I always feel kind of like the Grinch or some equivalent when I dislike an animated movie because, after all, they're ultimately made for kids. But Pixar films are typically more than animation.
In my opinion, some of the best movies of the last decade, animated or not, have been Pixar creations (I refer specifically to Wall-E and Up).
However, in the last two years, the once infallible studio has more or less come crashing back to earth. 2011's Cars 2 proved they were in fact capable of a misstep, and Brave proves that they are capable of what can be described as an official rough patch.
The easiest hypothesis as to why this is involves what appears to be a changing of the guard in terms of writing. Apparently gone are the days when the likes of either Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird or John Lasseter or sometimes a combination had their hands in nearly everything Pixar related. And those that have taken their place simply haven't lived up to expectations.
Brave just doesn't feel like a Pixar film. The humor is different, the heart at its core feels cheesier and more contrived, and even parts of the animation are lacking.
On the flip side of that, Merida's bright red hair, among some other aspects, is actually fairly outstanding. There is so much detail in every curl that it's disappointing that other aspects, mainly some of the backdrops and scenery, are so standard and without much depth. There are also several sequences that don't quite look right, almost as if they are a bit off without being in 3D, which is strange considering I'm almost positive the movie was post converted.
I'll be brief in terms of story so as not to spoil the surprises, however silly they may be, hidden beneath the simple set up. Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald whose accent varies in strength significantly from scene to scene) is a young, archery-loving girl who takes every opportunity she can to tell us in her thick Scottish accent that she wants to "change [her] fate."
Her current fate, as tradition says, is to marry one of three suitors from neighboring communities who will vie for her hand in an event of her choosing (of course, archery).
Merida's mother (Emma Thompson), and to a much lesser extent her father (Billy Connolly), are set on carrying out tradition, despite Merida's open and obvious objections. She wants to live her own life, and in an attempt to do so via a loophole in the rules, she decides to compete in the said event to win her freedom. Naturally, this doesn't go over so well, and there is a familial falling out. What happens next is apparently the "fate changing" sequence of the plot, but I'll stop here.
To be quite honest, I found the entire story to be fairly dull and borderline boring. The same goes for most of the characters, who seem to share a single developmental trait: they have Scottish accents. Merida, as Pixar's first true female protagonist, could have and should have been significantly more interesting than she was. She exhibits the bravery necessary to accomplish her goal, but its culmination left me wondering what exactly it was she had done.
I knew almost immediately after the mother/daughter fight how the film would end, and nothing really all that exciting happened in between. Also, because of some fairly poor writing for the first two thirds of the film, the ending lacked the emotional impact it could have had. There are still some sweet sentiments as usual, but they feel forced rather than earned.
There are other issues with the story as well. For instance, there are a small handful of seemingly very important moments that are either entirely forgotten about, or forgotten about for so long that their resolution is basically glossed over.
The humor isn't Pixar humor, it's more or less completely slapstick (complete with nipple-twister). Rather than making us laugh via character driven situations and dialogue, we are given characters falling over, characters who speak gibberish, characters without pants, and characters who get hit in the head with things.
I guess for kids this is fine, but as I said earlier, Pixar has built a brand of animation that appeals to kids and adults alike (and sometimes more so to adults - if there is any adult that doesn't get emotional during the opening moments of Up I'm fairly confident in saying they lack a soul). Brave will bore most adults, and even bored some of the youngsters in my theater.
Maybe 2013's Monster's University will end the drought.