Pixar is growing up. Though their films always feature takeaways for young and old alike, their newest film, Brave, disembarks from their typical fare of talking monsters and a lighthearted, silly tone, and instead presents a darker and more mature theme. Though it is certain to wow with its stunning visuals and fiercely likable heroine, Brave falls somewhat short of the high standard by which Pixar has held itself. Still, the creativity and originality in the direction of the plot makes this princess story a definitive standout.

In what seems like your typical tale of the constraints of tradition, a truly imaginative twist gives this story a fresh perspective. Heroic and headstrong Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) fights to restore peace to her kingdom after her unwillingness to follow an ancient custom creates a surprising amount of chaos. After years of preparation, poking, prodding, and the perpetual criticism of her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson), Merida is of the age to be presented to the other clans in the kingdom for betrothal. Merida’s love of freedom and disdain for decorum puts her at odds with Elinor, and causes her to seek for a way to change her fate. Merida’s search leads her to a delightfully strange old witch (Julie Walters), who presents Merida with a spell in the form of a cake that is to be given to Elinor. Merida is convinced that this spell will simply change her mother’s mind on the matter of marriage. Unfortunately, Merida’s vague request results in an unexpected outcome, and requires a great deal of cooperation and mutual respect from both Merida and Elinor to fix the mess that Merida created.

What worked in this movie was what works in every Pixar movie – the ability to create visually stimulating images and match them equally with mentally stimulating content. In addition to the fact that the theater was packed with kilted Scots to the brim, the images on the screen made me feel as though I had truly been transported to Scotland. The content in this movie, though more brooding and mature than previous encounters in Pixar’s resume, manages to be both emotionally impactful and mentally stimulating.

Another win for this movie was the fantastic voice talent. Kelly Macdonald as Merida was a perfect cast, in my opinion. When I learned that Reese Witherspoon was the first choice for this character, I was a bit taken aback, as I felt a great contrast between what I imagine that would have done to the film, and the final outcome. Regardless, Kelly Macdonald manages to do a bang-up job producing the perfect articulation for this character, by way of a very forward use of inflection. Additional voice actors includes Billy Connolly as Merida’s father Fergus, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, and Craig Ferguson as the three neighboring lords, and for those Pixar fans wondering – yes, John Ratzenberger does have a role.

Though the voices of the characters were truly above par, the characters themselves were quite a disappointment, and felt very subpar in comparison to the brilliant characters that have come from previous Pixar installments. I will have to refrain from going into too much detail to avoid plot spoilers; however, as an overall take on the characters, I felt that there was not enough opportunity to develop both the characters and the story as richly as they should have been.

Another loss in my book was the story itself. While the movie was enjoyable in pieces, there was a disjuncture in the story as a whole, much of which can most likely be attributed to the director switch that occurred eighteen months before release. Again, in attempt to be discreet, I will not dive into detail on this point; but, I will say that there needed to be a good extra twenty minutes to really expound on the existing plot points to round them out and give them the attention that they really deserved.

Ultimately, while I truly enjoyed this movie, I was a little disappointed in the lack of the trademark Pixar feel we all know and love. Still, I think that the overarching theme and message of a this movie is a very inspiring and motivational message for today’s generation of youth. I know this one will be a big hit with the kids, and the adults will love it too. Just not sure that this one has quite found it’s way into the big leagues of great Pixar movies (more comparable Cars/Toy Story 2 caliber), and may or may not end up on my Blu-ray shelf in a few months.

Brave – 8/10

*As a side note, the short film for this movie, La Luna, was one of the most ingenious ideas I have seen put to film in quite some time. I always look forward to those introductory snippets, and this was one of the best I have seen in some time!