Starring Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly
Expectations are a funny thing. I initially walked out of Megamind thinking that I might have a new favorite animated movie. Upon later reflection, I realized this was mostly because I walked in planning to roll my eyes for two hours and got to see a well told story instead. Brave risks falling on the other side of that spectrum for audiences. It's a good movie that everyone expects to be the usual Pixar brilliant.
I know I'm not supposed to be reviewing the audience, but I'm mostly just stalling. Y'see, Brave is just the hardest kind of movie to talk about: it isn't amazing, but not because there's anything significantly wrong with it. It just..isn't amazing.
Our heroine is Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a free-spirited Scottish princess who, like all free-spirited movie princesses, is being forced by age-old customs to choose a husband. The main voice behind said customs is her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). When Merida becomes fed up with her destiny, she seeks out the help of an oddly un-witch-like witch to change. Things go horribly wrong, and Merida must look past her own pride to make things right.
Most of us had Merida's character pinned down upon seeing the first trailer, and she's the first non-amazing thing about the film. She's rebellious, she likes boy things, she just wants to live her life free of social constraint. What elevates her considerably is just how charming the writing, the voice-acting, and the visuals (particularly her stunningly animated hair) manage to make her. She's cliché, but certainly not bland, and very likable. It also helps that the "warrior princess" angle is mostly played down in favor of a more "obsessed with freedom" personality. She's more of a medieval hippie, as opposed to just being Xena.
Equally loveable is her father Fergus, voiced by Billy Connolly, and three devious younger brothers Harris, Hubert, and Hamish. They work well as comic relief characters and are able to consistently enhance the movie with some real laughs. Queen Elinor, who is more of a second protagonist than a side character, starts out typical but ends up being one of the more memorable roles of the movie. I won't spoil how.
I imagine most of us also had the general story arc pinned down from the first trailer, but that's only half true. We do get plenty of moralizing about how Merida should have the right to choose who she loves, determine her own destiny, blah blah blah. Is there really anyone in our culture who needs to hear this again? What the movie does particularly well, however, is that we get the other side of that coin. Merida's marriage is part of what holds her society together.
By rebelling, she is putting her entire country at risk, all for what she wants for herself. This is one of the few movies of this type that really addresses that issue, and the story is by far at its strongest when it takes center stage. It's also how Merida comes to realize that this makes her a much more sympathetic character at the tail end of the movie.
If there's one real flaw about this film, it's that it doesn't realize its own potential. Out of all of Pixar's movies, Brave has by far the most adult atmosphere. It's really a shame that they didn't take advantage of that and make the plot reflect that level of depth and complexity. The atmosphere means that this film doesn't have the same colorful cast of characters we usually get in this kind of fair, and the movie is never really able to replace them with anything else. It's either a kids movie that feels too down-to-earth, or an adults movie that's too kid friendly.