Pixar has carved out its role as the innovation capital of the world. It dared to make a hero of a crotchety OAP. It provoked tears for toy soldiers. It didn’t just re-write the formula, it brazenly showed the world it didn’t need a formula at all.
So as it serves up its latest offering – the Scottish romp Brave – it’s an understatement to say expectations are sky high. But while Brave has a smorgasbord of merits, it’s simply not as brave as it could have been.
The anti-fairytale fairytale goes like this: a boisterous young princess called Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is to be forced into an arranged marriage by her mother (Emma Thompson). But deciding she’d sooner take her destiny into her own muddy hands than shack up with a prince, Merida soon has other ideas. By way of a spell gone wrong, and a bear or two, the princess and the queen battle out their mother-daughter issues and their fates.
The flame-haired Merida is one of the film’s finest coups. The on-screen princesses I grew up with were all Kate Middleton-esque elegance, and –aside from their hair colours– were bland re-interpretations of each other. In their first female heroine, Pixar gives us a girl with guts. Yes, she’s a princess. But this model comes with a hunger pangs, a penchant for archery and flaws aplenty.
At times she’s a selfish, hormonal teenager; instead of smoking and getting drunk on WKD blue, she uses her sword to make dents on her bedposts. But we’re rooting for her from day one.
Unlike Disney’s princesses of yesteryear, Merida’s fairytale ending doesn’t involve finding her soul mate. Instead, it focuses on her repairing her relationship with her mother, learning to respect her community and ultimately creating her own fate.
Aside from the heroine, the bursting visuals are also a selling point. Fiery oranges and tumbling green landscapes whir energetically about the screen, and technologically – as we’ve come to expect with Pixar – you sure do get a bang for your buck.
Billy Connolly’s King Fergus and his sons bring the humour; the three princes, like Maggie from The Simpsons, have the ability to command attention and laughs without saying a word.
So with a feisty heroine, visceral visuals and a plethora of laughs, where does the film fall down? Well, it doesn’t fall down. It just doesn’t leap. For me, the heart-rending emotion was missing. The most poignant human emotion came from scenes between Merida and her mother. But I was waiting to have the hairs on my arms pulled onto their tip-toes, like they had been in Wall-E and Up.
But if we lay our expectations at the sidelines, then this is an adventure tale with attitude. It might not be as brave as we’d hoped, but does it give young kids a heroine they can look up to? Hell yeah.
Brave is on general release in the UK from 13th August 2012