With a string of well-written and dazzling looking movies such as "Wall-E," "Up" and "Toy Story 3," it looked like Pixar could do no animation wrong. But the company's latest effort, "Brave," shows it isn't perfect.
The animation is still amazing. But an ill-conceived story leaves this production as appealing as a two-leaf clover. Even the stunning visuals lose a little luster because "How to Train Your Dragon," the 2010 release with a very similar design, was brilliant to look at and used the now wearisome 3-D effects to better use.
At "Brave's" heart is spunky Scottish lass Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald). She's not too keen on continuing her kingdom's custom of having her husband selected for her. She's a free spirit and not ready to settle down. Merida balks but her mother, Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson), puts her foot down. The only hope Merida has of changing her mother's mind is a strange woman who gives her a magic potion.
This potion is the biggest blunder of the movie. It's tradition for Disney and Pixar to rely on an outside force to cause the central character problems. That's been the case since the Wicked Queen served Snow White a poison apple.
All of the problems that befall Merida are of her own making and those actions put her mother in peril. It's very hard to cheer for someone when they've caused so much pain and suffering. The fact there are no consequences for Merida's actions is a very negative message.
This is a fundamental mistake by writers/directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman. That may be the result of Andrews taking over the project in midstream when Chapman left the project.
The animation is eye-popping. Merida's curly red locks bounce around her head like a crimson cloud. The animals look so real it's almost impossible to tell whether they are animated or filmed. Each background is a beautiful tapestry of Earth tones that give the movie warmth and make it inviting. The visuals are far more stunning in 2-D; the 3-D does little except to muddle the color.
But, the character designs lack any originality. The warriors are the typical bearded, big-bellied, belching buffoons that have populated similar stories. Their uninspired designs might not have been so noticeable had the story not been so flawed.
Even the animated short by Enrico Casarosa, "La Luna," which shows before the feature, felt cold and flat.
"Brave" may well be an example of a company being its own worst enemy. Compared to the majority of animated offerings, "Brave" is superior in many ways. The problem is that moviegoers have come to expect more from Pixar -- especially when it comes to the story -- and this film doesn't deliver.
"Brave," rated PG for partial nudity, scary images. Stars Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson. Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman. Running time: 100 minutes. Grade: C+
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org
or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.