I suppose justification for the claim that Pixar is losing its creative steam could be the fact that I completely forgot they released a film last year, the critically panned yet financially fruitful Cars 2. While Pixar had a flawless four-film run with Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3 (disclaimer: personally I’d consider it a Trifecta, leaving Ratatouille out), their links to the immensely unsuccessful and underwhelming John Carter, the rumblings of creative qualms with parent company Disney, and the fact that more franchise sequels and spinoffs than original ideas are being greenlit do not bode well for everyone.
Regardless, Pixar remains the creme of the crop in computer animation, and every film they produce is worth attention (well, apparently not Cars 2). Their newest film, Brave, is both their first addition to the Disney Princess canon and their first film with a female protagonist. Controversy surrounded the film prior to its release, when director Brenda Chapman (The Prince of Egypt) was booted in lieu of Pixar handyman Mark Andrews. Change in director is a Pixar norm, but to some grabbing the creative reins from a female director, especially Pixar’s first, cries sexism.
Nothing to fear on that front, though: Brave’s protagonist, Merida, is not only a strong female role model that is both archetypally idealistic and realistically flawed, but provides a refreshing change of pace in the “boy’s club” of Pixar’s filmography. She is a Disney Princess with a tomboy demeanor classic, albeit cliche, problems: she is a princess with responsibilities she would rather not take on, looking for a way to change her fate. Of course, she acquires the means to do so, and drama ensues. What follows is a classic Disney story told with the Pixar touch, and the result is lush, exciting, yet ultimately forgettable.
Pixar hits most of its marks here: the animation is gorgeous and at times unbelievable, with an impeccable attention to detail; they do not need name name-brand actors to provide excellent voice performances; the numerous archetypes are given a refreshing and sometimes cynical touch; and most notably they know how to play with your emotions from scene to scene. Pixar’s virtual cinematographers continue to raise the bar in animation, crafting shots and sequences that simultaneously emulate real life while doing things a real camera could never do. The Scottish setting is also interesting, and makes not only for some hilarious gags, but also a focus on folklore and traditional music.
All things considered, Brave simply is not as compelling as Pixar’s best. While the story has a lot of potential, it is not executed as well as it could be, with its messages shoehorned in without much subtlety, and plot points feel rushed through, a story without a natural flow. The mother-daughter dynamic provides the film with a touching emotional core, but the lack of a convincing conflict leaves more to be desired. Some critics say that the film connects more to female viewers, specifically regarding the mother-daughter bond, who get more out of the film. There is no way I can say if that would be true for me, so as it stands I consider Brave entertaining yet nothing exceptional.