Kelly Macdonald as Merida
Emma Thompson as Queen Elinor
Billy Connolly as King Fergus
Kevin McKidd as Lord MacGuffin/Young MacGuffin
Craig Ferguson as Lord Macintosh
Robbie Coltraine as Lord Dingwall
Julie Winters as The Witch
Steve Purcell as The Crow
Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
A really well done movie should keep you guessing right to the end, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the very last minute. A really, really well done movie will do that in such a way that looking back, each surprising turn was well laid out but not telegraphed.
The great frustration of filmmaking, or indeed of any creative endeavor, is that how well that works is largely alchemical. Which means even the most skilled artist who does everything he or she plans exactly as they plan still might not entirely capture the effect they're looking for. "Brave" is a prime of example of that.
On the surface, "Brave" does everything right. It is well thought out, well executed with a great deal of charm and humor, with twists and turns you will genuinely not see coming. But for all that effort and skill, the end result is just... ehh.
At its heart, Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman's post-modern take on the classic Disney princess fairy tale story is about the strained relationship between parent and rebellious child. The child in question is Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), first born child to King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Quean Eleanor (Emma Thompson). As such, she lives in the milieu of a typical fairy tale princess, but she really doesn't want to. She wants to be free to ride and hunt and mostly to marry who she wants instead of being betrothed to one of the local lords' (Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltraine) sons in order to maintain peace between the clans. The only thing standing in her way is her mother the Queen who wants a daughter who will follow her footsteps instead of her own heart. When the willful Merida meets a witch (Julie Winters) who claims to be able to solve her problems, she makes a deal with no thought as to the consequences she couldn't have foreseen.
Actually they're consequences no one could foresee; though the co-writer/directors actually do put some hints at the beginning when the turn does come at the halfway mark it is quite a surprise, which is good. But once the surprise wears off the actual shape of the plot turn doesn't seem to meld with what has come before. It will certainly work better for some than others, and how well it does will ultimately determine how well you like "Brave." That's a lot of pressure to put onto one plot point, which makes "Brave" a little polarizing between halves.
The other problem is that the central relationship is unbalanced and doesn't have the full effect it's probably meant to. Being an anachronistic take from a modern point of view, Merida is obviously in the right and it is all but impossible to sympathize with the Queen. Which is a big problem as she is the one in the most trouble due to Merida's choices. It would probably work better if it focused on a more standard rebellious daughter story rather than trying to put a feminist spin on an old story as it makes it very difficult for the main conflict to work.
It's too bad because there is a lot to like about "Brave." The voice performances are excellent, the use of magic is extremely subtle and even the obvious jokes are genuinely funny, but it just doesn't hang together the way it should. Maybe it comes from the film being handed from one director to another, maybe it comes from last minute tinkering. Maybe for all the creativity involved, the core idea just couldn't develop organically. It happens to everyone, even Pixar.