Up: those who loved it and those who hated it. Being a member of the later camp my expectations for Brave were guarded at best. I think it is because of this that I enjoyed it as much as I did.
This isn’t to say that Brave wasn’t good in it’s own right. As an animated movie that is marketed to children it’s very enjoyable to an older audience. It contains a lot of references to timeless fairy tales that I think today’s youth don’t get anymore. And the overall theme is much more mature than the mindless drivel featured in other children’s films. My disappointment is based on the fact that Pixar has set the bar so incredibly high with past films like WALL-E (my favorite), Monsters Inc. and the like that they now struggle to reach that bar.
First, here’s what’s good about Brave: it’s definitely catered to a more mature audience. As an adult, I appreciated the vaguely Hans Christian Anderson feel of the fairy tale. I understood the message about the complex relationship between mothers and daughters and it hit home on a very real level since I took my mom to see it. Like all great dramas, the primary conflict is one caused and rectified by the main character herself- there’s no real bad guy in this so the story arc is more meaningful. And on a simpler level, it’s about damned time that Pixar featured a female protagonist.
And Pixar does treat its first female with the respect she deserves. Yes- she’s a great archer and she is, of course, brave. But in the end what shines in her are the same traits that females throughout history have exemplified: her oratory abilities, the care she takes in keeping the family together and her ability to bring peace to the hot-headed men who might start a war without the calming influence of their wives and daughters. (And her sewing skills prove pretty damned valuable, too!) She’s a great heroine, not a great girl beating guys at their own macho games. That's a vitally important distinction that I think other films (Mulan, anybody?) have missed.
Also, as a love song to Scottish culture it does ok. I loved the Scottish brogues, the music, the kilts, the beautiful countryside, the Highland games, the tapestries (one of which serves as a main plot point), even the infamous haggis makes an appearance. And will-o’-the-wisps have never looked cuter, I’m just waiting for those stuffed animals to pop up in the Disney store.
But here’s where Brave fails where WALL-E and others have succeeded: it’s forgettable. It’s not that a robot experiencing human emotions and yearning to be loved was so radical, but the way that WALL-E brought it to life sticks with you in your soul. And it’s not that a monster with a heart of gold is brand new (though I would argue the universe in which that monster lived certainly was); but Boo and Sulley made a permanent imprint on my heart. (BTW, how excited was I to see a preview for the prequel featuring Mike and Sulley’s antics in college?!? I will SO be seeing that!) These movies made an impact on me that have lasted for years (maybe forever).
It’s the elusive Pixar magic that other companies have tried and failed to reproduce (though Illumination, the company that created Despicable Me, may be taking the helm on that) and Brave just doesn’t have it. It was cute, it was whimsical and it had a good message for mature audiences (at least mature audiences who love their mothers but are driven crazy by them). But it lacked the Pixar magic that made previous movies so amazing and at the end of the day that will confine it to a less stellar line-up of films. However, to be fair let me conclude by saying this: if the worst thing you can say about a Pixar film is that it wasn't as mind-blowingly wonderful as WALL-E, that's not too bad.