Pixar’s latest release, the Scottish themed fantasy adventure Brave, is unlikely to disappoint any of the fans of the studio who have grown up with such classics as Finding Nemo and Toy Story; it is amply endowed with all the qualities that audiences look for in a family movie. Its humor is never cutting and its action sequences never disturbing, making it the sort of movie that the most cautious of parents would have no problem putting on for their children on a rainy afternoon. Certainly, the parents themselves might not be glued to the screen, but they would probably drift in and out, occasionally chuckling at a few of the jokes, sighing over the more endearing of the animated characters, and marveling at the visual effects. For this is one of Pixar’s softer, gentler movies, closer to Toy Story 3 than The Incredibles or Dreamworks’ Shrek, since it lacks the underlying adult cynicism and irony that gives those movies their sense of ribald, ever so slightly inappropriate fun. In stark contrast to Shrek, Brave treats the battle between good and evil with the utmost reverence; there is nothing to laugh at about its main villain, a ferocious bear named Mor’du. Fans of the Shrek series might miss more colorful, flamboyant baddies like Lord Farquaad and the Fairy Godmother; the closest thing this movie gets to such zany characters is a woodcutting witch voiced by Julie Walters, whose spirited performance leaves one wishing she had a bigger part to play in the rest of the movie.
This is not to say that Brave’ is devoid of laughs. On the contrary, there is no shortage of slapstick in the chaotic crowd scenes in which the various Scottish clans gather, or in the comic chase scenes involving the heroine’s three mischievous little brothers. But such lightheartedness is entirely absent from the story’s central conflict; the power struggle that unfolds between parent and child. Unlike the grandiose, supernatural plots that dominate most fantasy movies, like a quest to rescue a princess, defeat a monster, or save the world, the challenge confronted by the heroine of this movie is one that most children face every day; how to reconcile their desire for freedom with their feelings of duty and love for their family. Parents too might be able to identify with the inner conflict suffered by the heroine’s mother, voiced by a convincingly Scottish sounding Emma Thompson; her natural impulse to take care of her child is checked by a growing recognition that the child is becoming a person in her own right. ‘Brave’ makes both of these perspectives immediately understandable, without simplifying either of them to the point of caricature. The conclusion of the movie does not represent the triumph of either the heroine or her mother, but rather the restoration of balance between them. Total victory for the mother would have made the movie authoritarian to the point of being unwatchable; total victory for the daughter would have made the movie rebellious to the point of being subversive. This way at least, both parties are satisfied, and the movie achieves universal family appeal.