The first twenty minutes or so of Brave will make you think, “Oh, hey, this is a lot like Finding Nemo, but with a mom/daughter relationship.” But Brave is, surprisingly, a lot more like Cars.
[Minor thematic spoilers below]
Both films have a Big Message (what usually sets apart Pixar films from, well, nearly every other animation house out there), and both miss graceful executions of said Big Message. Cars meanders too much–which I get is sort of the point, but c’mon, at least make it interesting–while Brave takes its main message and beats you over the head with it. Brave is not subtle, even using voiceover narration (did the Brave screenwriters ever see Adaptation?!) to explain everything, including how being “brave” doesn’t always have to mean an outward display of courage.
Like the original Cars, Brave is a solid B/B-minus and is frustrating because there’s potential there for it to be really good. The score and songs are really solid, and the animation is simply breathtaking, with a level of detail and depth never before seen in a CGI film; I kept on thinking to myself, “Wow, I wonder what Walt Disney would’ve thought about this?” (this has something to do with Pixar’s brand new animation system, PRESTO). This film is sure to become a standard in many Blu-ray players. The themes are adequately addressed, if cumbersomely, but the humor is broad without being particularly clever, which Pixar has excelled with in the past. The screenplay is just a lot rougher than anything the studio has produced before; perhaps this has something to do with its original director and creative force behind the film being fired midway through production.
[Sidebar: As discussed in this Comics Beat piece on , it's an odd year when it seems like there's been a role-reversal between Disney Animation Studios and Pixar. As the competition in the CGI animated field heats up and films from rivalstudios get better (see: How to Train Your Dragon) how does Pixar define itself?]
All that said, the most significant thing Brave has going for it: Merida is unlike any heretofore Disney princess. There’s no Prince Charming or any love interest, but even so, this is not an typical modern “Girl Power” movie. Merida’s journey is thankfully not only about relinquishing patriarchal tradition; it sidesteps that for the most part, focusing more on a themes about admitting your mistakes and trying to fix them, and trying to understand others when their noblest intentions don’t gel with yours. What sort of impact this unconventional approach to “a princess story” will have not only to Disney’s merchandising team, but also to girls–and boys–in the audience, remains to be seen. Maybe Merida’s aversion to finding a man will rub off on some of Disney’s other princesses in interesting ways.
Oh, and La Luna, the short attached to Brave, is seven minutes of pure joy. If Cars 2 had you questioning the supply of creativity left at Pixar, La Luna will temper your doubts while putting a smile on your face. It’s really wonderful.
…and La Luna: A