The latest offering from the pedigree powerhouse of animation that is Pixar is always an event. Even if it doesn’t always turn out top-notch, as was the case with their last outing Cars 2, you still nevertheless know you’re in safe hands to get an enjoyable experience.
The latest from the studio is Brave, set in a mythical version of Scotland, featuring a largely Scottish voice cast and is the first outright fairy tale they have attempted. The result is far from their best effort but nevertheless a very entertaining adventure.
The story follows Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), a young Princess who one day is told by her controlling mother (Emma Thompson) and conforming father (Billy Connolly) that she has to marry the winner of a series of games held at the castle. Not wanting to lose her freedom, Merida defies her mother by running away and eventually happening upon a mysterious witch (Julie Walters) who, upon request from the Princess, casts a spell over her mother. But it doesn’t exactly go to plan and Merida must then rely on her own bravery to try and undo the spell.
It must first be said that visually Brave is absolutely stunning, bringing the world to life in a crisp and heavily-detailed fashion that at times looks so real you could be forgiven for thinking it was actually live-action with CGI characters imposed onto it. It offers a rich and epic feast for the eyes and is one of those films where you could take any frame from it and hang it on your wall it’s so beautiful. The level of loving craftsmanship that is so clearly poured into the visuals cannot be understated or misunderstood.
The voice casting is also spot on. Macdonald is exceptional as the Princess who needs to discover her inner courage, a brilliant creation by Pixar with her flowing curly red hair (the signature colour of the film), the quintessential Princess character but one who can take care of herself and isn’t just there to be the damsel in distress for the knight in shining armour to come along and rescue. She might be the best role model the studio has produced yet.
There’s pitch-perfect casting to be found elsewhere too, with the likes of Connolly as Fergus, the King who wants to keep the peace with the determined Queen and never shuts up about getting revenge on the bear that took his leg, and Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane and Kevin McKidd on fine-form as the leaders of the other clans come to offer their sons to marry the Princess.
The issue which ultimately holds Brave back from being in the top-tier of Pixar’s body of work is that it is disappointingly formulaic in nature. Sticking to a strict fairy tale structure it’s not that difficult to predict how things are going to end up. Despite some twists and turns along the way, the final destination feels all too inevitable and that’s something we’re not used to seeing from the folks who brought us Toy Story, Up and Ratatouille.
Also, the film sometimes relies on cutesy aspects to get by, such as Merida’s three younger triplet brothers who run around the castle and “get away with murder,” as she puts it. Undoubtedly they provide some of the films purest laughs but it almost feels like a cheat in some cases. We’ve been conditioned by Pixar to expect better.
Having said that, Brave is still a supremely fun adventure film, exuding passion and love for its characters, mythical setting and fairy tale foundations. The biggest attention-grabber for Scotland (albeit the postcard version) since Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, this is one of the most fun films to come along this year, hitting you with as many gags as it does sweeping action scenes. It may not be the most unpredictable of films and certainly not Pixar’s best but nevertheless offers much to enjoy.
Brave is released in UK cinemas on August 17th.