Have you ever wished that you could change your destiny? The fiery-haired Scottish princess Merida in Pixar’s new animation feature Brave sure wished that she could. Merida had always had to study continuously every day, tutored in the various arts by her mother, the authoritative Queen Elinor. She became skilled in things like playing beautiful instruments to public speaking, but she excelled in archery. Her father, the bulky, impulsive King Fergus, was too obsessed with his deep hatred for the demon bear Mor’du, who bit off his leg long ago, to be too involved in Merida’s life. Occasionally, Merida was able to enjoy herself without a single worry, mounted atop her horse, Angus, shooting at targets while riding in the wild woods of Scotland.
But, one day Merida has a talk with her mom, who reveals to her that the three lords of the MacGuffin, Dingwall, and the Macintosh clans would send their sons to compete for her hand in marriage. Merida wanted to follow her own path and meet her own fate instead of following the traditional ways of marriage. She entered the competition herself and defeated the suitors at the archery competition. Queen Elinor angrily told Merida was still required to marry a suitor. Merida was furious at her mother controlling her life and, in her rage, hastily tore her mother’s ornate woven family tapestry and escaped into the forest.
In the forest, Merida rode through the woods when she suddenly noticed an eerie blue light. She realized that it was a group of Will O’ the Wisps, ghostly spirits that would lead her to her fate. She followed them to an old wood cutter’s hut, but realizes that the old woman working there is no mere wood cutter when she sees her stuffed crow begin to talk and her broom sweeping the floor on its own! The old woman is a witch, whom Merida bargains with to give her a spell. Little did she know that the spell would change her life and the life of her family forever.
Brave is a ravishing film full of humor, action, and stunning imagery. This movie is the first Pixar film with a girl as the main character. The film is a feast for the eyes, especially the scenes of Merida in the woods with the cryptic blue wisps. One of the flaws I noticed is that King Fergus didn’t notice that his three little boys (Merida’s younger brothers) had been changed into something unexpected for more than a day. Also, I thought that almost all of the characters are remarkably shallow. Fergus is impulsive, using his strength to solve what his reason couldn’t. Merida only cares about getting her way, having freedom, and staying single for as long as possible. Only Queen Elinor has a more complex character, showing traits of diplomacy, assertion, and caring.
I recommend this film to older children, because during some scarier scenes, a few little girls began crying to be taken home. Also, there are some scenes of mild language and rude humor. I would recommend this film to kids aged 8+, and give it 4 starfish. Brave is an enjoyable film, but lacks the charm and depth of Pixar classics like Toy Story, Up, and Finding Nemo.
Moral: Impatience and haste may yield disastrous results.
I also reviewed La Luna, and interviewed the Pixar director Enrico Casarosa before this year’s Oscar. La Luna is one of five Oscar-nominated animation shorts, which played before Brave. My review below.
A young Italian boy learns about his family’s unusual job on the moon. He discovers a magical world of shiny, golden stars on the surface of the moon, and at the same time feels stuck between his arguing father and grandfather, who quarrel over things like how to wear a hat and how to hold a broom. He is not sure if he should follow the example of his father or his grandfather, or to find a way of his own.
This 4 starfish film ranks second on my list of nominated shorts because it really shows the magic of childhood wonder. After watching the film, I thought what if NASA hires this family? Maybe that will solve all their financial problems?! I first heard about the film at the LA Shorts Festival last year when both La Luna and my own short Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest premiered. The film shows that other people’s ideas are not always right, and that you can find your own way to do things in the midst of an argument.
I asked the director of La Luna, Enrico Casarosa, a few questions over a phone interview. He got his inspiration for this magical film from an Italian story where a man climbed a ladder up to the moon to get milk because that’s what people thought the moon was covered with, and from Wallace and Gromit eating cheese off the moon. “I always enjoyed stories about the moon, and what strange explanations of what the moon was made of, and what is there. I thought it would be fun to come up with my own version.” The argumentative father and grandpa were actually based on his own family from Italy, who disagreed a lot during his childhood.
I asked Enrico how three people could sweep away the entire surface of the moon. He explained, “The moon is not very big once you are there. Also time is different on the moon.” His advice for aspiring animators is to “tell stories that you really care about and connect to, and stories with real messages to people.” In La Luna, the actors spoke a made-up language, or “gibberish,” which the director told me was very hard to come up with.
Enrico also mentioned that he is working as the head of story on a new Pixar feature about dinosaurs, directed by Bob Peterson (co-director of Up, voice of Dug the dog in Up). I saw director Bob Peterson talk about this dinosaur film at the 2011 Disney D23 Expo, and look forward to seeing the finished film.
Copyright 2012 by Perry S. Chen
About Perry Chen:
Perry S. Chen is an 12-year-old award-winning child film critic, artist, animator, TEDx speaker, and entertainment personality, currently in 6th grade from San Diego. He started reviewing movies at age 8 in 3rd grade using a kid-friendly starfish rating system, and has been featured in CBS, NPR, NBC, CNN, CCTV (China Central Television), Variety, Animation Magazine, The Young Icons, The Guardian, The China Press, etc. He was a presenter at the 2010 Annie Awards for Animation, and has written movie reviews for Animation World Network, San Diego Union Tribune, Amazing Kids! Magazine, and his own Perry’s Previews blog:
Perry won an “Excellence in Journalism Award” from San Diego Press Club in 2010 and 2011 for his movie and restaurant reviews, an “Excellence Writer Award” from “We Chinese in America” Magazine in 2010 for his movie review column. Perry is widely recognized as an authoritative spokesperson about movies for his generation, and appears frequently at red carpet movie premieres, awards, and film festivals, interviewing prominent directors from such films as Toy Story 3, Up, How to Train Your Dragon. He was a presenter at the 2010 Annie Awards for Animation in Hollywood. Perry and his mom Dr. Zhu Shen are featured in a new book about parenting and youth entrepreneurship, “The Parent’s Guide to Raising CEO Kids,” published in Aug 2011.
Perry’s first animation short “Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest” won multiple film festival awards. More info: http://ingridpitt.co.uk 
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