Pixar has created all sorts of unique and engaging characters, from a dim-witted tow truck to a rat inclined toward the culinary arts. And who could forget WALL-E, the endearing robot with the most soul-wrenching eyes in the galaxy? This Friday audiences will be introduced to a protagonist unlike any other in Pixar’s 26-year tenure as the king of computer animation: a girl.
Brave is Pixar’s first attempt at a traditional fairy tale, and it’s also the company’s first attempt at a female main character. That’s not to say that the Pixar canon is overly masculine or that their films lack beloved ladies (Dory, anyone?), but it is a tad embarrassing that it’s taken the beloved animation studio this long to focus on a female.
Like other Disney princesses, Brave’s carrot-headed heroine Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is at odds with her parents. Unlike the princesses I grew up with in the ’90s, however, Merida’s primary opposition is her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson). (A departure from the characters of Disney’s Golden Age, who typically lost their mothers and/or had more significant relationships with their fathers — a trend that, frankly, seemed unrealistic.) A tomboy and expert bowman, Merida balks at the constant princess lessons her mother imposes on her. When her parents arrange a tournament between the eldest sons of their kingdom’s tribes to decide who will be her betrothed, Merida seeks desperately for a way to change her fate. Her “solution,” however, has unforeseen consequences.
Directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman (who co-wrote the film with Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi) have created a character in Merida who acts more like a prince than a princess. They also include a good number of what I can really only describe as bar brawls, I guess to distract the boys in the audience. None of this changes the fact that by building their film around a mother-daughter relationship — arguably the most important relationship in a young girl’s life — Andrews/Chapman and Pixar are taking an important step in breaking down one-dimensional images of women and girls so prevalent in the media.
The focus on internal struggles rather than battles with arch-villains in typical of Pixar, as is the film's stunning visual landscape, full of texture and vivid colors. That said, I wasn’t as thrilled with the overall story of Brave. The first act goes on too long, leaving the eventual resolution a tad underdeveloped. It’s as if the directors were so focused on the setup, they forgot to fully developing the transitioning relationship between Merida and Elinor. Minor characters suffer as well — particularly King Fergus (Billy Connolly), who is meant as comic relief but quickly becomes irksome in his obliviousness.
Pacing and character problems aside, I greatly enjoyed the mother-daughter center of Brave, and I'm glad kids will get to see a film that has such strong female characters, but still finds time to pile up the laughs. Visually stunning, funny, raucous and with strong ladies at its core, Brave is basically Bridesmaids for kids. Minus all the bodily fluids, of course.