Missed its mark: A review of “Brave”

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Rating: Two and a half out of four stars

Pixar has been the juggernaut of animation for over a decade now. Things like cutting edge production values, stellar voice talent, clever writing, funny humor and relatable themes made their films critical and audience darlings. Unfortunately, I feel there have been enough warning signs to make me think they are running out of ideas. Last year’s “Cars 2” was the biggest red flag and while “Brave” is nowhere near that level of incompetent, it is one of their weaker outings.

“Brave” focuses on Princess Merida, a feisty girl with wild red hair who wants nothing more than freedom to explore the world and perfect her archery. When her mother tries to arrange suitors to marry off Merida, she seeks a way to change her fate. After an intense opening sequence and promise for something epic, “Brave” goes for a smaller-scale story that, despite best intentions, never sets its sights high. The film simply wants to be light entertainment for kids, which is a shame given how approachable previous Pixar films like “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles” are for all ages.

The biggest issue with “Brave” is that it feels like a second-rate Dreamworks film. It asks to be taken seriously but then slams the audience with nonstop goofiness that throws off the tone. There are wacky side characters like the little brothers that are only there to be wacky, anachronistic references that aren’t funny, a villain that only comes into the plot when necessary and at least three music video montages. And yes, because it is in Scotland there is at least one haggis joke. Sometimes there is a good chuckle or touching moment, but most of the time the film is too slapstick and directionless to earn genuine laughs or pathos.

That said, there are a fair amount of things to praise “Brave” for. It is well animated, and the music is quite rousing with its use of classic Scottish tunes. There are a couple of fun action scenes that create genuine suspense thanks to strong sound design. The voice acting is top notch, although most people will be unfamiliar with actors like Kelly Macdonald, Craig Ferguson and Emma Thompson. And while Merida was a decent enough lead character, I found the dad Fergus, played by Billy Connolly, to be more likable. He is an earnest character with oafish swagger and gusto line delivery that he made even his weaker moments charming.

If you are eager to see a film with your kids, this is a good option. If you are expecting another Pixar gem, this is not one of them. “Brave” is never a terrible film, but with the potential it displayed it should have been a much better movie.

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