Pixar’s movies always carry a weight of expectation and barring a few minor mis-steps (A Bug’s Life and the Cars films, all of which are still plenty watchable), the company have delivered classic after classic. Brave is a very definite return to form for them. Thematically rich, exquisitely beautiful and deeply moving, Brave appears, critically at least, to have been a victim of another sort of expectation: that generated by the advertising (and indeed merchandising, although that’s a discussion for another time). People have been wrong-footed by the emphasis on protagonist Merida as an archer, and the presence of Mor’Du, the giant, demonic bear that she must face. The film was originally titled ‘The Bear and the Bow’, and whilst bears feature prominently, the bow is of less import than the trailers and advertising might suggest, one reason, maybe, that the name changed. This is one of those cases where maybe the wrong emphasis was made. It’s a fine line to tread. There’s been a trend of including too much in trailers – just look at the Prometheus advertising which gave away pretty much every major plot-point. Irrelevant how one feels about that movie, that was a real dick move on the part of the studio, so Pixar’s erring at the other extreme is understandable. The saying don’t judge a book by its cover can easily be updated to ‘don’t judge a movie by its trailer’.
Whilst Brave has a simple narrative, it is exquisitely constructed and internally complex, with a lot of themes and ideas. Ranging from the obvious mother-daughter feuding and being careful about what you wish for, to the power of legends as instruction and the conflict between tradition and individuality, Brave provides a story that can be construed both as a psychodynamic narrative and a pretty classic Hegelian dialectic. It also almost made me blub like a little girl </General Melchitt>. Ahem. Almost.
The film’s opening act establishes Merida, her relationship with her family; doting, conspiratorial father Fergus, whirling dervish triplet brothers, Hamish, Harris and Hubert and regal perfectionist mother, Elinor. Fergus is a hugely built warrior, just as a wee lass might imagine her father, the triplets large headed cyclones of mercenary chaos (payment received in cakes), and the characteristics of the other characters, especially the males of the other clans seem even further accentuated. It is interesting to note that the only two characters in the film with anything approaching a ‘realistic’ design are Merida and her mother. With the world filtered through Merida-vision, it seems that she only deeply relates to her mother, no matter how different their world views, and this leads to Elinor being the character most closely resembling our heroine. With Pixar, there is a design reason for absolutely everything, not least because they’ve had to create/animate it and my initial thought was it was laziness on their part – that in having a female protagonist, they were giving us a short hand caricature of men, but that doesn’t hold up as the other female characters, nursemaid Maudie and the Woodcarver are also highly stylised. Instead, it seems that Merida moves through a world of people barely glimpsed and less understood, she’s happiest out in the wilds with her bow and riding her horse, Angus. A sequence near the start shows her out in the wilds, climbing the Crone’s Tooth and drinking the water from the Fire Falls, which Fergus later tells her only the Kings of the olden days were brave enough to do and her mother distractedly ignores. It is as beautiful a scene as any Pixar have ever done, an incredibly joyous celebration of the things Merida loves. The vistas presented are absolutely stunning and more photorealistic than any of the characters.