Saw this movie long ago, and didn't quite like it. Rewatched it recently because I wanted to make sure I wasn't just in a bad mood that day and didn't give it a decent shot.
And um. Let's get the feminist crap out of the way. Set aside the idea that a strong female lead is a girl *super*-doted on by her man-child father, who gets reasonably sporty and doesn't want to marry whichever dude. Also that the only women in here are A) main character, B) her mother who handles all the paperwork with calm feminine grace and acts like her husband's mother, and C) servants who exclusively scream and run away, carry cloth and hang out in the kitchen. And all men are brainless cavemen man-children or worse (the only point where male characters get to be any deeper than a pizza plate is when the clan heirs agree with Merida's request that they should all get to choose their partner). Also lose any notion that this would be an adventure movie similar to adventure movies with reasonably sporty boys as main characters. Each time Merida shoots her bow at a live target, it does absolutely nothing, and I hope you don't imagine she's the one who defeats the bad guy. Welcome helpless heroine.
Alright then, on to review. This script is, let's say, all over the place. There's several stories going on a once here, and sure that's fine, but at least one is just forcefully shoved into random dialogue for the first part, and then provides a timely easy way out from the final confrontation. The focus seems scattered, with sequences of scenery and beautiful shots that look more like graphic showing-off than any form of story exposition. I will expand on these two problems below.
1) Script. My favorite piece of writing here that for me comes to symbolize this movie is an early exchange between Merida and her mother. Slightly paraphrased, but far less than you might think, Merida goes to her mother and says "why do I have to marry", and her mother responds by saying "long ago there was a kingdom where one son wasn't satisfied with sharing with his brothers and the kingdom fell". End of conversation.
2) Nature Photography. In Brave, you get a long sequence of Merida shooting arrows from her horse and climbing a mountain to drink some water, to later tell her father that she did, and he goes "hey good job", and mom goes "sigh". In Pocahontas, you get not only the text of a song to progress the story while she and John Smith frolics in the forest, but what they do while frolicking also symbolizes how she brings him to see the beauty of nature and taking him deep into the forest where only the natives go, forming a bond between their characters over sped-up time. Compared to the much more story-progressing sequence of Merida playing in the river with her mother, the initial sequence of climbing the mountain is very near pointless. And there's more of these random shots of "forest" that fails to establish any sense of progress or wonder or setting beyond "forest".
One could easily say that 2 is a consequence of 1 (as in bad scripts, not greedy brothers). In How To Train Your Dragon, you very quickly get a feeling that the conflict between the boy and his father is about their difference in base personality and skill; the boy is an inventor, the father a hands-on warrior. But in Brave, the conflicts are scattered. Is it about Merida being too "boyish"? Too rash? Too selfish? Too childish? About her mother being too responsible, stuck-up, too traditional, too perfectionist? For much of it, it just seems to be a woman shouting "I want!" and a girl shouting "I don't want!", for a confusing number of reasons. Is Merida opposed to the marriage because it will limit her in any way? Will she not be allowed to shoot arrows or frolic in the forest when she's married? Or is she opposed to the duties? But surely she won't be queen until the old is dead, no? She hasn't met the boys before she starts protesting, so clearly she's already set up the stop sign irrespective of their personalities. Is she opposed to it solely because her mother tells her to?
I could ask, but the answer is apparently "long ago there was a kingdom where one son wasn't satisfied with sharing with his brothers and the kingdom fell", but I don't feel like cleaning up chessboard pieces, since neat perfectionist mother gets a touch of major drama queen whenever she tells that story. Woo character consistency.
1 week ago