My brother left a message on my Facebook wall last week, because he’s in his twenties and that’s how we communicate: “Laura, Pixar made a movie about you.” Funny, since I didn’t remember selling the rights to my life to anyone. But there she was: a Scottish lass with a jumble of red hair that defies combs and an independent streak that exhausts parents. Merida, Pixar’s first leading lady in 13 films (and, notably, its first venture into Disney princess territory), was all over The New York Times and Father’s Day e-cards. Disney even created a new “Visit Scotland” travel package around the “sites” visited in the animated feature Brave. I should have known I’d have my hopes shattered by that little redheaded princess—nothing truly amazing needs that much marketing.
Pixar’s Brave is a sweet, simple story about a feisty princess, heir to the throne of the Scottish clans, who would rather spend her day riding horseback and shooting arrows than practice the lute or work on her diction. The last thing she wants to do is get married (ew), and an arranged marriage hoisted on her by her mother, the queen? That’s the worst. It’s a story that’s been told 1,001 ways with varying degrees of success. At its best, it’s Bend It Like Beckham, with a feminist defying family tradition in order to take advantage of her natural gifts (in this case, be a badass soccer star). In a movie like Brave, it just seems like an exercise in whining to get your way. Merida is a young, stubborn heroine who itches when confronted with responsibility, and her mother is a more uptight, stubborn version of her daughter. A witch in the woods gives Merida a magic cake meant to solve all her problems—which, of course, backfires—but at the end of the day, the ladies (predictably) learn to listen to each other.
That’s about it. As far as Pixar films go, this one doesn’t have the wit of Finding Nemo, the complex emotions of Up or Wall-E, or even particularly likable characters. The animation was amazing, as always (they can make a horse look real now). But I found myself understanding the mother’s motives better than the daughter’s, which 1) made me feel old, and 2) made me wonder what Merida was fighting for in the first place. The film hammered home the message: “You can change your fate.” Which Merida did, valiantly, courageously. And she certainly has more backbone than Cinderella. But when a character doesn’t show much growth, regardless of getting her way, it just feels like a misfired arrow.
Brave (in 3D) is in theaters nationwide June 22.