PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

June 22, 2012

Pixar gets “Brave”

Sean McBride
The Port Arthur News

— Pixar Animation has an unprecedented string of artistic and commercial hits — marred only by the debatable mediocrity of last summer’s “Cars 2.” This is the studio that gave us such groundbreaking animated fare as “Toy Story,” “The Incredibles,” “Up” and “Wall-E,” so it’s no surprise that when they release a new movie, film critics and audiences both get quite excited.

The new Pixar film is “Brave,” and while it doesn’t quite live up to my hopeful expectations, this is still a superb example of brilliant animation and solid storytelling. What’s more, this is the first Disney-style princess movie in years that feels like it’s created with modern sensibilities. “Brave” isn’t the story of some disempowered maiden passively waiting to be rescued by her Prince Charming, but rather a genuine adventure tale featuring a headstrong young woman who causes her own trouble, and then uses her own wits and skills to put things right.

Kelly MacDonald gives voice to the film’s heroine, Merida. She’s a fiery-haired Scottish princess who loves horseback riding and archery and bristles whenever her mother (Emma Thompson) suggests that she act more like a typical princess. Rather than agree to an arranged marriage with one of her goofy highland suitors, Merida foolishly asks a witch (Julie Christie) for a spell to change her mother’s mind. Sure enough, mom changes, in more than just her mind. Now it’s up to Merida to break the spell before it’s too late.

“Brave” ends up being a rousing adventure story with a little highland magic and a lot of typical sidekick character humor. The story is thoroughly entertaining, both for adults and their kids, although it’s not as high-minded as many of Pixar’s other films. I don’t have any issues with a film simply being wonderfully entertaining, but fans looking for another Pixar gem will come away mildly disappointed.

That’s not the case with the animation, which is frequently awe-inspiring. The Scottish forests and badlands are filled with incredible details, eclipsed only by the daunting achievement of animating Merida’s wild bramble of curly hair. As is frequently the case, Pixar once again leads the industry with their state-of-the-art animation.

But the biggest achievement here is that refreshingly modern young heroine. Feminists have long argued that Disney princesses promote unrealistic gender norms while mom and dad have lamented Disney’s insistence on killing off one or both or the princesses’ parents in most of their stories. That’s not the case in “Brave.” Merida is almost a modern teenager with well-defined desires and the ability to go out and achieve her goals. Perhaps most satisfying is the fact that “Brave” is ultimately a story about a daughter’s love for her mother.

I found “Brave” to be quite moving, although with a name like Michael Sean McBride I’m almost genetically predisposed to like anything with a Celtic flair. That being said, I think most families will love the film as well, even if it doesn’t quite rise to the unrealistic standards set by some of Pixar’s other films.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.