Pixar films hold a special place in the hearts of most of my generation; the groundbreaking Toy Story was released as I was just starting school & made me wonder whether my toys would come alive when I left them alone. Following their 1995 hit, they had a seemingly never ending streak of exceptional animated films which catered not only to children but also their parents, grandparents, big brothers and sisters too. Even more impressive is that those films don’t make pop culture references to adult films the parents might ‘get’ but they just make jokes that everyone can enjoy whether 4 or 40. Unfortunately, the distinctly mediocre film Cars broke this streak in 2006 and then Cars 2 did the same job again five years later. And although Up is widely regarded as another Pixar great, I personally believe it to make the fatal mistake of having one of the most beautiful opening twenty minutes in a film I’ve ever seen followed by a seemingly never ending number of immature jokes about how if a dog could talk he’d talk about how much he likes to chase a ball…
News that Pixar is making another tie in to a previous film (Monsters University is a prequel to Monsters. Inc certainly not the greatest of their canon) means that there is a lot riding on whether Brave is up to standard. Ditching the modern setting Pixar usually chooses by opting for ancient Scotland as its location and having a young teenage girl as its heroine was a risky move. Brave is about Merida (voiced by Kelly McDonald) the princess of the Scottish kingdoms and destined to marry one of the three clans’ sons in order to unite the kingdom. Though, somewhat typically, she doesn’t want to be just a queen on a throne and instead dreams of being a fearsome warrior lady who can (and does) best her suitors at an archery competition.
Thankfully, Brave does deliver exactly what one wants from a Pixar film (and an animation in general) because it doesn’t just paint its characters with stereotypes – though admittedly there is a lot of ginger hair, Caber tossing and bagpipe playing throughout the 93 minutes – all of them are very realistic, interesting and excellently well developed characters. Merida truly is an engaging on screen presence because she really embodies that teenage feeling of wanting freedom and being able to choose one’s own destiny. Though it is less the characters themselves which are the best aspect of the film, it is the way they interact so well. In particular the way Merida’s family (the father played by Billy Connolly and the mother by Emma Thompson) have a genuine family dynamic; they laugh about silly things with each other, they argue and they love each other. It is the way these relationships are presented which makes the film a delight to follow, and makes all of the action far more meaningful.
I’ve rabbited on about relationships and family ties and character development which is all well and good but it isn’t just a film made for geeks like me, there are very witty moments (Merida’s triplet brothers give Dennis the Menace a run for his money) and the action sequences, shot on the backdrop of a beautiful Scottish landscape, are sumptuous to look at as well as being exciting enough to keep the little boys happy despite their non-macho protagonist.
I say this, but any old film can do a Michael Bay and knock some fights together to keep the kids transfixed, what Pixar have done (yet again) is show that it is the simple things which matter, a mother and daughter laughing trying to catch fish in a stream isn’t the most obvious scene to slot into the climax of an animated film targeted mainly at children but they do it, and by god are they rewarded for their Brave-ery.
Brave is out now in cinemas everywhere.
Rights; Disney & Pixar Animation Studios