Marriage is not the end of the world.
This is less of a Pixar movie distributed by Disney than it is a Disney movie with animation by Pixar. The sumptuous visual experience we expect from a Pixar movie is more than up to our expectations, but as a story, Brave trods the familiar ground of more traditional Disney animation rather than the uncharted territories of WALL-E, Up, or The Incredibles. Unlike previous Pixar efforts, this is one for the kids and not as entertaining for the grown-ups in the room.
In a distant, legendary past, somewhere in Scotland, Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is the willful, headstrong daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connoly) and his Elinor (Emma Thompson). Mother is trying to raise her daughter as a proper Scottish princess but Merida would rather ride her horse and shoot things with arrows.
As it turns out that Elinor has been grooming her daughter to marry the sons of one of three warring clans, presumably as a way of ending the squabbling. Merida wants none of it, especially after she gets a look at her three possible suitors. None of them bring hope of particularly promising offspring. Thus mother and daughter butt heads and the princess runs (or gallops) away from home into the woods. There she meets an old witch (Julie Walters), and convinces her to cast a spell to change her mother’s mind. Instead, the witch turns Elinor into a bear.
This would probably be a good time to mention that King Fergus lost one of his legs to a bear, and has a “slay on sight” policy toward the ursine kind.
Again, the animation is a real treat for the eyes, so if you don’t find your adult brain engaged by the story, there is at least something pretty to look at while your little ones are kept amused. The detail in the scenery, the rocks, the wood, the grass, and in Merida’s impressive head of red hair shows that Pixar is still pushing the technological boundaries of CG animation.
And while the storytelling is not as sophisticated as we have come to expect from Pixar, Brave is not poorly told by any means. The mother-daughter dynamic feels nicely observed and rings true enough. A lot of the shenanigans involving the King and the other clans (and Merida’s impish triplet brothers) feels like slapstick from a second-tier, non-Pixar Disney movie, or maybe a fourth or fifth Shrek sequel.
Writing has always been the element that elevated Pixar movies above the rest of the CG animation herd. Hopefully, future efforts will have more of this virtue in evidence. If Pixar is going to be just another animation studio, I want it to be because the competition caught up and not because Pixar lost the Midas touch.