A movie with gorgeous, state-of-the-art animation, inspired voice acting, and a princess should be a lock for great film. In 2012, Disney Pixar’s Brave released, and showed that, no, in fact, a film needs more. As far as I’m concerned, Pixar layed an egg with Brave. Set in Medieval Scotland, when the land was still divided by clans, we meet Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald). She’s a princess with a mother, the Queen (voiced by Emma Thompson), who puts a lot of pressure on her, but Merida is much more interested in being the greatest archer than with being a princess. Alright, to this point, I was firmly invested in the movie and intrigued. Moving on, young men from the surrounding clans arrive to compete for Merida’s hand in marriage. We meet the brawny candidates, along with one comically diminutive and whelpish clansmen competing. Again, all good so far. Later, Merida runs away, and meets a local witch, and it’s at this point in Brave, just as it seemed like it was going to get really good, that it started to sag. The rest of the film basically plays out in their castle with the Queen transformed into a bear by Merida’s encounter with the witch. Completely uninteresting. No love interest, no villain. Don’t try to sell me that bear as a compelling villain.
Brave won Best Animated Feature at that year’s weak Oscar showing, but it was plagued by production struggles. The original writer/director was fired, Brenda Chapman (she would have been the first woman to direct a Pixar film). I feel like the struggles never fully resolved themselves. They show in the final product. Here’s what I would have liked to see:
The witch puts some kind of curse on Merida’s family castle which sees her going on a quest to restore it to order. The diminutive, timid suitor becomes a heroic sidekick on her quest, as well as a love interest. A terrifying, imposing villain be provided and the ultimate logjam in Merida’s quest. Finally, one or two comic relief characters join her, her mother, and her suitor on their quest.