I have to admit for the outset that for the first time ever heading in to a screening of a Pixar movie, I was worried. We have had some exceptional movies from this band of storytellers that stretch from talking toys, lost fish and romantic robots but never have they attempted something so main stream, a traditional fairytale.
The story of Brave takes place in 10th century, medieval Scotland as we follow teenager Merida as she battle to conform to her Mother, Queen Elinor’s wishes for her to prepare to become a proper princess. Instead, Merida prefers to explore the Highlands of Scotland and shoot anything going with her bow and arrow. Merida is a strong willed character and the first time that Pixar have attempted to use a Heroine as its main protagonist. And a good one she makes too! Just enough bravery to make her likeable and just enough Kevin the Teenager to make her believable. The movie opens well as we see young Merida with her playful mother and father Fergus (portrayed by Scottish comedian Billy Connolly), setting us up for what is to come and ultimately play a large part of the rest of the movie.
For the first 20 minutes I sat in the small screen goosebump after goosebump over the sumptuous imagery that looked like it had been taken from a watercolour artists best portfolio. If nothing else, this film will do wonders for tourism in the Highlands. The scenery created by these Pixar geniuses was stunning, breathtaking even. It shows that research really does pay off. The music, by Pixar newcomer Patrick Doyle, has a lilting Scottish feel. I didn’t leave the theatre humming any particular tune but that mix of celtic drums, strings, flutes and bagpipes will certainly get your feet tapping. It adds to the feel of the movie and is almost the driving heartbeat of the narrative at times.
I go back to my feeling of trepidation as I took my seat. Would Pixar pull this off? The auditorium lights dimmed and we were encouraged to don our 3D glasses as the obligatory Pixar short began to role. On this occasion, La Luna, the story of 3 generations whose job it is to look after the moon. It won’t give anything away but all I’ll say is if you are running a few minutes late for the movie don’t feel too disheartened if you miss it. It is by far the poorest short I have seen by Pixar. This, of course, didn’t allay my fears for a new direction for Pixar. 20 minutes in and my fears had not alleviated. It had so far shown itself as a good “Disney” movie. A film that quite easily sits itself in the Disney back catalogue as another good film for the Walt Disney Company but not the reason that Disney bought Pixar.The innovation of Pixar had yet to shine thorough. A run of the mill fairytale that the Disney company could have done themselves. But, just like any other Pixar movie, the film had only just got going and the next hour and 20 minutes was a roller coaster. One of real surprises I found was that although we had seen so many trailer about the movie, none truly touched on the main essence of the story and, unlike some trailers, hadn’t revealed the funniest parts of the film. It was a pleasant feeling to be sat in a movie theatre and see a film where the direction wasn’t heading in the way the trailer could have predictably set out. It seems that Pixar had learnt from what Disney do best. They took all the best elements from the Disney fairytale vault, added some of the sparkling gems we know Pixar have and created a movie they should be proud of. Sure, it isn’t the tear jerker that was Toy Story 3 and it is in no way as ground breaking but what it shows it that Pixar really can handle anything. It takes some of the best story and character elements of Mulan and Brother Bear, adds in the visual spectacular of UP and the humour of Toy Story to develop a whole new type of fairytale experience.
The film, at 100 minutes, never drags. I never found myself wishing it would end and the pace of the story and the humour was constant throughout. With a who’s who of British talent in the film , it stays real to its roots. Kelly McDonald does a wonderful job as the brooding teen, Emma Thompson as the stern mother and Billy Conolly as the drink swilling, bear fighting father Fergus. Mix in the talented Julie Walters and Robbie Coltrane and you certainly need to give the casting directors a pat on the back the next time you see them. And, don’t panic! Pixar’s lucky four leaf clover, John Ratzenburg makes an appearance too!
Although a family film, the movie does once again bring up some strong moral questions. It deals with such things as the rights and wrongs of arranged marriage, the consequences of taking things in to your own hands and the effects of pressurising parents, but all in a Pixar way. It also brings some of the most terrifying scenes from a Pixar movie since the Anglerfish in Finding Nemo and it is for these reasons that I’m not all that convinced that the film will spread to as wide an audience as many if its predecessors. Being so story driven, many of the points may get lost on a younger audience and you may find some small fidgety people around you in an afternoon, summer holiday screening. Although, the three bears will certainly bring them some entertainment value later in the movie.
Is it going to be the summer blockbuster smash Disney hope? It will certainly do well but with big name films such as Batman and Ice Age on it’s horizon it’s got some tough competition.Pixar at it’s best? No, but Pixar when below the standard they set in the 90s is still far beyond anything many other animation studios produce in a lifetime let alone in a year. Pixar have proved that they can adapt to fit an ever changing market. Over the next few years we return to Monstropolis, meet talking Dinosaurs and take a journey inside the mind. All totally different projects to Brave. Pixar have shown they can produce a fairtytale just as well as anyone else but I’m pleased to see they aren’t trying to steal the Disney crown, just play with it a little.
Brave, rated PG, will be released in Scotland on 4th August 2012 and then enjoy a UK wide release from 17 August 2012