Family Troubles in Disney/Pixar’s Brave

So, I saw Disney/Pixar’s Brave on Sunday.  And let me just say: it was gorgeous!  Visually it was absolutely stunning, and every other review I’ve read so far agrees on that point at the very least.  The scene design, the colors, the lighting, the character design – all rich and detailed and full of depth and emotion.  A feast for the eyes.  Art in motion.  Seriously.  It’s obvious that the animators took a lot of time to study Scotland’s landscapes, fell in love with it, and decided to share that love with the world (of course, who doesn’t fall in love with Scotland’s landscapes?)

Now, as for the rest of it.  I’ve read a few reviews that have been absolutely and completely glowing, but I think most people seem to agree with my general impression: while Brave was definitely enjoyable, and I liked it, the storytelling was simply not up to par with Pixar’s usual work.

The previews give you the basic premise: Princess Merida, with her boisterous, somewhat goofy father, the king, and her strict, prim and proper mother, the queen, is supposed to choose a first-born son from one of the other clans to marry.  But Merida is head-strong and boisterous like her father, enjoys the unladylike pursuits of horseback riding and archery, and has no intention of getting married any time soon.  So she goes to a witch (always a bad idea) to get a spell that will “change her fate.”  As always in these things, she doesn’t quite get what she’d intended and things go downhill from there.

What I liked about this movie was that it was family-centered.  The drama and conflict is between a headstrong daughter and her strict mother; it is about a family that is tearing itself apart because the mother believes in upholding tradition and the daughter wants to break away and “make her own fate.”  There is no prince in this story, there is no romance sub-plot and there isn’t even really a “real villain.”  It’s all about the family.  And I liked that.

I also really liked Merida.  She’s feisty and strong and stubborn and smart.  And, of course, she’s flawed and makes some less-than-stellar choices.  However, I don’t think the writers give her enough to do, quite frankly.  While I liked the idea of a conflict centered on the family, there just wasn’t enough going on in this movie.  And I think the mother, Queen Elinor, kind of steals the show.  In a lot of ways she’s as much the main character as Merida is.

Some people have complained about the way the father, King Fergus, is portrayed.  He is a bit goofy, a bit hapless, and it is clear very quickly that Queen Elinor is the one in charge of that particular household.  And some people have not been happy about that, complaining that this portrayal makes the father an idiot, which is an insult to fathers (I would imagine that complaint mainly comes from men).  But here’s the thing: I don’t think they make King Fergus an idiot.  He’s big and loud and friendly.  He’s a warrior who’s more comfortable on the battlefield or hunting, rather than playing diplomat or administrator.  Queen Elinor just happens to be the one who’s better at the social niceties, the administrative duties and the public speaking.  That doesn’t make Fergus an idiot.  And, let’s be frank, it is very common for the father to be the fun-loving, I-don’t-want-to-discipline-the-children type, and for the mother to be the one in charge of keeping the family under control.

All that being said, the plot was a bit formulaic.  A princess that refuses to choose a husband, making a wish that backfires, etc… it’s all be done before.  Of course, everything’s been done before, and there’s nothing wrong with taking an old premise and building something new on top of it, but I don’t think Pixar did a particularly good job of building something new on top of it this time around.

While I enjoyed the movie, and it was certainly a pleasure to look at, it was not particularly riveting, or emotionally impactful, or even particularly new.  And it certainly won’t be replacing any of my current favorites.  In terms of family-centered drama, it comes nowhere close to either Finding Nemo or The Incredibles (my two favorite Pixar movies).  And in terms of feisty female leads, or humor, it can’t even touch Mulan or Tangled.

So, in recap: Brave was fun, it was beautiful to look at, I enjoyed it, and I definitely recommend it if you like Disney/Pixar movies, but don’t expect it to blast any earlier Disney/Pixar movies out of the water.

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4 thoughts on “Family Troubles in Disney/Pixar’s Brave

  1. While I agree with all of your criticisms – in particular that this is not top-tier Pixar – I have to say I loved this movie. I think in many ways it’s aimed at mothers more than children. There is this odd thing that happens: you know they are Not You, and have their own lives and desires that are different from yours, but on some level it puzzles the daylights out of you when they don’t understand what you’re saying to them. My daughter’s only 8 (and she’s not going to be forced to marry anybody!), but I hit this dynamic with her already. I took “Brave” as a reminder that loving your children despite not understanding them doesn’t mean you lose them.

    • I can agree with that, and even add that it can also be read as a reminder to children that even if you’re parents don’t quite understand you, they still love you – which some children sometimes forget.

  2. Honestly, I think the plot was emotional but there could’ve been a bigger magical subplot. The witch tried to use her spiffy magic to take over the kingdom (not entirely unique but it still would’ve been more) or something. I think that’s what the story lacked overall. The rest was brilliant and funny, but not quite on par with movies like Finding Nemo or WALL-E.

  3. Pingback: Writing Blog Treasures 6~30 | Gene Lempp ~ Writer

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