The Parent / Child Angst film has done a hundred times over, and with a remarkably low success rate. In the genre, neither party “gets” the other until they get in trouble together, though by the end everything works itself out in convenient or cheesy fashion.
But Pixar is not one for underdoing it, so it should be no surprise that Brave – itself a Parent / Child Angst film – pulls off all the work its underpinnings require it to do. And in typical Pixar fashion, they make it look too easy.
Pixar has yet to make a film not designed for the whole family (and I’m not counting John Carter), but Brave might be more aimed younger audiences than any other. While it is tempered with some scary moments – a speechless and shadowy beast serves as the Bad Guy here – Brave typically functions as a breezy fairy tale in a bit of a comedic vein. Clear morals and plenty of easily digested bare-bottom humor abound.
I’m not the first to observe that Brave greatly resembles the output of its sister studio, Walt Disney Animation. But I’d go so far to say that it has more in common with that studio than with Pixar. This is not necessarily a good thing.
The first act, which the trailers almost exclusively pull from, doesn’t have any of the energy you expect from a Pixar production. Nothing is malfunctioning, but the heart doesn’t show itself yet.
We meet Merida, the Princess of a small Scottish city-state in the vague past. She’s being groomed to be handed off to one of three potential grooms, as is tradition for her family. But assuming the tedium of Royalty doesn’t appeal to the teenage Merida half as much as archery or climbing cliffs into waterfalls – hence setting her into a battle of wills with her Mother, who’s trying to get Merida to grow up and accept the importance of her role to her people.
Things pick up, though, when the story veers away into the fantastic. Merida fails to be careful what she wishes for, and lands her family into trouble. There’s no need to spoil what exactly happens, but as world-class animators, this situation allows these artists to do what they do best – tell stories with movement more than with words.
Ultimately, Brave is about a young woman realizing the disappointment she’s causing in her parents, and trying to grow up. That sounds corny, and I suppose it is; but it’s a theme everyone can relate to. And, more importantly, Pixar breaths life into it without it feeling like a cheapo live-action tween movie. It more closely resembles moments in Toy Story 3 than something like Freaky Friday.
It’s rough being a Pixar movie, and it’s hard see Brave as standing as tall as some of its older siblings. Just matching a movie like Wall-E or The Incredibles is too great an achievement to be expected of anyone.
So, no, Brave is not one of Pixar’s best – in fact, it’s probably one of their worst. But all that really means is that it’s not perfect. Brave is an effortlessly resonant and fun – if slight – member of the Pixar family.