All of Pixar’s greatest movies are so unique, even among the studio’s own body of work, that tying them together into one single formula of success is impossible. However, there is still a sole characteristic that unites them all, and that is one of the causes leading to the company’s astounding success: the unpredictability of their films’ premises.
Name any Pixar movie, dissect it to its bare bones and you will find a setting or starting point that seems unlikely to transform into a moving story that can be marketed to all audiences at the same time. An old man and his flying house embarking on an adventure to fulfill his deceased wife’s dream, monsters who work in a factory to produce energy out of children’s screams, a French rat with an odd passion for cooking, a family of superheroes, or a love story featuring two robots who communicate through beeps and sounds.
Premises and ideas that, in other companies, would have been shrugged off by money-thirst management find a warm place to flourish inside Pixar, frequently developing into movies worthy of appearing in any all-time best list of features.
At first glance, Brave is – at the same time – very bold and safe. It ventures into a terrain that is known to bear good fruits for well-done animation, the fairy tale realm, something that has been very successfully explored to death by the folks at the Disney Animation Studios. But, on the other hand, it is Pixar’s first attempt at the theme, and – as a consequence – the first time they allow a work of them to be directly compared to Disney’s most successful output.
Even though the movie does feature a female protagonist, something that has grown to be some sort of unspoken rule to most of the genre, from the get go Pixar decides to do something different: explore the relationship between a princess and her mother, something never done by Disney animation, as all of their female protagonists lack such figure in their lives.
And, for the first forty minutes or so, Pixar does their usual masterful job and ends up creating – in the relationship between Merida and her mother – the most compelling conflict their writers have ever been able to pen. Supported by her father, Merida has grown into a wild rebel who prefers to explore the dangerous locations of the movie’s impressive Scottish setting and practice with her bow than to wear dresses, eat politely and act like the mindless female her mother expects her to be.
Things are developed in Pixar’s usual good and sharp pace, punctuated by humorous segments, very engaging dialogue – the vocal conflict between Merida and her mother is the ultimate example of good writing – and heartwarming moments. Everything reaches its boiling point when three of the local kingdoms send their heirs to fight for Merida’s heart in a tournament, a tradition the spirited and free girl obviously cannot stand.
Up until that point, Brave is safely poised to be yet another classic by Pixar, but as the conflict reaches its peak and Merida stumbles upon a witch that – unbeknownst to the girl – promises to aid her in changing her fate by turning her mother into a bear, the enchanting promise of the first forty minutes falls apart.
Brave becomes predictable and leans more towards slapstick comedy and less to the incredible balance between humor and heart that Pixar tends to nail so perfectly. Instead of sending Merida off into some epic adventure to repair the damage she has done by breaking tradition, the movie narrows its focus on her attempts to stop her mother from getting killed while trying to mend their relationship and do away with the curse.
Merida’s incredible ability with the bow, the promising and well-done Scottish setting, and a fairy tale that could have taken serious advantage of the local folklore in order to reach huge proportions ends up being humble in its scope and unable to reach the same level of quality presented by other Pixar flicks. As soon as the queen turns into a bear, the ending and story development can be figured out by most people in the audience, and that is just not up-to-par with Pixar’s astonishing movie-making.
However, saying that Brave is a bad movie is extremely unfair. It clearly suffers from the troubles that happened during its production. The fact that the movie had – at different points – two writers with conflicting visions on what the movie would and be is apparent for anybody to see, and transforms the movie into a Frankenstein that is brilliant on its first half, but that bursts and falls onto the ground in a thud on its second act.
In the light of other Pixar releases that never failed to surprise, it is certainly lacking; in the light of the average animation movie that gets released, it is above average. Some of its elements – especially the magical part – are poorly tied together, but through its running time the movie will not fail to make its audience laugh out loud, hold their breaths in excitement, fall in love with its characters, and shed the occasional tear.
It produces many of the same emotions that movies like Toy Story 3, Up, and Wall-E did, even if it is not as tight and focused as those titles. It is great. However, it is a bitter disappointment to think that, whenever re-watching Brave (and it is a movie worthy of a few re-watches), dedicated Pixar fans will forever be haunted – in the very back of their heads – by the thoughts of what could have been. Sadly, Brave will go down as a movie that did not fulfill its potential.