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Movie Review: Brave

June 22, 2012

Brave – A Walt Disney Pictures’ Release

http://disney.com/brave

Release Date: June 22nd, 2012

Rated PG for some scary action and rude humour

Running time: 93 minutes

Mark Andrews (dir.)

Brenda Chapman (dir.)

Brenda Chapman (screenplay and story)

Mark Andrews (screenplay)

Steve Purcell (screenplay)

Irene Mecchi (screenplay)

Patrick Doyle (music)

Kelly Macdonald as Merida (voice)

Billy Connolly as Fergus (voice)

Emma Thompson as Elinor (voice)

Julie Walters as The Witch (voice)

Robbie Coltrane as Lord Dingwall (voice)

Callum O’Neill as Wee Dingwall (voice)

Kevin McKidd as Lord MacGuffin/Young MacGuffin (voice)

Craig Ferguson as Lord Macintosh (voice)

Steven Cree as Young Macintosh (voice)

Peigi Barker as Young Merida (voice)

©Walt Disney Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.

Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) aims to shoot an arrow in Pixar’s Brave.

Our reviews below:

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Brave Review By John C.

***1/2 (out of 4)

Pixar’s thirteenth feature and first with a female protagonist, Brave is a good film filled with beautiful animation and a lot of heart.  Although it doesn’t quite reach the dazzling levels of greatness achieved by some of their previous films, good for Pixar is still pretty darn good and this is easily one of the best movies of the summer.

Free spirited Princess Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald) has always been closer to her father, the burly King Fergus (Billy Connolly), than she has her mother, the proper Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson).  Refusing the ancient tradition to marry one of the amusingly inept young sons of the Lords from the three neighbouring Kingdoms, Merida defiantly rides into the forest and comes across a wise old witch (Julie Walters) who drastically changes Queen Elinor’s fate.  The mother and daughter are forced to find new ways to communicate, as a threatening curse is unwittingly unleashed upon the Kingdom.  She only has a few days to set things right.

The interactions between Merida and her mother are quite touching and the true heart of the film, offering some genuinely moving moments, especially in the second half.  The only thing holding back Brave is that there aren’t even more scenes between the mother and daughter.  There is also sometimes a little too much slapstick humour with Merida’s three little brothers, as we watch them cause mischief.  A lot of the humour with the triplets seems to be there to try and offset the thrilling darker elements of the film, and not quite enough time is spent developing the fascinating backstory that weaves into the climax.  This is one of those rare films that might have benefitted from a slightly longer running time than 93 minutes.

But these minor problems with the narrative of Brave don’t take away from the pure entertainment value that can be had while watching it.  Every single Pixar film pushes the boundaries of computer animation and from a technical standpoint, Brave is no exception.  The animation is beautifully rendered and the sweeping vistas of the Scottish highlands are just breathtaking.  When the exhilarating action sequences kick in, we almost forget that we are even watching an animated movie.  The wonderful musical score by Scottish composer Patrick Doyle is another highlight of the film, as are the three excellent songs that play over several key scenes.

Although some of the action might be a little too intense for the youngest members of the audience, both kids and adults are sure to take something away from the film.  The bonds between friends and family are a theme that Pixar has dealt with in all of their films, and the way that they handle the relationship between a mother and daughter who are at odds is often quite touching, as Queen Elinor and Merida have to completely rethink the communication between them.  With beautiful animation, a heartfelt story and appealing characters, Brave is another strong entry into the Pixar library.

Playing before Brave is the short film La Luna.  Directed by Enrico Casarosa and Oscar-nominated for Best Animated Short, this is a simple but totally charming and beautifully animated bedtime story that is sure to delight those of all ages with sweet characters and a magical story.  Also playing is the hilarious teaser trailer for Pixar’s next film, Monsters University.  

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Brave Review by Erin V.  

***1/2 (out of 4)

In a flashback opening, we meet young Merida (Peigi Barker), and her parents, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and King Fergus (Billy Connoly), on a picnic in the woods.  Fergus presents his daughter with her first bow, which her mother doesn’t quite approve of.  We also meet the mysterious Mor’du, who appears to be a bear and is rarely seen, although we sense has had a dark past.

When we next see Merida (Kelly MacDonald), she is a master archer, but also a headstrong and stubborn teenager, at increasing odds with her mother.  When Elinor decrees that there will be a tournament held with the sons of the three lords of the land, where the prize is Merida’s hand in marriage, Merida takes off into the forest, where she meets an old woman who grants her a spell, that will change her mother, and her fate.

Once the change takes effect, Merida and her mother are forced to communicate with each other on a whole new level.  These were my favourite parts of the film.  The partially wordless interactions are really sweet, and animated impeccably well.  When it comes down to it, this is not a story about archery, or marriage, or rebelling to get your own way.  This is a story about relationships, and how when we take things too far sometimes it’s important to realize our own part in things and meet in the middle.  Especially with our parents.

The whole film is beautifully animated as we have come to expect from Pixar, and the landscapes are gorgeous.  The voice acting matches the characters, and was well cast.  The score by Patrick Doyle is also very nice, and the three original songs written for the film are all good (more on the music here).

Where I did find the film lacking a bit was in the story department – the film felt like it was over too quick and not as sharp as it could have been.  But I digress.  It is not so much the story, as the execution, e.g., how the script was laid out.  There is a lot of potential here that I just thought it could have been done that much better.  In particular, I would have liked to see the ties between Mor’du’s backstory and Merida’s shown a little more, rather than just telling us.  There was potential for an interesting circular thing there that was only eluded to.  I must also say that a lot of times I felt that they were telling more than showing, including the ‘a princess is…’ montage near the beginning.  Less voiceover and more visuals might have played into Pixar’s strengths more, as they’ve done so well in the past.  But, I’m not really trying to complain.  Brave is a pretty good film – not Pixar’s best, but definitely a solid film for older kids and adults this summer.

The short film La Luna, directed by Enrico Casarosa, plays before Brave.  Nominated for an Academy Award, this is a sweet and charming film about the moon, the stars, a young boy, his father and grandfather.  Be sure to get there early so you don’t miss it.  It is beautiful and bright on the big screen – just like a perfect full moon on a clear starry night.  

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Brave Review by Nicole

*** (out of 4)

When I first heard about Brave (formerly The Bear and the Bow) four years ago, I wondered if Pixar could create a fairy tale and make it work.  The story of the film is pretty straight forward.  Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a Scottish Princess.  Being a Princess means she is expected to behave like a Princess and act ladylike, which means “boy activities” like archery are out of the question.  This puts her at odds with her mother, Elinor (Emma Thompson), who insists Merida be a proper Princess so she can marry and carry on the lineage.

Please note that the next three paragraphs of this review contain spoilers.  

Merida wants none of this, so she runs off into the woods and finds a friendly, likeable and very eccentric hermit who spends her days making adorable bear carvings.  (A toy Pizza Planet truck is hidden here too).  The bear loving artist is also a nice witch who naively thinks that turning people into bears will solve their problems.  She warns her that a spell performed years ago went horribly wrong, but not knowing what the nice witch’s trick does, Merida insists on a spell to change Elinor anyway.  The Queen becomes a kind but clumsy Mum Bear, and Merida must figure out how to turn her mother back.  But her father Fergus (Billy Connolly) is out hunting bears.  His hatred toward them started when a monster bear named Mor’du ripped off his leg when Merida was young, and he hasn’t forgiven the bruin race.

The interactions between Mum Bear and Merida are brilliant.  The Mum Bear animation is beautiful, with one of the most spectacular scenes featuring her, with Merida’s help, learning how to catch fish and embrace being a bear.  The scenery, animation and music in Brave are all wonderful.  But I felt quite sorry for Mor’du, who is a trapped and misunderstood individual.  His character is underdeveloped and I fell he was not depicted with enough sympathy.  I would have also liked to have seen more of Mum Bear and Merida’s interactions.  This is the most moving part of the film, and it came from Brave’s original creator, Brenda Chapman.  I also found Mum Bear adorably funny, and I couldn’t help but laugh at her attempts to be a Queen and a bear simultaneously.

While I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, I was pleased to see that a good “wild animal” existed in Brave.  I have never liked stories in which the “good” humans destroy the “bad” animals or natural environment.  While I was bothered that people go after Mum Bear and everyone including Merida pursue Mor’du, whose back is filled with arrows and spears, I was relieved that no bears get killed by human hands or by deliberate intent.

End of spoilers.  

Brave lacks some of the quirky charm of other Pixar movies.  The story and characters are not as well developed, nor are they as complex.  Another thing I like about Pixar films is the premise of “different people” hiding in a human dominated world.  Only one character achieves this here.  Overall, Brave does not feel as original as their other films.  The balance between the humour and dark scenes is off.  Personally, I found the slapstick with Merida’s little triplet brothers to be a very annoying attempt at wit.

This is still a good movie with beautiful visuals, great songs and an excellent score by Patrick Doyle.  If, like me, Celtic culture appeals to you, then Brave is worth seeing as an interesting and well made film.

Why does the moon shine bright?  La Luna tells a sweet and charming story in which a boy, along with his father and grandfather, go out on a boat at night, climb up to the moon and rake the stars that fall and land there.  This is a delightful little short film with cute animation, a quiet musical score by Michael Giacchino, and no dialogue.  

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Brave Review by Maureen

***1/2 (out of 4)

Right from the first glimpse of the red-haired princess with her bow and arrow in hand, it’s clear that Pixar’s Brave promise a strong female-centric story.  Set against the beautiful backdrop of the ancient Scottish Highlands and filled with legend, Brave is rich in authentic Scottish tones and texture.

Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a free-spirited young woman who loves to ride her horse Angus and practice her excellent archery skills.  She is at an age where her parents, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and King Fergus (Billy Connolly) feel it’s time to find her a suitable suitor.  What better time than the annual games between the clan Lords, (MacIntosh, MacGuffin and Dingwall), for them to each show off their sons and have them comepte for Princess Merida’s hand.  However, she has her own ideas and much to her regal and proper mother’s shock and horror, Merida announces that she “will be shooting for her own hand” in the archery competition.  Mother and daughter go head to head in a battle of will and that’s where the heart of the story takes hold.

Please note that the next two paragraphs of this review contain some mild spoilers.  

Frustrated and upset, Merida rides off on her trusty horse through the forest to the magical stone circle where she finds herself following the delicate flickering blue will o’ the wisps to a strange little cottage.  There she meets a wise old wood whittler (really a witch) who offers her a chance to change her fate with the help of a magical cupcake.  Returning home, Merida offers the cake to her mother, unleashing a spell that transforms Queen Elinor into “Mum Bear.”

The scenes with Merida and Mum Bear are the best parts of Brave.  The animation of Queen Elinor in a bear’s body is amazing as well as charming and delightful.  It’s at this point that mother and daughter are forced to pay close attention to one another and their relationship changes.  If the film has one fault it would be that there aren’t enough scenes with Merida and Mum Bear.  The scenes at the castle with Merida’s silly triplet little brothers seem out of place with the darker legend aspects of the story.  When Mum Bear and Merida have to take on the legendary demon bear Mor’du, the story feels strong and suspenseful.

End of mild spoilers.  

The animation in Brave is definitely up to the standard viewers have come to expect from Pixar.  The beautiful attention to detail in the Scottish setting is a testament to the research and time Pixar puts into their movies.  What makes this one appealing is the mother/daughter relationship.  The beautiful visuals and the wonderful Celtic score by Patrick Doyle bring the story to life.  You don’t have to be an authentic kilt-wearing Scotsman to enjoy Brave, just someone who enjoys a good legend and a heartfelt story about family bonds, especially between mother and daughter.

Do you ever wonder why a crescent moon looks like it does?  It’s the hardworking “moonsweepers” that keep it tidy.  La Luna is a charming short film with a bedtime story quality.  A father, son and grandfather team work together every night to sweep the falling stars on the moon into the right shape.  The non-verbal interactions between the three guys is sweet and the animation style is delightful.  It’s hard not to be reminded of La Luna when glancing up at an especially pretty moon.  Pixar short films are always a special treat, and this one is no exception.  

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Brave Review by Tony

***1/2 (out of 4)

Brave, the latest Pixar film, is the coming of age story of Merida (Kelly MacDonald). Though raised as a proper princess by her parents King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), Merida is a crack archer and restless spirit with wild red hair to match. To keep unity among the ruling clans, she is to be married to the firstborn of one of their lords (Kevin McKidd, Robbie Coltrane and Craig Ferguson) but will have none of them. Finding a witch in the glen, Merida has a spell cast that will change her own and her people’s lives in an unexpected but ultimately rewarding way.

With Pixar as always at the cutting edge of technology, Brave is a beautiful film to watch. The rugged Scottish landscape is breathtaking, and the character animation, without the  shortcuts of motion capture or outsourcing, is totally believable, even in the fantasy sequences. Though there are some silly slapstick gags that at least will delight kids, the overall story is sweet and exciting enough for all ages with a rousing Celtic score from Patrick Boyle and a manageable running time of about 90 minutes.

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Consensus: Good for kids and adults, Pixar’s Brave is a beautifully animated film that arguably doesn’t reach the complexity of their previous movies, but is filled with strong characters and a heartfelt story that comes highly recommended.  ***1/2 (Out of 4)

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