Friday, June 8, 2012

EXCLUSIVE review - Disney/Pixar's Brave

When thinking of the best animated movies, one's mind always flashes immediately to the Pixar filmography. Since 1995 with the first Toy Story, they've been charming audiences with wonderful movies like Finding Nemo, Up, and WALL·E (the latter being one of my all time favorite movies). And after a recent critical lashing to Pixar's previous Cars 2, and a year of waiting impatiently, I was given a chance to finally see their latest movie Brave in advance.

Consider me stunned, and unsurprisingly so! Breathe a sigh of relief fellow movie-goers.

In ancient Scotland, Princess Merida, a skilled and tough as nails archer, grows tired of her daily life. Finding the age old customs enforced by her mother restricting, she decides to go against the traditions of her royal history, refusing to take a husband from the oldest son of one of three lords from other clans, causing controversy due to her series of actions. Seeking to change her fate, Merida receives a spell from a reclusive forest witch, but by doing this, unleashes a terrible ancient curse, and now must discover the true meaning of bravery, and make things right.

Original concept art for Brave.

As is expected of any Pixar movie, there is a strong investment to story, with plenty of spectacularly memorable characters, strongly developed and realized sub plots and arks, and a lot of great humor (only a few jokes briefly overstay their welcome). Another interesting element of the movie is the fascinating magical side to it. Co-writer and director Brenda Chapman based the story partly on her love of fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson, and the wonderful fairy tale aspects of the movie work very well in its favor. Sure, it may not be Pixar's most original premise, but it hits all the right marks.

But beneath all that is also genuine emotion, and the most potent emotional element is the troubled relationship between Merida and her mother. Aside from fairy tale lore, Chapman also based most of the story on how she raised her own daughter, and the relationship between mother and daughter is one that evokes so much heart, made all the more better by the voice overs of the great cast, including Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson, and Billy Connolly. MacDonald and Thompson give so much in voicing Merida and her mother, and that makes the heart of this movie truly special and sincere. I'll admit that by the time all was said and done, I was starting to cry.

Scottish composer Patrick Doyle wrote the musical score.
Lastly, it cannot be understated how much a thing of beauty Brave is. Dazzlingly designed and realized, the sweeping and jaw dropping animated Scottish environments are among some of the best production design I've ever seen for an animated movie. Not to mention how perfectly the characters are animated. From the fearless expressions of Merida, to the hideous and menacing bear Mor'Du, everyone is all as they should be. Brave is also a movie that sounds terrific, with a catchy and lovely Celtic score by Patrick Doyle (This is the best music in any Pixar movie since Finding Nemo), and detailed sound design from the great Gary Rydstrom.

 ****1/2 / *****

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