(I won’t be spoiling the plot development at the start of the 2nd act which drives the remainder of the narrative- It’s not exactly a huge twist, but still)
I loved this movie. LOVED IT. It was rough around the edges in some ways, which I suspect will gain it a reputation as a lesser Pixar effort- a notion I disagree with. I disagree because the emotional impact that the film had on me was so extraordinary that I am willing to overlook a bunch of minor flaws. I’m writing this the morning after seeing it and I’m still getting teary-eyed just thinking about certain scenes from it. Brave was easily my favorite movie of the year so far, and I’m desperate to see it again (an opinion which I suspect will end up confusing some people just as much as it confuses me whenever anyone praises Prometheus).
Let’s start with the flaws. The movie begins and ends with an unnecessary voice-over. The word ‘Fate’ is said WAY too many times in this movie. The movie tends to be a bit more obvious in its meaning at times than other Pixar movies. Eg. A visual shot will communicate something perfectly, then a character will explain it out loud, just to make sure we get it. I found the first act a little shaky- The arguments with Merida and her Mother got tiresome (particularly a scene where they’re both pacing through the castle reciting what to say to each other- that scene really fell flat for me). There are times when the movie just gets noisy rather than good or funny. Mainly in the scenes showcasing the various clans of the Kingdom, which I felt were at times just noisy and irritating rather than funny. There is another scene which I felt would’ve benefited from being quiet-er, but I don’t want to spoil it. There are a lot of great laughs in this movie, but also a few that don’t work. So yes, it is a flawed film. I did get the sense that with a bit more work it would’ve become a real masterpiece, rather than just being very good. But unlike a LOT of other movies over the past few years the flaws here did not overwhelm or break the movie for me. Not by a long shot. For me there was much more good in this film than bad.
So onto the good- Merida is absolutely a brilliant protagonist. Second only to Wall-E for me on my list of favorite Pixar lead roles. She is a bit annoying at the start, but she has to be, because that’s part of her arc in the film. Even in that first act the film still makes you understand and care about the character. That created an emotional connection with me that sucked me into the film completely, which made me forgive a few problems and made me cry like a baby when the movie wanted me to. Sure, the movie does pretty blatantly try to pull the heartstrings, but generally I don’t really care how obvious emotional manipulation is as long as I think it is effective (which was why I loved War Horse, for example). There were certain moments of this movie where I was really choked up with tears. The movie made me care.
The visuals in this film are just phenomenal. I thought that Merida’s Mother seemed to have the “dead-eyes” syndrome in Act 1. But almost everything else in this movie looked amazing. While visuals alone can’t save a bad movie (which is what the detractors of this film will no doubt say), for me amazing visuals can elevate a pretty good film to being ‘VERY good’. Merida’s red hair just looked incredible (I’ve always had a passion for red hair, but even putting that aside- the animation is amazing). The evil bear looked phenomenal. So many shots in this movie just blew my mind, shots which I’d love to have hanging on my wall.
Onto the supporting cast- while the various clans the film introduces generally fell flat for me, Merida and her family generally worked very well (with some small exception). The three mischievous little brothers that Merida has were fantastic. I have read a review which complained that those three were too one-dimensional and didn’t have enough to do with the plot. But I disagree completely. I think sometimes it’s okay to have one-dimensional characters who exist only to be funny. Here it worked for me completely because the three little kids ARE very funny. They are one-note, sure (their one note is to be mischievous, relentlessly, in every scene they’re in), and you can’t tell them apart from each other. But they were damn cute and damn funny. Moments with them made my audience laugh almost as much as some of the Hulk gags in The Avengers. I think in terms of effective comic relief, Pixar deserves a bravo for these three little f*ckers.
My mind wants to crack down on this movie for the minor issues, but my heart was so thoroughly won over by it that I can’t. I think creating an emotional connection with the viewer is the best thing a movie can do (even more important than an intellectual connection, though I know that is very debatable). This movie told a simple story, but told it with excellent heart and soul, a few great characters, incredible visuals, good humor (more often than not, anyway), etc.
Sigh. What a freaking’ great movie. Judging from the less enthusiastic tone of the early reviews, I’ve got a long road ahead of me in defending it. But I loved the hell out of this. Again, my favorite film of the year so far.