Fun, family friendly, original, funny and beautiful; this films' only flaw is that it doesn't stack against the best of what Pixar can do.
Pixar have pretty well established themselves by this point as the 21st century's Disney. Everything they've produced appeals to adults as well as kids, and none of it could be considered 'crap', and the best of what they've given could undoubtably be called 'great'. Their last film was Cars 2, but the film before that (Toy Story 3) is arguably their greatest.
So with their latest offering Brave (directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman), I had high hopes; a Pixar film with an original story, set in Scotland, featuring bears and a strong red-headed princess... The problem with having high hopes, is that even small dints in them seem all the more disappointing.
Not that Brave is a bad film by any means. It's got a lot going for it. Pixar has mastered the art of side-stepping the uncanny valley, so even as their films get more and more photo-realistic, the human characters never look too real. There's always exaggerations and cartoonish quirks that make them amiable and never creepy. The setting for this film is fantastic; there was clearly a lot of effort put into recreating the natural beauty of the hills of Scotland, and they've done a stunning job, crafting a world of wonder and mystery that is enticing and exciting to inhabit.
The characters are a lot of fun too; it's enjoyable to spend time with the crazy father and the devious little brothers and though I wasn't crazy about the 3 princes and company, they had their laugh-out-loud moments and didn't overstay their welcome. The mother-daughter relationship is also really well sketched out and compelling, with the particularly apt metaphor of the bear for the mother that illustrated their conflicts creatively.
(MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW)
There were the villains... sorta? I wasn't sure what to think about the witch at first, she seemed pretty self-seeking and maliciously intent at first, but by the end I guess I was forced to conclude that she was just a bit absent minded and apathetic. Come to think of it, she did take Meredith's clan medallion-thingy, which makes 2 out of 4 in her set. It seemed like they had some kind of significance that Meredith was unaware of, so perhaps there is wiggle room there for a sequel featuring the witch as a fully-fledged villain?
But that's a tangent. The main villain was the bear. His identity reveal was good, his screen presence was phenomenal (my poor little sister had to block her ears), and his tragic backstory was well-exposited. The fight scenes are choreographed pretty well, considering the challenge of showing such brutality without death, blood or broken bones.
The story is well paced and plotted, except for a few confusing beats like the witch completely disappearing halfway through, and the slightly contrived solution to the conflict (Mend the tear? Really?)
All in all, Brave is just a damn good romp; an original fairytale, with fairytale messages and story structure, and a lot of fun scenes throughout... I guess the only problem I had with it was that it didn't wow me. Like Up, like Toy Story 3, like The Incredibles. Brave is not the worst of Pixar, but considering the high, high standing of this studio.
Looking ahead I see they've still got original ideas coming up (The Good Dinosaur?), which is always reassuring, as well as some more sequels (Monsters University?) which I have some reservations about considering what I've heard about Cars 2 (or on the other hand, Toy Story 2). I continue to watch these guys intently because (apart from Disney), Pixar practically made my childhood, and I'm always excited to see what they come up with.