In the years after Pixar's 2006 weak link, Cars, and before last year's unnecessary sequel, Cars 2, Pixar had been on a role with a stretch of what I consider the four most daring and moving films of their nearly spotless track record: Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, and Toy Story 3. I think Toy Story 3 may have marked the end of an era for Pixar, thought it's probably a little early to say what the next phase will be.
Their latest offering, Brave, directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, plays it safer than, say, Up, but is still a very good movie. It's a thrilling and imaginative Careful-What-You-Wish-For fairy tale, with kind of the anti-Disney Princess as the heroine. It's the story of Merida (Kelly MacDonald), a fiery young Scottish princess whose interests lie in adventure and archery. Her mother (Emma Thompson) doesn't believe her lifestyle is behavior becoming of a princess. When Merida is promised, against her will, to marry one of the princes from the neighboring clan, she rebels, and goes off on a search for her true destiny.
One thing I like about Brave was that the emotional center of the story is a Mother-Daughter relationship. Something I'm sure I've seen in a movie, but for the life of me, I can't think of one, they're so uncommon. Merida stumbles across a witch's shop, and makes a wish that ultimately forces her to work with her mother to undo the consequences.
Merida was a refreshing Princess character. Truly a free spirit, with a gorgeously rendered, tangled mess of orange hair as untamed and fiery as her personality. She's not interested in finding her prince, at least not right now, and she's certainly not interested in these dudes. I liked that they made her strong and independent without resorting to making it a gag. Admittedly, I didn't see Disney's Tangled, but the previews made it look like they were going, "look, she's a princess and she needs rescuing!... but wait! She knows kung fu! That's not like a princess! HAHAHAHA!" Like it's shocking and crazy that a girl is into that stuff. I'm a huge fan of Disney's Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, but Merida is the first Disney Princess that I'd actually want my daughter (if I had one) to look up to. Ok, maybe Mulan would be fine, but I really don't want to have to listen to that Eddie Murphy dragon character, alright? Plus, she still had to dress as a boy to be awesome, right? Merida doesn't.
The animation is, of course, beautiful and innovative. I doubt that's even worth mentioning, since it's expected of Pixar at this point. Even Cars 2 had innovations. There's so much to look at on the screen besides the story, everything from the grass and foliage of the Scottish Highlands, to the light reflecting off a bear's wet fur.
Brave is a good movie, and I think up to Pixar's standards. The problem is, they set the bar for themselves insanely high with those 4 bold movies. I thought it was certainly as good as some of the early ones, such as Monsters, Inc. We might have to accept that they can't all be Ratatouille and just appreciate that they're still better than most other stuff. Next year's Pixar film is yet another sequel, Monsters University. I'm sure it will be good, but we'll only know what the next phase of the life of Pixar will be when we see what originals they have up their sleeves in the coming years. I still have faith in them.