Dreamwork's Bra… I mean, Pixar's Brave has been a long time coming. Announced ages ago and teased for what feels like an eternity, it seemed like it would be an impossibly ambitious, brave (sorry) new direction for the studio. It turns out the opposite is true, because Brave is Pixar's most traditional tale yet, something that seems closer in plot to a traditional Disney joint and closer in tone and comedy to something Dreamworks would make. What's unexpected isn't necessarily bad, though, and Brave still has a lot to like.
For one, the film is visually stunning. Our heroine, Merida, is a brash, young woman who takes after her barbarian father more than her prim and proper mother. She bears her father's curly red locks in a gigantic mane of hair that speaks volumes about her character while simultaneously standing as a technical achievement in CG design. Her horse gallops through stunning vistas lit by brilliant sunsets. Like everything Pixar makes, Brave is simply a lot of fun to look at.
It would be wrong to spoil too many of Brave's plot details, so I'll stick to the basics. Merida is to be married off to one of three possible suitors who all come to the kingdom to present themselves and compete. Her mother, the queen, has been grooming her for this moment since childhood, but Merida has always fought against it. As the day approaches, the conflict between the two comes to a head, and Merida's attempt to escape her fate comes with some unexpected repercussions. To fix it, she has to mend the bond between herself and her mother, and in true Disney fashion, they'll learn something about each other along the way.
That plot feels more Disney Princess than Pixar's typical brand of off-the-wall creativity. There's a child-like, whimsical quality to many of Pixar's ideas that's missing from Brave. Gone is the singular concept that makes their usual work so approachable. Toys, fish, cars, superheroes, robots… there isn't one word to describe Brave. Feminism? Perhaps, but that's more of a subtext, like the environmentalism messages in Wall-E. Brave's main focus is a mother and daughter working out their issues, and while it's perfect family film territory, it's missing that Pixar secret sauce.
Three films in, the Toy Story series still found brilliant humor in simple observations about toys. That's Pixar at their most basic and effective, and yet that whimsical humor has been maintained in their more complex fare. Wall-E, Up, Ratatouille; they all had that same brilliant sense of humor. Brave is a very funny film, but again, it's not Pixar's typical brand of humor. It's more in Dreamworks' wheelhouse, sticking to jokes that are more slapstick and lowbrow. Again, it's well-done and I laughed repeatedly, but it lacked that wit I expect from Pixar.
What's more, the conflicts presented throughout Brave are wrapped up a bit to quickly. It spends so long introducing the characters and the premise that when it comes time to wrap things up, the resolution is about as neat and tidy as the end of a 30-minute sitcom. The premise is strong, the middle act is excellent, and the final act seems to have trouble keeping up.
Brave doesn't feel like a Pixar film. Whether that will bother you or not depends on how highly you regard their previous films. But even if it's more Dreamworks or Disney than Pixar, it still manages to entertain. It just isn't as magical as I expected.