falls prey to formula.

This 13th animated feature from the Pixar studio is somehow the first to feature a female protagonist.

As Pixar has taken Disney's place as king of cartoon movies, so this could be a corrective to Disney's princess fixation — even though it, too, is about a princess of sorts.

Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald) is the energetic, red-maned teen daughter of Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Elinor (Emma Thompson), rulers of a semi-realistically grubby Scottish kingdom made up of four once-warring tribes.

The marketing for the film, which features Merida aiming an arrow across her trusty bow, suggests a girl's adventure story, and Brave is that to a degree. But even more so it's a mother-daughter story, something hinted at from the outset, with a lovely bit of parental playtime with Elinor in Merida's post-toddler past.

A skilled archer, Merida defies custom during a ceremony in which the eldest sons from other tribes compete for her hand in marriage. As the first born of her own tribe, she throws herself into the competition, essentially competing for her freedom, and besting the boys. The film is rooted in a disagreement between Merida and Elinor about the proper behavior of a princess ("a princess does not chortle") and the importance of this marriage custom.

When Merida is in joyful motion — riding through the countryside on her steed, launching arrows at targets, climbing a rock formation to dip her head under an adjacent waterfall, or just swiping sweets from the kitchen to feed her rambunctious trio of little brothers — the film has a nice energy. But the threat posed to this freedom by unwanted pressure to marry is eventually overtaken by even more pressing matters.

The unexpected plot twist involving glowing Will of Wisps that lead one to his or her fate, a magic spell, bears, and some potentially scary scenes of changing parental behavior takes Brave into weirder territory than the Pixar norm, as if the company's aesthetic is morphing into the dream-logic world of Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle).

And yet, with all this going on, this good film feels a little disappointing. With four screenwriters and three directors, it has a committee feel. And the film's vision isn't as strong or its emotions as deeply felt as such Pixar standouts as Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Up, or Wall-E.

Those films felt original even as they sometimes invoked other material. But Brave is held earthbound, in part, by its fairy-tale familiarity — the princess concept, a witch, a spell, and the potentially dangerous misunderstandings that ensue adding up to a "be careful what you wish for" cautionary tale. It's somewhat disappointing that the studio's first girl's story couldn't completely break from the princess/fairy-tale paradigm.

But maybe Brave also feels disappointing because, as worthy as it is, the film is upstaged by its opening act. The seven-minute short La Luna, a Best Animated Short Film Oscar nominee earlier this year, is playing before Brave and has all the magic we equate with the best of Pixar. A whimsical coming-of-age fable about a young boy taken to work by his father and grandfather for the first time, where he gradually negotiates familial example en route to asserting his individuality, it's a poetic little wonder of a film.

Opening Friday, June 22nd
Multiple locations

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Rated PG · 100 min. · 2012
Official Site:
Director: Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews
Writer: Brenda Chapman
Producer: Katherine Sarafian
Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson and Robbie Coltrane


Now Playing

Brave is not showing in any theaters in the area.

What others are saying


    The Latest

    News Blog

    Bars Now Open on Health Department Order

    News Blog

    Test Totals Top 430,000

    News Blog

    Leo Bearman Jr., Memphis Legal Lion, Dies

    News Blog

    MATA Rolls Into 'Cashless Economy' With App, Website

    News Blog

    Virus Counts Still Elevated After Labor Day Weekend

    Film/TV/Etc. Blog

    Music Video Monday: Moore, Stanfill, Stuart

    Politics Beat Blog

    Senator Alexander Favors Immediate Vote on Supreme Court Nominee


    More by Chris Herrington

    • Last Words

      In "Enough Said," James Gandolfini makes his last lead film role his best.
      • Sep 26, 2013
    • Masters of Sound

      New albums from two of Memphis’ most distinctive stylists.
      • Sep 19, 2013
    • Hayes Carll at the Hi-Tone

      • Sep 19, 2013
    • More »

    Readers also liked…

    © 1996-2020

    Contemporary Media
    65 Union, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
    Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
    Powered by Foundation