You know it's been three years since there's been an original concept Pixar movie? That's a long time, and I think people had a lot of expectations, and probably apprehension, for this one. After all, medieval settings and princesses aren't really Pixar's thing, you can't really fit a Pizza Planet truck in there. Plus we have Disney releasing a movie full of video game characters later this year. Things seem a bit backwards. But hey, this is Pixar, and I've never given up on them.
Brave follows the exploits of Merida, the princess of a Scottish clan who is more content riding horses and shooting arrows than acting like royalty, much to the disdain of her mother, Elinor. After Merida refuses to play along in the betrothal ceremony that Elinor organises, their relationship is strained, and a chance encounter with some will-o'-the-wisps leads Merida to a catalyst for change that she desperately wants, but barely understands.
The story may seem simple on the surface, the trailer especially left me wondering what they could fill a whole movie with. But it seems like some key plot points were kept secret, and I was surprised with the direction the story took. What I thought would be a completely serious movie about a woman finding her bravery by hunting a giant bear turned out to be much more. There is still the bravery element, as implied by the title, but there are powerful themes of family, compromise and understanding. The story works on many layers, and they're all interwoven beautifully.
The animation, as expected, is flawless. Merida's ginger locks flow throughout, the Scottish countryside looks beautiful. Pixar revamped their whole animation system for the first time to make this, and it definitely shows. What they managed to do with the ocean in Finding Nemo, and space in Wall-E, they've finally managed to accomplish with land. This whole movie is just full of rich, detailed environments.
There's only one gripe I really had with Brave, it seems too fast paced most of the way through. While Merida and her family are very well fleshed out, which is the most important thing, there are other points that are just barely explained. There is a back story concerning a legend of an old kingdom that is only touched upon in passing tales, it left me wanting to know more about the mythology of this world. There's also a certain character that "helps" Merida who seems completely hollow. There's no explanation of her motivations, and I felt a lot more could have been done with the character. The movie itself is only 93 minutes long, so with an extra few scenes they really could have built up the elements that were lacking.
Still, Brave puts Pixar back on form after the good-but-not-so-great Cars 2. It's a new direction for them that they manage to pull off very well, with some great characters voiced by some great actors, and the new animation looks better than ever. Sure, it's not among their very finest work, but I certainly enjoyed it.
My rating: 4/5