“Change your fate.”
Before we get too far into Brave, I should probably mention that my reviews are often likely to contain spoilers. The reason why is because story analysis often requires me to cover certain ground in order for my reviews to make any sense. If you’re not worried about this, or have seen the film already, proceed. :)
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Brave has both an advantage and disadvantage right out the gate. The advantage is that it was made by Pixar—one of the largest, most successful animation studios in the world. This is also its disadvantage. They have such an excellent track record (for the most part) that people can’t help but compare Brave to Pixar’s greatest. (I know I did.) And on that level, it does fall short. But there’s more to it than that.
Apparently, about midway through the production of this film, Pixar fired its original director, Brenda Chapman. She was then replaced by Mark Andrews. (Honestly, given the subject matter of the film, this seems like a confusing choice.) But no matter—people get fired from directing all the time. What does matter is whether or not the story suffers or thrives as a result. In this case, it appears to have suffered.
The reason I say this is because of the dualistic nature of the film. On the one hand, we have the theme that we are told: that the princess, Merida, wants to change her fate. Had the film not said this out loud (via narration) I would have never guessed it. That’s because everything that’s shown in the film is about something else: a bonding experience between mother and daughter. And they do bond... eventually leading to a climax where they take down the evil bear Mor’du, solving the external plot of the story.
This is why I think the film ultimately comes up short. These two subjects are presented (that of fate and family) but they never really connect. The simplest solution might have been to use only one director’s vision or the other’s—not a blend of both. In the end, the themes worked only to diminish each other.
Another problem with Brave concerns its subplots. There were at least two subplots that needed more development: one was the witch. We see her in person only once, then once more in cauldron smoke, then never again. Just one more scene could have given her a proper beginning, middle, and end. The other subplot issue was that of Mor’du—in that he shouldn’t have been a subplot at all. As the story’s main bad guy, we needed to see him a whole lot more than just three times throughout the entire film.
Overall, Brave may boast a lot of technical prowess, but a disjointed plot and theme really bring it down.