Review: Brave, dir. Brenda Chapman & Mark Andrews
On 13th August 2012, Disney Pixar will break with tradition with the release of their latest feature length animation, Brave. With Brenda Chapman at the helm, this new title marks the first Pixar film to be co-directed and co-written by a woman.
Chapman has a sterling background in animation, having previously worked on The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Lion King (1994) and directed The Prince of Egypt (1998). Alongside Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell, Chapman revisits the 90s Disney realm of feisty females who would find the passivity of their earlier counterparts utterly inconceivable.
Another huge break from Pixar tradition involves a departure from the usual focus on male dominated characters and stories. From Toy Story (1995) to the present day, Pixar have consistently produced films which focus on male characters. Although they have created some memorable female characters, most notably Jessie from Toy Story 2 (1999) and Dory from Finding Nemo (2003), they have never taken a female as their central protagonist. Whilst Pixar’s themes are universal, they have undoubtedly gravitated towards male centered relationships and stories. This, however, is all about to change.
Set in mythical Scotland, Brave tells the tale of princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) and her family. An extremely reluctant young royal, Merida rails against her mother’s finishing school-style teachings and steals away to ride horses, climb mountains and shoot arrows at every possible opportunity. After her parents rule that she must choose one of three possible suitors from neighbouring clans, Merida uses a spell to try to change her fate. Unfortunately, things don’t quite go to plan and Merida must make things right and undo the wicked spell before it’s too late.
One of the most striking aspects of the film is clear from the outset. With the landscape of Brave, Pixar have created a stunningly beautiful mythical realm which is most definitely worthy of its glorious Scottish origin. The majesty of the visual image is perfectly complemented by the ethereal score, which delicately reflects the untamed natural beauty of the land.
With a courageous princess as its heroine, Brave has the classic Second Golden Age of Disney Animation at its heart. Like former female leads; Belle (Beauty and the Beast, 1991), Jasmine (Aladdin, 1992) and Mulan (1998), Merida wishes to escape her humdrum life and the traditional expectations attached to her role as a young woman. Whilst Pixar may be retreading old ground here, there is no doubt that they have created an extremely positive film for young girls. Where the former characters attained their freedom and escaped the shackles of tradition whilst coincidentally winning the heart of a young man, Merida clearly has other things on her mind. Passing the Bechdel test with flying colours, Brave’s core relationship centers on the bond between Merida and her mother, as the young princess attempts to alter the Queen’s expectations of exactly what it means to be a ‘lady’.
Heart-warming and naïve in its humour, this is Disney storytelling at its best; a children’s film which is actually targeted at children and aims to establish itself as a new entry in the fairytale hall of fame. Although distinctly lacking Pixar’s usual revolutionary edge in both content and execution, Brave is a highly enjoyable feature which merrily revisits a classic bygone Disney era.
Brave will be out in UK cinemas 13 August. Until then, you can watch the trailer here.
Further information on the Bechdel test can be found here.