There’s nothing really actively wrong with Pixar’s latest, Brave, but, frankly, this tale of female empowerment in ancient Scotland fell far short of wowing me. Oh, sure, the animation is fine and the voice work is utterly professional. It’s a good-looking picture and it moves like clockwork. Maybe that last is where my problem arises. All too often, I felt like I was marking time waiting for the fairly obvious plot to follow its inevitable course. By the time it was over, I felt like I’d simply sat through a film that was marking off a checklist—something perfectly professional, but lacking the one thing professionalism can’t replace: inspiration.
Someone pointed out to me that aspects of the movie are strikingly similar to Disney’s Brother Bear (2003)—something that hadn’t occurred to me, simply because I haven’t given a minute’s thought to Brother Bear in nearly nine years. My suspicion is that nine years from now, I will have devoted about as much thought to Brave, which is only able to sort of live up to its title by stacking its deck.
There’s certainly something worthwhile, albeit not that new, to be mined from a story about a princess (Kelly Macdonald) who prefers to make her own choices rather than follow the life that has been mapped out for her. Its value lies, or should lie, in making the princess’ decision to be her own woman completely a matter of principle, but the film cheats in this regard. It chooses to make her refusal to marry be based on the fact that her three sanctioned prospective swains are as big a trio of doofuses as could be imagined. Indeed, she perks up at the prospect when she briefly thinks a hunky guy is among them, only to learn her actual suitor is standing behind said hunk. This considerably reduces the apparent message.
The thrust of the story lies in Princess Merida coming across a bear-obsessed witch (Julie Walters) who—in exchange for Merida buying all her woodcarvings of bears—gives the girl a potion that will transform her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Of course, what it changes her into isn’t an understanding mother, but a bear, causing no end of trouble in part because King Fergus (Billy Connolly) has it in for bears ever since one ate his leg. Some mirth and a good deal of adventure follows, all of which is complicated by the fact that if the spell isn’t reversed by dawn of the second day, poor mom will permanently remain a bear.
There are a few—surprisingly few—clever gags, a couple of not especially memorable songs, the requisite big climax and life-lessons learned. Fine, but not fine enough to make Brave anything more than OK. Rated PG for some scary action and rude humor.