All of Pixar's greatest movies are so unique, even among the studio's own body of work, that tying them together into one single formula of success is impossible. However, there is still a sole characteristic that unites them all, and that is one of the causes leading to the company's astounding success: the unpredictability of their films' premises. Name any Pixar movie, dissect it to its bare bones and you will find a setting or starting point that seems unlikely to transform into a moving story and be marketed to all audiences at the same time: an old man and his flying house embarking on an adventure to fulfill his deceased wife's dream, monsters who work in a factory to produce energy out of children's screams, a French rat with an odd passion for cooking, a family of superheroes or a love story featuring two robots who communicate through beeps and sounds. Premises and ideas that, in other companies, would have been shrugged off by money-thirst management find a warm place to flourish inside Pixar, frequently developing into movies worthy of appearing in any all-time best list of features.
At first glance, Brave is - at the same time - very bold and safe. It ventures into a terrain that is known to bear good fruits for well-done animation, the fairy tale realm, something that has been very successfully explored to death by the folks at the Disney Animation Studios. But, on the other hand, it is Pixar's first attempt at the theme, and - as a consequence - the first time they allow a work of them to be directly compared to Disney's most successful output. Even though the movie does feature a female protagonist, something that has grown to be some sort of unspoken rule to most of the genre, from the very get go Pixar decides to do something different: explore the relationship between a princes and her mother, something never done by Disney animation, as all of their female protagonists lack such figure.
And, for the first forty minutes or so, Pixar does their usual masterful job and ends up creating - in the relationship between Merida and her mother - the most compelling conflict their writers have ever been able to pen. Supported by her father, Merida has grown into a wild rebel who prefers to explore the dangerous locations of the movie's impressive Scottish setting and practice with her bow than to wear dresses, eat politely and act like the mindless female her mother expects her to be. Things are developed in Pixar's usual good and sharp pace, punctuated by humorous segments, very engaging dialogue - the vocal conflict between Merida and her mother is the ultimate example of good writing - and heartwarming segments. And everything reaches its boiling point when three of the local kingdoms send their heirs to fight for Merida's heart in a tournament, a tradition the spirited and free girl obviously cannot stand.
Up until that point, Brave is safely poised to be yet another classic by Pixar, but as the conflict reaches its peak and Merida stumbles upon a witch that - unbeknownst to the girl - promises to aid her in changing her fate by turning her mother into a bear, the enchanting promise of the first forty minutes becomes predictable and leans more towards slapstick comedy and less to the incredible balance between humor and heart that Pixar tends to nail so perfectly. Instead of sending Merida off into some epic adventure to repair the damage she has done by breaking tradition, the movie narrows its focus on her attempts to stop her mother from getting killed while trying to mend their relationship and do away with the curse. Merida's incredible ability with the bow, the promising and well-done Scottish setting, and a fairy tale that could have reached huge proportions ends up being humble in its scope and unable to reach the same level of quality presented by other Pixar flicks.
However, saying that Brave is a bad movie is extremely unfair. It clearly suffers from the troubles that happened during its production, and the fact that the movie had - at different points - two writers with conflicting visions on what the movie would be is apparent for anybody to see. In the light of other Pixar releases that never failed to surprise, it is certainly lacking; in the light of the average animation movie that gets released, it is much better. Some of its elements - especially the magical part - are poorly tied together, but through its running time the movie will not fail to make its audience laugh out loud, hold their breaths in excitement, fall in love with its characters, and shed the occasional tear. It produces many of the same emotions that movies like Toy Story 3, Up and Wall-E did, even if it is not as tight and focused as those titles. It is great, but it is a bitter disappointment that, whenever seeing Brave, dedicated Pixar fans will forever be haunted - in the very back of their heads - by the thoughts of what could have been.
While there is no formula for pixar movies, a good chunk of them (about half) do have one kind of reoccurring theme/subject. They tend to deal with the subject of fatherhood in some way. The care level Woody has for Andy (calls him his kid) in the toy stories, the way sully cared for boo, finding nemo is an obvious case, the son in ratatouille trying to win his dads approval and affection, and up has a sorta of grandfather vibe going for it once he starts caring for the boy. I did like brave for what it is and even if its considered a disappointment among many, it can still be ranked better than the cars movies.
@mariosonic91 It is far better than the Cars movies, but I do not think that says much about how good the movie is considering how weak, while entertaining, the Cars movies were, especially number 2.
@Allicrombie I already knew she was turning into a bear, but I thought her turning into a bear would have different consequences than it did.
This movie is getting far more flak than it deserves, with that said, it's still one of Pixar's weaker movies.
I actually very much enjoyed the mother/daughter relationship being the center of the story, since it gave it a unique feel. It's the little bits and pieces where Pixar made some mistakes (though I suppose when a film changes directors midway through you can't be too hard about it).
The comedy was aiming too much for cheap laughs (as opposed to the genuine hilarity of say, Edna Mode of The Incredibles), the villain was kind of unnecessary , and some character attributes had no bearing on the story (Merida's archery skills, for example).
With this said, the story was very lovely and tender. The fact that people make it sound like a "bad movie" just because it's not as good as The Incredibles or Wall-E is ridiculous.
@SloganYams I completely agree with everything you have said. Pixar's movies will always be harshly judged because of what they have done in the past.
Well Pixar was able to stand the test-of-time because theyre under Disney. Havent seen the movie but I will say...I dont see the need to churn out a new movie every year or so. Obviously it makes them tons of money though.
@wildcat2000 Well, in the mid-2000s they were putting out a movie almost every year and quality was still excellent: Ratatouille, Wall-E, Toy Story 3 and Up are some of their best movies. I think they just hit a bad streak because Cars 2 was obviously pushed on them by Disney in their wish to make money out of merchandise for boys, since most of their franchises cater more to younger girls, and Brave suffered from having two writers running the show at different points in the project.
@Foolz3h Well, I watched it in Portuguese so I cannot say much about his performance, but I will watch the English version as soon as possible.