Review by Nathan Samdahl (B+)
After a rare Pixar miss with Cars 2, arguably the last film from their arsenal that deserved a sequel, the animation giant returns to form with Brave. From beginning to end, Brave is a charming, fun-filled thrill ride featuring one of Disney's sassiest princesses yet. While the lessons Princess Merida learns are valuable, I wouldn't be surprised if many youngsters attempt to emulate some of her more rebellious qualities.
One of the most divisive attributes about Brave is its simplicity. On one hand, I would consider this one of Pixar's most straightforward entries, which holds it back from matching Pixar's upper echelon of more complex films - Toy Story, Monster's Inc., etc. But on the other hand, Brave's streamlined story is one of its biggest assets, allowing the film to create and develop a wonderful array of endearing and inspiring characters. For the intimate story it tells, Brave is executed beautifully.
Harkening back to some of Disney's greats like The Lion King or Aladdin, Brave skews a bit darker, featuring some pretty frightening moments for the little ones. But just as children will be jumping in one part, they'll soon be laughing in the next. The Scottish backdrop also gives the story an added sense of whimsy, in similar fashion to DreamWork's How to Train Your Dragon.
The visual effects are, as usual for Pixar, impressive. In order to create the lush detailed backdrops Chapman, and then Andrews, envisioned, Pixar had to push their technology even further. For Merida's signature head of flaming red hair, a new hair simulation software known as Taz was created and as reported, 1,500 individually placed and hand-sculpted curls of hair we're used.
With the highly detailed visual effects and the personal story, you can tell the film was a labor of love for its creators. The story originated with director Brenda Chapman, Pixar's first female director, and is inspired by her relationship with her daughter. Nonetheless, she was replaced last year by director Mark Andrews over creative differences.
Despite a few blips along the way, Pixar continues to prove it is a pioneering force both in the animated arena and in cinema overall. In this case, Brave most likely will not be counted amongst Pixar's most revered entries, but it is still a great film and one that people of all ages will enjoy. For me, the bears alone made this an adventure I would happily see again.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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