Film #104: Brave (2012)

brave480Directors: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Language: English
Length: 93 minutes
Watched on: 26 December 2013

I kind of bypassed Brave a little bit when it came out, perhaps because I assumed there would be no subtitled version in the cinemas here. It took me a long time to realize that it was set in Scotland, actually – the information didn’t sink in straight away. Since I’ve been on a quest to catch up on Disney and other animated movies recently, I decided to watch it.

It’s perhaps a good thing that the information hadn’t really sunk in (even despite the fact that I did know it was set in Scotland) – I didn’t really know what the plot was or how it was going to play out. Like other Pixar movies, it’s an original story, so I was pleasantly surprised when I finally found out what the story was. I even feel like the big twist about halfway through was well-enough hidden from me (like, I haven’t even seen any spoilerish gifs on tumblr) that I shouldn’t reveal it now.

The main character in this is a sassy young princess called Merida. Her father, the boisterous king of a small clan in the highlands, is played by Billy Connolly. Her mother is the uptight queen, apparently played by Emma Thompson, concerned at all times with enforcing gender roles and bringing up Merida to be ladylike – she makes her daughter do humiliating things and there is a competition between the firstborns of all the neighbouring clans with Merida’s hand in marriage as the unwilling prize. Merida won’t go along with it, and runs off. She then finds a witch, and, um, antics ensue.

The story is simple and easy to follow, which has always been one of Pixar’s strengths, and there are plenty of comedic sections and serious sections mixed around. A major theme of the movie is gender equality, and the relationship between Merida and her mother is by far the most important (her father is a warrior type with a lot of physicality and an obsession with hunting a bear that attacked him during Merida’s childhood, and mostly lets her be, whereas her mother wants her to do ladylike things and is always meddling in her life). This is refreshing when you compare it to most Hollywood movies, overwhelmingly about father-son relationships, to the point where I’ve seen so many movies where the mother is completely absent. Perhaps a criticism could be that the focus on a princess fits the mold for straight-up Disney movies much better than Pixar movies (leading some to speculate that Disney and Pixar swapped scripts for Brave and Wreck-It Ralph in 2012), but if I remember correctly, there was an unaddressed gender imbalance in other Pixar movies, so it’s nice to see steps made in that area.

In terms of historical accuracy, Brave is not much better than something like Braveheart (in fact, the titles are even similar!), although to compare it to that would be heartless, as it’s a funny and well-made film. This is mainly because it mixes stone castles with warring dark age kingdoms and tartan… other than that it’s not too bad really. The accents are all mostly genuine, Emma Thompson being the main exception, and as a joke, one of the characters uses a strong Doric accent which no-one else can understand. Perhaps one of Brave’s strengths is that it makes me a little homesick and brings out the latent patriotism inside me, although a lot of that is because the arguments between Merida and her mother remind me of my childhood (either having those arguments or listening to them from my siblings), so not necessarily a good thing.

It would be imprudent of me to write this review and not mention Merida’s hair. I get the strong impression that this film was made in order to showcase the animators’ skill at showing such complex hair, just as Finding Nemo was presumably made to showcase water and Sully in Monsters, Inc. was made to showcase fur. This kind of sudden advance in animation technology happens with astonishing regularity with Pixar, so if anything I just wonder what the next advance will be. It happens so frequently that it literally makes other animation studios look terrible and out-of-date by comparison. Here’s to the next movie.

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