Though “Brave,” the latest animated feature from Pixar, hits theaters this weekend, there’s already been a whirlwind of discussion surrounding the movie’s impact. Why? Because it’s Pixar’s first film to feature a female lead: the independently-minded Princess Merida of Scotland, a fiery redhead who argues with her parents because they expect her to follow tradition and find a suitor as soon as possible. Instead, she decides to control her own fate, inadvertently sending her on a magical adventure involving mythic bears of folklore.
Pixar movies have become a summer tradition at the box office, but how will this new cinematic endeavor play to the masses? Let’s find out in this week’s Pro-Con. (MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW)
PRO: “Brave” is a simple fairy-tale adventure that appeals to young audiences.
The humor is youthfully cute, the pace is refreshingly brisk and the adventure is imaginative and straightforward. This is Pixar’s spin on a classic fairy tale, and rather than totally subvert that, they stick to the formula while infusing it with Pixar-patented characterization. This isn’t a bad thing.
CON: Critics are trying to hold it up against past Pixar landmarks.
If you’re expecting something as deep as the first ten minutes of “Up” or the last ten minutes of “Toy Story 3,” you’re not going to get it. “Brave” isn’t aiming for the same emotional targets; its focus is more childlike, as opposed to profound and slightly wistful. If you try to compare “Brave” to the collective weight of something it’s not, rather than judging it on its own terms, you’re going to be disappointed.
PRO: Pixar has made the actual story of the movie a surprise.
The trailers are deliberately vague and don’t reveal the crux of the plot. However, it’s not a twisty-turny premise full of surprises; the filmmakers just kept the advertising vague because the movie benefits from an audience free of preconceived notions and are willing to embrace the plot in whatever direction it unfolds.
PRO: The Animation
Outside of the “Toy Story” series, Pixar has shied away from depicting humans in CGI animation, but they’ve made great technological leaps forward on this project, giving each character a unique and expressive presentation. On top of the wonderful “acting” from the cartoon characters, the world of “Brave” is a lush and richly detailed portrait of the Scottish Highlands.
CON: The 3D
Hollywood keeps making us pay for the “enhancement,” and it’s still not living up to the price. In a movie that uses a dark color palette — filled with pine trees, stormy night skies and shadow-filled caves — the 3D just muddles up the screen and turns it into a murky distraction. Please see it in 2D.
PRO: It’s great for mothers and daughters.
This movie is for all ages, but the interplay between Merida and her mother, Queen Elinor, will be especially enjoyable to audience members who can relate to the conflicts between a doting parent and a headstrong child.
One warning: Some scenes involving monstrous bears might be too scary for your littlest tykes
CON: Behind-the-scenes trouble
“Brave” was initially conceived by Brenda Chapman, making her Pixar’s first female director, but “creative differences” led her to leave the project. Though she’s still credited as co-director, and remains on staff at Pixar, it leaves a bittersweet tinge to the production (which is especially ironic, given the subject matter).
PRO: The voice cast is wonderful.
Kelly Macdonald (“No Country for Old Men”) brings an adorable feistiness to Princess Merida. And as her overprotective parents, Emma Thompson and Billy Connolly are lively and sweet. Key supporting parts (voiced by the likes of Craig Ferguson and “Rome’s” Kevin McKidd) are given great moments to shine, too.
CON: You may struggle to understand through an accent
The Scottish accents are authentic and charming, but definitely thick. (Although, “Brave” sometimes uses that trait for comedic effect.) If you’re the kind of audience member who complains about people “talkin’ funny,” then you’re going to be annoyed that Pixar didn’t strip this movie of its cultural heritage, merely for your convenience.
PRO: Merida’s younger brothers.
The red-headed triplets Harris, Hubert and Hamish are definite slapstick show-stealers, and ridiculously cute to boot.
PRO: Princess Merida is a great role model for young girls.
There’s been a school of thought that criticizes the Disney Princesses for having no greater goal than finding a husband, but Merida’s romantic escapades are a non-factor in this film. She’s a fallible, yet resourceful, young adult that: 1.) makes mistakes and learns from them 2.) Fights with her parents, but cares about them and 3.) Takes on challenges because it’s the right thing to do.
CON: Disney is still making a ton of Barbie Doll-style merchandise.
Eh, what do you expect?
PRO: “La Luna”
“Brave” is preceded by “La Luna,” perhaps the most beautiful and elegant short film that Pixar has ever created. We don’t want to spoil what it’s about, but it’s an exquisite and magical little fantasy.
CON: “Luna” didn’t win the Oscar for Best Animated Short
No offense to “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” but we still don’t understand why “Luna” didn’t receive a statue from the Academy, this past February.
David Edelstein, New York Magazine
Kelly Macdonald is an inspired choice to voice Merida, having a tone that is at once dulcet and exasperated. You can see the Miyazaki influence in the glowing will-o’-the-wisps that lead the girl in the direction of her destiny, <a href=”http://nymag.com/movies/reviews/brave-to-rome-with-love-edelstein/” target=”_hplink”>and in the longed-for transformation of a parent that turns almost instantly into a disaster to be overcome. </a>
Drew McWeeny, HitFix
“Brave” is actually one of the most streamlined, direct stories that Pixar has ever told. It’s almost deceptively simple, a very simple narrative that feels like it unfolds in about 40 minutes, never pausing or digressing in any significant way. <a href=”http://www.hitfix.com/motion-captured/review-brave-takes-pixar-in-some-new-directions-by-embracing-some-old-forms” target=”_hplink”>Some may criticize its laser focus, but I think it works well precisely because it seems to be in motion from the beginning to the end.</a>
Glenn Kenny, MSN Movies
Seeing what happens packs a particular wallop that keeps the action engaging in a way that is, yes, somewhat atypical of Disney fare and even a little leftfield for Pixar. Indeed, what seemed a relatively conventional family film gets downright eccentric. <a href=”http://movies.msn.com/movies/movie-critic-reviews/brave.3/” target=”_hplink”>Delightfully so, I thought, and I’m curious as to whether kids agree (whether their parents agree isn’t nearly as interesting a question). </a>
Christy Lemire, Associated Press
After beginning in thrilling fashion, “Brave” turns rather silly and slapsticky rather quickly, as if it were aimed mainly at the little kids in the audience rather than the whole family, for whom most Pixar movies are so satisfying and quite often moving. (Admit it: You sobbed uncontrollably at the beginning of “Up” and the end of “Toy Story 3.” We all did.) <a href=”http://www.mercurynews.com/celebrities/ci_20885779/review-brave-is-beautiful-but-plays-it-too” target=”_hplink”>This time, the usual depth of story and well-developed characters simply aren’t there. It’s a pleasant diversion but, comparatively, a disappointment.</a>
Melissa Anderson, The Village Voice
Of course, Merida’s insurrectionary spirit can last only so long in a House of Mouse vehicle; the majority of Brave’s running time after her uprising is devoted to restoring the sanctity of the nuclear family and smoothing away all rage against Mother. <a href=”http://www.villagevoice.com/2012-06-20/film/brave-pixar-Kelly-Macdonald/?_r=true” target=”_hplink”>(After all, Pixar is a company that lists “production babies” in its films’ closing credits.) But for a while, the film moves into bold, at times perverse, territory. </a>
Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com
This is like the “Inglourious Basterds” of feminism; all it took to bring down patriarchy in Scotland was one spunky redhead standing up to say no! Moms and girls everywhere deserve this movie, absolutely, and I hope they have a great time. <a href=”http://www.salon.com/2012/06/19/brave_pixars_feminist_fantasy/” target=”_hplink”>But they also deserve much more, and much better.</a>
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
Parents looking for smart, independent and proactive role models for their young daughters will be thrilled by “Brave,” Pixar’s latest (and the studio’s first movie toplined by a female character). But it would be reductive to welcome this exhilarating new film merely as a counterbalance to Disney’s pre-feminist princesses: <a href=”http://www.thewrap.com/movies/column-post/brave-review-finally-disney-princess-who-isnt-defined-prince-44636″ target=”_hplink”>It’s a rousing adventure and a hilarious comedy, and if its athletic and intelligent leading lady creates a new paradigm for animated features, so much the better.</a>