Pixar output reviewed here so far have all been either been films that have left me somewhat unsatisfied, or films that are not considered to be amongst the classics that the studio has produced (or, in the case of Cars 2, both). Time will bring articles focused on the jewels in Pixar's crown, films that have already gone down in cinematic history as both classics and landmarks in animation. Unfortunately, Brave is not one of these films.
Brave tells the story of Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a strong-willed princess in medieval Scotland who defies her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), when she is informed that the sons of the Lords of three other clans in Scotland will compete for her hand in marriage. After following a will-o'-the-wisp through the forest, Merida resorts to extreme measures in trying to change her mother's will, but things don't quite unfold the way she expected.
Once again, Pixar show their artistic mastery through Brave's beautiful landscapes and impressive action sequences. The whole feel of the film fits beautifully with the Celtic legends interwoven into Brave's narrative; it's clear that the studio have painstakingly composed the world in which the story unfolds. It's a shame then that, in comparison to both the scenery and what we've seen from Pixar in the past, the character animation is very good but never outstanding. Merida's flowing fire-hued locks are a wonder in themselves, but the time for wonder at Pixar's ability to create realistic hair was around a decade ago with the release of Monsters Inc. Elsewhere, Brave comes across as possibly the first time Pixar has ever felt aesthetically influenced by rival studio DreamWorks, with the look and feel of the more caricatured players in the story, such as King Fergus and Lords Dingwall, Macintosh and McGuffin, decidedly similar to those seen in How To Train Your Dragon.
Brave's story is perfectly enjoyable, with plenty of entertaining moments throughout. The relationships between Merida, Elinor and Fergus are established nicely in the opening act, although few other characters get much development. Things become notably more comedic in tone as the second act gets underway, becoming more predictable unfortunately at the same time. Once it's established what Merida must do in order to set matters right, things follow their inevitable course without really threatening any genuine surprises or making you feel as though the expected outcome is ever in question. Like I said, it's enjoyable and entertaining, but compared to many of Pixar's previous efforts it all feels a bit light and ordinary.
Ultimately, Pixar are once again victims of their own success. Brave is undoubtedly superior to a great many animated films released this year. But think about how the opening twenty minutes of Up made you feel; think about how Wall-E's almost dialogue-free opening act is pure cinematic perfection; think about pretty much any scene from the final act of Toy Story 3. Brave never gets close to this calibre of cinema or emotional investment; I found myself waiting for the film to achieve this, then disappointed that it never gets there. Brave is Pixar in safe mode, which still makes it a good, well-made and entertaining film. But it's also likely to be possibly the first Pixar film you'll watch, enjoy, and then move on from without any part of it staying with you.