Title: Brave
Year: 2012
Genre:  Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Play time: 1h 33min
Director: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Screenwriters:  Mark Andrews
Starring:  Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson

Like all of their work, Pixar’s Brave is certainly very clever:  what begins as a conventional female-empowerment fairy tale makes a hard left turn after about 40 minutes into something the film’s marketing has so far shrewdly kept secret. And it ends up in a lovely place, as a gentle meditation on the love between mothers and daughters, and how that relationship requires compromise, good faith, and a willingness to meet in the middle. And there are some truly strange and delightful moments along the way, a quirky goofball sensibility that seems almost too loose and nonchalant to match the studio’s reputation for meticulously constructed splendor.

Brave, in other words, has a lot to recommend it – but there are a few things missing from its mix of playful comedy and sappy testament to family ties. One is a compelling universe for its characters to inhabit, usually a Pixar staple. There is a vague and rather perfunctory mythology – something to do with a truce between warring Scottish clans – that never really registers, and, apart from providing some justification for why plucky princess Merida (Kelly McDonald) is about to be forced into an arranged marriage as the film opens, mostly exists to manufacture a conventional villain for the film’s climax. Some magical elements, arbitrary and a little confusing, are tossed in to keep the plot moving along. We don’t get the sense that the backdrop for this story has been thought through with the usual rigor.

Another thing one might not find here is much memorable action. The movie looks great, and ultimately offers some terrifically oddball visual humor, but the set pieces are mostly conventional chases and escapes, without the onslaught of dizzying invention we’ve come to expect. Brave might be the most sedate film Pixar’s ever made.

Finally, though Brave tries hard to be thoughtful in its treatment of the mother-daughter relationship at its center, there’s a reliance on platitudes that’s a little unbecoming:  a repetition of mantras, like “legends are lessons” and “changing my fate,” that don’t mean much and become kind of mind-numbing. Though its head-fakes and feints are fun, I wonder if the film might have benefited from being more direct, and more focused on being about what it’s ultimately about.

For all that, I don’t want to undersell the film: it’s unconventional and in some ways even daring for commercial family fare. I’m even willing to consider the possibility that Brave’s spotty haphazardness is a deliberate choice – a break from the just-so immaculateness of its predecessors. It’s certainly a strange movie, and an interesting one, and that’s more than enough.

Eugene Novikov

Seeking in movies meaning and reflection in real-time. On the look out for biography, thriller & drama best pieces.

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