Of all the Pixar films, Brave most closely resembles the Disney films of the 1980’s and 90’s. Princess Merida stars in the film as a young girl forced prematurely into royal engagements. Like many fairy tale princes and princesses, Merida brims with individuality and enthusiasm leading her to push back against her duties as royalty. On the day that she is to choose a suitor, Merida boldly rejects her fate and at the same time the wishes of her mother, Queen Elinor. The two soon fight and hurt feelings follow as Merida runs from the castle. Eventually she finds her way to a witch’s cottage who agrees to cast a spell to change Elinor’s mind. But just like Brendan Fraser found out in Bedazzled wishes aren’t what they seem. Once the spell is cast Elinor gets some serious indigestion before turning into a nine-foot tall bear which leads to some bear related hijinks.
When looking at this film it might be most fair to compare it to the animated films of years past (plus Frozen) and not against the other Pixar films. Merida stands up well against other Disney protagonists (even if she is a lackluster and flimsy Pixar lead) and has much more in common with Mulan and Simba than she does with WALL-E or Woody. Still, there is a unifying thread between all of these characters: they all fight to follow their own fate and not the path pushed on them by others: Ariel is a mermaid who wants to be a human; Sully is a monster who wants to make kids laugh; Woody wants to stay with Andy forever; Mr. Incredible wants to relive the glory days taken from him; Ratatouille and Quasimodo just want to live it up in Paris; Jasmine, Pocahontas, Timon and Pumba all want to marry their true loves without society getting in the way. And Merida wants to spend her days “shooting arrows at the sunset” and deciding who she loves. Brave plays it safe with a standard story but does succeed by allowing Merida to break stereotypes, many of which were reinforced by Disney’s even earlier films. Which means that Brave’s return to familiar ground does not imply a lack of progress.