Okay. Good idea. Most rebellious tomboy movies are about overbearing dads, so it's a nice switch to make it strictly about the two women while the men (all of them, really) are well-meaning buffoons. The quest itself, what we see of it, is visually interesting and filled with a lot of great character moments ...
... but by the time it gets there, the film feels like it's more than half over. Strangely, considering that Pixar is revered above all else for its commitment to good storytelling, the film's structure is wobbly and awkward. The first act is much too long, spending a lot of time introducing the various clans and supporting characters, relishing attention on an overstuffed cast of one note comic-relief personas (the three kings, their respective sons and Merida's three little brothers are effectively "The Nine Stooges" and not much else) and montages establishing Merida's physical prowess. By the time we get to the curse and the quest to be rid of it, it feels like an entire movie has passed and the fact that the solution to the problem is maddeningly easy to suss out. I imagine even the youngest audiences will be wondering what's taking them so long to figure it out.
It feels very much like some heavy story revision has taken place. The film's production has been famously rocky as Pixar stuff goes, with the original director/conceiver departing and a new team taking over. There are loose bits of thread lying all about: The closest thing to a villain is a monster-sized bear that stalks the kingdom's wilderness, and he's ultimately given a backstory that seems like it ought to mean a lot more plotwise and thematically than it actually does. There's also a "legend within the legend" that serves little point other than to underline the film's fairly obvious moral (individual independence and family/community-stability are equally important) and The Witch, who is tied in to both of them but otherwise exists as a plot device and an expository device.
The result is a movie that takes much, much too long to get where it's going and more problematically skewers its own attempt at a message; Merida's rebellion gets so much airtime it begins to feel like the only reasonable viewpoint in the film, so when the "but wait" comes in later it almost feels like a tacked-on caveat. The whole enterprise feels less like the sprawling Disney fairytale it aims to be and more like a stretched out episode of some medieval-set animated sitcom ("This week on Brave, Merida and The Queen get into a tough spot and both learn a valuable lesson. Meanwhile, The King and his buddies get into a waaaacky brawl!")
Still, Brave isn't bad, just not as good as one might expect it to be. Call it the peril of high expectations.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.