Once upon a time, there lived a princess in a castle… think you know the rest? About one third into Pixar’s latest, you’ll probably think you do, but as with all good storytelling, nothing is what it seems. And what seems like a straight forward story about a princess and her suitors turns out to be something else entirely. And we all should thank Mark Andrews, Pixar, Disney, and Disney’s marketing department for keeping it a secret.
Anyone that was concerned about another misstep from the people who brought you ‘Up’, ‘Toy Story’, ‘Wall-E’, ‘Finding Nemo’, ‘Ratatouille’, and ‘The Incredibles’ can rest assured. ‘Brave’ is firmly in the win column, and only improves upon their already high batting average. It belongs far more in the same breath as those than it does with ‘A Bug’s Life’ or ‘Cars’. It has everything you’ve come to expect from them, including but not limited to breathtaking visuals, relatable, enriched characters, strong, effective storytelling and vast, deep emotion.
Disney has built much of its legacy on telling stories about princesses. Pixar, who finally got around to taking a stab at it, manage not only to pay tribute to the path that’s been paved, but cut their own way. ‘Brave’ echoes ‘Mulan’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ but only barely. Their princess, Merida, has higher concerns and feels more modern than many to come before her. On a design level, she immediately becomes iconic; her lush, almost-unbelievable red locks pop off the screen in every scene (and I saw it in 2D). Her motivations and character growth are pure, if a bit hazy on a grander scale. ’Brave’ is a storybook come to life, with much of what you’d expect from such a film. It includes castles, an evil witch, magic, horses, kings and queens - but never does it feel redundant or derivative.
Like Merida herself, ‘Brave’ isn’t interested in finding love. Well, not the love you’re expecting anyway. Where a lesser film would be about Merida breaking out on her own, not wishing to settle down with a prince, the focus is instead on [SPOILERS HERE IN] the mother-daughter relationship. It’s one that isn’t often explored in these types of stories, but makes logical sense as a conflict. That and it’s entirely relatable as an allegory for modern mother-daughter relationships.
Pixar and Disney did such a fantastic job at keeping this aspect a secret, that it comes as a genuine shock when the Queen turns into a bear (there I said it). It’s the opposite of the complaints lobbed at ‘Prometheus’ and should become a new standard in Hollywood. Showing only the first act in the ads and trailers allows for a much more resonant, genuine and complete film. The full-bleed emotion catches you off guard and registers hard. ‘Brave’ isn’t even overly complicated, it doesn’t have many plot twists after that first major one, but because you’re not able to get there before the movie does it becomes more powerful. [END OF SPOILERS]
There’s a certain lack of subtlety that may turn some viewers off. Early on and then less throughout, there are some painful, slapstick-y moments that seem to be out of another film or belonging to another animation studio. They’re somewhat far and in between and are surely there for younger viewers, but to a more mature palette (with a perhaps skewed version of Pixar in their heads) it can be bothersome.
In a lot of ways, ‘Brave’ lives up to its title. It bucks many trends of typical fairytale princess stories, while operating within the system. One can only hope its marketing plan sets a precedent in the industry. It’s unlikely but movies would be better off for it. Pixar, keep up the good work.