Review: “Brave” brings audiences on an unexpected family-focused adventure that follows an unusual path for Pixar

in Disney, Movies, Pixar

When Pixar’s first venture into the world of Disney princesses hits theaters on Friday, audiences should expect to follow an unusual journey with “Brave.” Not only does this latest animated film from the highly-successful studio give viewers a first-ever female lead Pixar character, Merida, but also a surprisingly small cast, focusing almost exclusively on a handful of characters.

But unlike many previous Pixar films that have tended to tug on heart strings, reducing many a moviegoer to tears, “Brave” is not the same kind of emotional ride. There surely are highs and lows as teenage Merida fights her own internal struggle to “change” her fate of leading a dull, formal princess life, instead desiring to grow into becoming her own woman. But the princess story told many a time before ends there, as the film takes an unexpected turn – for the better or for the worse, depending on your perspective.

Pixar is anything but conventional and their take on a princess-driven fairy tale isn’t like any other Disney has produced. While there are some familiar elements, a princely challenge for the princess’s hand in marriage for instance, the majority of this tale meanders through a rather straightforward storyline for a Pixar film, as Merida is joined by one of her closest relatives in seeking a common goal. To reveal anymore would spoil the film’s core plot, which should remain a surprise.

This unexpected direction the film takes will not be for everyone. There is action, there is a small sense of adventure, and quite a lot of bonding. But “Brave” lacks an overall strong emotional connection to any of its characters, focusing more closely on what happens rather than how anyone feels about it. The action can be intense, perhaps a bit too much for a younger audience, hence the film’s PG rating. And believe it or not, there’s even a bit of comedic nudity – a first for a Pixar film.

There is also a strong emphasis on family to the film, centering around Merida, her mother, her father, and her three mischievous brothers. The former three are the film’s leads while the brothers serve exclusively as comic relief – or sometimes it’s comedy on top of comedy. Performances are solid and Scottish accents are thin and never difficult to understand, except for comedic purposes. There is a clear balance between all the silly and sometimes crass comedy and the strong action, but with very little drama mixed in.

The Scotland-set world presented in “Brave” is gorgeous, particularly in 3D. Sweeping scenic shots look nothing short of photorealistic, blended beautifully with the animated characters that grow more lifelike each time Pixar produces a new film.

Despite grand vistas of the Scottish highlands, “Brave” overall is a small scale movie, honing in on a few key locales and characters to tell a fairly simple story with a simple moral. Before being known as “Brave,” the film was to be called “The Bear and the Bow,” which would have been a rather apt title succinctly summarizing the story’s most important elements.

This tale may not be an instant classic for fans of the rich fictional worlds of “Toy Story” and “Monsters, Inc.” and isn’t quite as grand of an adventure as “Finding Nemo” or “The Incredibles,” but “Brave” does sit well on its own as an entertaining film unto itself. The film itself very much mirrors its main character, not needing to follow the formula from or outdo Pixar’s past movies, instead leading audiences on a unique path of its own.

“Brave” is also preceded by the new Pixar short “La Luna,” which is a visually interesting vignette that’s entirely without any real dialogue (instead having a plethora of grunts, mumbles, and gestures) but still manages to tell a fun little story about the moon. And “Brave” does feature an extra scene after credits roll, so stay seated after the story concludes.

“Brave” hits U.S. theaters on Friday, June 22, 2012.

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“Brave” sequence in World of Color at Disneyland:

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