Pixar is famous for unique ideas and imaginative characters but in recent years their status has dropped due to a series of lacklustre films and the rising competition from studios such as DreamWorks and Illumination Entertainment. So it's about time Pixar stepped up their game and made a film that was a little more brave.
I still haven't seen Cars 2. I think it would just upset me to see Pixar make a sequel of their least acclaimed film simply because of the merchandising possibilities. That's so not what Pixar is about. I was a lot more excited to see Brave. First off, it's a film that has taken Pixar out of their comfort zone in a number of ways: it draws on the historical past of ancient Scotland, and for the first time ever in a Pixar film, the lead character is female. (Yes, that's right, Pixar has never had a female lead before now – shame on them!). All of this makes this film seem more and more like a classic Disney film.
Merida, voiced by Kelly Macdonald, is a wild and adventurous young princess who wants nothing more than to ride her horse through the forests and practise her archery. (I think that is the medieval equivalent of going clubbing.) Her mother, Queen Elinor, voiced by Emma Thompson, insists that she marry a prince as according to tradition. Merida refuses and ends up getting her kingdom into a lot for trouble, nearly starting a war. There is some other business to do with magic, witches and bears but I don't want to spoil the mystery.
I'm surprised there has never been an animated film set in Scotland before, because it is incredibly majestic and beautiful. The perfect place for an epic adventure. Pixar capture its atmosphere and beauty with exquisite detail. The story also deals with some grown-up concepts for a family film: giving its characters and their relationships a lot more depth and complexity than you would usually find in a children's story. There are no easy answers in this story, neither Merida nor her mother are all right or all wrong, but the way they get to discover this is done with real panache and excitement and a special twist in the tale that will really blow your mind. That said, this film is scary in parts, capturing the stuff of children's nightmares. This mixed in with the adult themes might make it a bit of a struggle for younger kids to understand… But Pixar has come to the rescue with some funny comic moments that involve Merida's three cheeky brothers.
To be honest, I like it when children's films have some scary or emotionally complex moments because I feel far too often children's films patronise their audience. Also these are family films, and having these challenging moments bridges the gap between the different generations beautifully.
While Merida was the undoubted heroine, it was great to see her whole family given so much screen time, so that you got to grips with the dynamics of their relationships. Although this film is set in the 13th-century (or thereabouts) the arguments between Merida and her parents will be familiar to today's teenagers. The Mum and Dad were both well defined characters, which is quite unusual for a kids animation. Far too often the parents are more like props than characters, and are all totally inter-changeable, and therefore boring. Pixar has always been good at defining the parental characters well — great examples are Nemo's Dad Marlin in Finding Nemo and the crotchety Carl Fredrickson in Up, who becomes a father figure to boy scout Russell — and this film carries on that tradition.
Disney vs. Pixar
I have to say that I would have been even more impressed with Brave if it had been a Disney film. This is because it had a very Disney style what with the Princess, the witch and all the magic. A style that, other than in Tangled, has been slowly fading from Disney's animated features. It was almost as if Pixar was sending a message to Disney saying 'this is how it's done'.
The Disney calendar
Brave has got me excited for Disney's next couple of films which a sure to be winners. I'm especially looking forward to Wreck-It Ralph, the story of a retro video game villain who isn't that villainous, and Frozen, which is based on Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen. They are sure to be breathtaking.
Brave has been a triumph for Pixar with critics and in the box office. It has everything a good family film needs and more. It has an amazing soundtrack, beautiful animation, powerful characters and a strong message. Also Merida's curly red hair is amazing!
1) Monsters, Inc.
2) Finding Nemo
3) The Incredibles
6) Toy Story 2
8) Toy Story 3
9) Bugs Life
10) Toy Story