I was once chastised by a six year old for not giving enough good reviews to animated films. This is kind of ridiculous for two reasons. The first being why the hell is a six year old reading my reviews in the first place (of course in all reality he was being prompted by his mother). The second reason that such a claim is ridiculous is my track record on reviewing animated films. I have been quite overwhelmingly positive on the ones I have chosen to review. From The Incredibles to Wall-E to Up to Rango to Spirited Away, The Triplets of Belleville and this year's Chico & Rita, I have far more often praised than panned. Granted, most of the animated films that come down the proverbial river go unreviewed by this critic, not because I dislike them but because I have so many other films to worry about, but those I have reviewed are treated well I will have you know. So with that being said, please allow me to continue this mostly positive spin with my review for Brave, and hopefully get all of these six year olds off my back.
The thirteenth feature from Pixar, as well as the first to showcase a female protagonist, Brave may not be in the upper echelon of the company's output (it lacks the whimsy of a Ratatouille, the sincerity of an Up, or the sentiment of the Toy Story films) but it is still a fun and rollicking good time to be had at the movies. Working as the studio's first true period piece, the film is set in the Scottish Highlands of the 10th century, and revolves around Merida, a fiery princess (her pluck and bravery as fiery as her brazen and bushy red locks) who wants to be the warrior her father is instead of the proper lady her mother so desires her to be. More attuned to Disney's past rather than Pixar's, adding to the film's lists of firsts, this also plays out as the studio's very first fairy tale and brings along an addition to Disney's already long line of patented princesses. But Brave also comes across as darker than past Pixar and Disney both. More in line with the sensibilities of a Grimm fairy tale, but still with a touch of requisite lightheartedness, the film becomes just the second Pixar film to receive a PG rating (The Incredibles being the first). Centralizing around the ideas of maternal relationships and deciding your own fate, the film plays out as a classic tale of both the love for adventure and the destinies designed for us all, and is quite reminiscent of old Hollywood and old Disney Studios. Probably more than any previous Pixar work.
After the rather dismal showing of the studio's last film, Cars 2 (yes, it made money but not the kind of money Pixar is used to, and it became the first of the studio's films to garner note even a single Oscar nomination), Brave was an important cog in the wheelhouse that is studio Pixar. And it succeeds by taking us on a fun ride with the bravura ginger heroine Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald, most famous lately for her role on Boardwalk Empire) and her peg-legged king of a father (the appropriately boisterous Billy Connolly and his barbaric yawp of a brogue) and bear of a mother (Emma Thompson, and the joke of that descriptive will be gotten once one sees the film) and the trio of bickering lords, who act as comic relief (Kevin McKidd, Craig Furguson and Robbie Coltrane). We also get the cameo voice of Pixar's very own good luck charm, John Ratzenberger, who has made an appearance in all thirteen of the studio's feature films. Though probably the best looking Pixar film to date (the studio completely revamped its animation system in preparation for this film), Brave may not make into the stratosphere of the Toy Story realms (the genuinely classic sentimentality of those films keep them in a league all themselves amongst the studio's output) but by no means should it be ignored. And I am sure all those six year olds, even with its darker side, will like it too.