Movie Review: Brave
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
You kinda wish Pixar would have taken some inspiration from the title of "Brave," its newest animated feature, and pushed the envelope a bit.
Instead, what appears from trailers, sneak peeks and omnipresent marketing to be the sprawling story of a feisty, renegade heroine comes across more like a very small and slightly above-average tale of a spoiled brat.
That brat is Merida, the film's lead character and a decidedly reluctant Disney princess. Like another recent teenage movie heroine, Katniss Everdeen of "The Hunger Games," Merida is handy with a bow. This skill continually leads her into trouble, first as a child, when an overshot arrow introduces her to the Scottish Highlands' will-o-the-wisps — ethereal, floating flames said to lead followers to their true destinies.
In the film's best scene, Merida uses her bow to great effect in an archery contest, temporarily stalling an arranged marriage. Unfortunately, it's a scene that has already been widely viewed on the Internet. After the film's slow start, though, it raises a viewer's hope that "Brave" is finally kicking into gear.
Plenty of action ensues, but it's all sound and fury, signifying too little, if not nothing. To further riff on the Shakespeare line, while the film's four — count ‘em, four — screenwriters are certainly not idiots, this tale is not told by Pixar's A-team.
Two of the writers (Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell) were responsible for "Cars," one of the weaker entries in the Pixar canon, and another (Brenda Chapman) was behind Dreamworks' tepid "The Prince of Egypt." Even Irene Mecchi, who co-wrote "The Lion King," couldn't lift this tale above its behind-the-scenes drama: The story is Chapman's, but she was replaced as director following creative differences.
Part of the problem is that although the film is being sold as sweeping and epic, it feels small — even claustrophobic at points. There are only a few set pieces, and, while they are meticulously and amazingly rendered, they are mostly gloomy and dark, an effect that's amplified by the murky shade cast on everything by those cursed 3-D glasses.
The biggest problem, though, is that this is the second Pixar production in a row missing a key ingredient: There was a time when any parent with a soul could count on surreptitiously removing the glasses and hiding wiped tears and muffled sobs from their children at some point during a Pixar film. But, as in "Cars 2," that emotional element is missing here. Nothing in "Brave" pulls the sadness lever like Andy heading off to college in "Toy Story" or pushes the soaring joy button like Carl's balloonified house taking to the skies in "Up."
The studio's shot at a mother-daughter bonding tale is admirable, but it has nowhere near the emotional heft of the father and son in "Finding Nemo."
Merida is beautiful, an amazing technical creation with fiery red hair not so much flowing in the wind as cutting through it like crinkly strips of construction paper from the inside of a gift bag. It's too bad there's no wondrous present hiding inside.
Kids will like "Brave." There's lots of action (some of it scary and violent — this is a darker Pixar effort than we're used to seeing) and plenty of comic relief.
It's just not close to a bullseye.
Contact Dale Roe at 912-5923. Twitter: @djroe