Brave: The DadCentric Review
"If it's not Scottish, it's crap!"
— Mike Myers (who has nothing to do with this film)
Pixar's Scottish fairy tale Brave is their latest addition to an unparalleled canon of movie-making greatness (with the possible exception of Cars 2), and opens tomorrow to lines of children with wonder in their eyes and parents equally filled with anticipation — but also the the reality of having spent $46 on candy and popcorn. Welcome to the show.
I have already written a couple of articles about Brave for other publications, one a quick overview, or an "impression" according to a particularly cutting commenter, and the other an attempt to refute the gender-laden concerns rounding the Internet. Neither of the two posts offer much in the way of spoilers, which was a very difficult thing to do. Not since The Sixth Sense has a film had such an unknown twist play so pivotal to the plot. Whether or not the secret survives after Brave opens in theaters remains to be seen, but I will do my best not to ruin it here (I would also suggest that you steer clear of third-party marketing like the Brave line of toys from Mattel that have featured a major spoiler in their ad campaign for weeks).
Brave is set in the Scotland of old, like "olde" old. Maybe older. The story is an original fairy tale conceived by the first director of Brave, Brenda Chapman, who was later replaced at the helm by Mark Andrews. Chapman was having a battle of wills with her young daughter and wondered what was in store for the two of them. This is, undoubtedly, a pretty common occurrence in the parenting world, but unlike the rest of us Chapman had the outlet of Pixar to express it. Seven years later and Brave is on the screen. And it is breathtakingly glorious.
John Lasseter* has a saying that Pixar films are never finished, they are just released, and while I think that is a wonderful quote, hence my including it here, I feel like the story of Princess Merida, her family and her fate, is very much complete.
The film starts with Merida as a wee lass celebrating her birthday in the company of her parents, the big-hearted King Fergus and the equally loving, but much sterner, Queen Elinor, and the scene works to immediately establish the dynamics and decorum of the family, that theirs is a world of unknown magics, and that there is no lacking for danger.
The danger is pretty scary, and that fear plays a large role throughout the entirety of Brave. Parents may want to prepare younger children for the frights that await them, namely (I don't believe this is a spoiler, but here's a warning just in case) bears.
King Fergus is called the Bear King and for good reason. In fact, the entire movie is loaded for bear, and parents may want to follow suit. There are surprises ahead, and more than one may make little ones (and plenty of big ones) jump out of their plush, reclining seat.
Flash forward to the teenage years and Merida's life has been spent under the firm and controlling hand of the queen, who, to be fair, is doing her duty to groom her daughter in the ways of tradition and what best serves the kingdom. Merida wants no part of it. She decides to take her fate into her own hands.
Then, like any good fairy tale, there is a witch, but unlike Disney's previous incarnations she is not an evil character so much as an ambivalent, magic-pedaling small business owner cut from the cloth of Hayao Miyazaki inspiration. She reluctantly agrees to help Merida change her life.
Miscommunication and misunderstanding do their thing and suddenly the path that Merida has chosen, in this case, purchased, takes a terrible turn, and continues to do so for much of the film. Meanwhile Merida strives to mend the rift that she has torn in the fabric of fate.
The story is engaging, frightening, heartfelt, and funny, and there are lessons ripe for the picking. And during it all the art on the screen is so overwhelmingly perfect that one could easily find themselves lost in a single detail for moments at a time. It happens.
To rank Brave in the aforementioned canon of Pixar greats is a difficult undertaking, and probably unnecessary, but if I were pressed to do so I would place it somewhere in the middle. Frankly, it's like trying to rank Beatles albums or Super Bowl highlights — with the exception of clear cut favorites or the one that doesn't sit right, it is nearly impossible and they all roll into one fantastic blur of cinematic magic floating far above the competition.
That's not a bad thing.
Brave opens June 22, and is preceded by the short La Luna, which was nominated for an Academy Award. La Luna is inspired by the childhood of director and creator Enrico Casarosa. When I interviewed Casarosa earlier this year he explained that he grew up in a house with his father and grandfather, and that the two men did not get along. He said that he was constantly in the middle. La Luna takes that concept and shoots for the moon. Unlike Brave, I can rank La Luna easily enough, it is by far my favorite Pixar short.
Do you plan to see Brave this weekend? If you do please keep comments spoiler-free!
*We had the pleasure of meeting John Lasseter at the opening of Disney California Adventure's Cars Land, and he is as geniuine of a guy as you will ever meet, which is why I cannot resist sharing these photos of Mr. Lasseter and my boys: Atticus and Zane. Thanks for humoring me!