Film Review: Brave
Pixar aficionados will no doubt remember the mantra set out by Messrs Lasseter, Doctor and Stanton during the hallowed maiden voyage regarding a story of certain toys. The dogme in question? “no ‘I Want’ moment, no songs, no ‘Happy Village’ and no love story”. Brave may not have a ‘love story’ per-se (besides a maternal one, sort of counts) but the film sees Pixar in some fashion giving into the rules it set out to dodge. It even has its ‘I Want’ song in the form of a soaring ballad courtesy of Julie Fowlis. What is proven here however is a maturity in the core concept of an unruly teenager unwittingly setting in motion potentially destructive events, but where there is an oiled machine, some bozo with a spanner can’t be far.
Merida has all the yearning and restlessness of Ariel and she’s lovingly rendered with millions of vibrant ginger curls like a caricatured Lily Cole. Vocally Kelly McDonald provides the right blend of highland verve and the youthful pop to bring Merida to life. Her efforts are notable although cracks in her vocal performance are to be aimed at the director rather than the actress; lines that really ought to be whispered or at least spoken in hushed tones are telegraphed broadly and lose their impact. Furthermore, it doesn’t help that the comedic beats that are prized in Pixar’s stable are so incessant here. Not one scene can play without something crashing, banging or whomping through any sober moment. After the twenty-third bout between lug-headed Dingwall and Macintosh (the latter named for Pixar founding father Steve Jobs) clans, the abundance of levity becomes tiresome.
The many fact-finders that Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman’s (the film’s former director, still receives a credit) teams does show as their impressionistic Scottish vistas of sunset burnished scrubland and foggy mountains register an accurate (if superficial) authenticity. Elsewhere, timeworn Scottish stereotypes are played for laughs (re: kilt gags) and Kevin McKidd voices a young suitor with an impenetrable brogue (a no-BS reading played up for bemused Californians) and Merida’s steed is called Angus (Scottish, obviously). The downside of such a fervent attention to detail only highlights obvious localisations to counter non-Scot confusion. “I’m as nekkid as a wee ‘bah-bey”. Well, it seems that three ‘bairns’ that turn into bear cubs is would have been a tongue twister too far for the non-initiated (yet Jock in Lady and the Tramp say’s ‘wee bairn’).
At times Brave ends up evoking memories of Disney’s Pocahontas, wherein the attempt to shift from goofy toons’ to earnest fable-making was offset by an awkward allegiance to a bumbling racoon and his hummingbird sidekick. Brave similarly shuffles between a story of mother-daughter bonding whilst cracking too many kilts and goolies gags (a witch with a answerphone cauldron is a contemporary tie-in to far). The jokes toe a line of crudity that is hardly becoming (boob jokes, really?) and whilst any successful attempt of lightness is welcomed, enough is at times, enough. If you’re going to impress upon us a newfound maturity, you do have grim it up and act the part.