Sunday, July 01, 2012
Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), the heroine of Pixar's new Brave, is spitball of energy with a shock of red hair and personality that can't be contained by the expectations of her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). The Queen wants to teach Merida what's expected of a princess and to prepare her for marriage, but Merida would rather ride her horse and continue to develop her talent for archery. Brave takes place in a pre-Medeival Scotland, and it's only a matter of time before Merida gives in and follows the path determined for her, right? Merida is an admirable attempt to create an iconic Pixar character for young girls just like Buzz and Woody appeal to the child in grown-ups and Wall-E is beloved by vegetarians. In working so hard to get her Merida right though (and Macdonald gives a wonderful performance), directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman let the rest of the movie slip away. Merida's father King Fergus (Billy Connolly) has little to do except shake his head at his precocious daughter; supporting characters aren't individualized, there's only a gaggle of Scottish clans and Merida's three mischevious brothers for what little comic relief the story offers.
After a spell gone awry turns Elinor into a bear, the better part of Brave (after a slow start) finds Merida searching for the secret that will restore her mother to herself while at the same time dodging a real bear who isn't interested in anyone's personal growth. Younger viewers will get a giggle out of the slapstick humor that comes from Fergus pursuing the bear, and some might be frightened at the climactic bear-on-bear fight. Older viewers will see Merida's emotional turnabout coming though, and there really isn't enough else going on to distract from the movie's obviousness. There's nothing wrong with being a tomboy but I wish Merida had had a more specific goal in mind that Brave could have had fun with. While Brave isn't as flamboyantly didactic as some other Pixar fare, it really needed to give its young audience a bit more to hold on to. Something to light a fire, something to make someone say, "Why can't I do that?"