I am a big fan of Disney Pixar movies, having seen every one of their movies in the theatre, dating back to Toy Story, a number of years before I had kids, and even their shorts made for computer graphics geeks conventions more than 20 years ago.
So reviewing Brave, the latest effort from the company, is akin to me reviewing a kids musician whose albums-for-kids-and-families I'd been listening to alongside Nirvana. It's a different frame of reference from most media for kids I take in.
The short version of the review: Brave is a good movie, about the in the middle of the pack of Pixar movies, the scariest of all of them, but with less character development than most.
The slightly longer version: The most basic of plot summaries. Princess Merida is an ace shot with the bow and arrow, and opposed to the plan of her mother the Queen to marry her off to a suitor to help bring peace to the region. Merida takes things into her own hands to save her from this fate, which produces way more complications than she, her family, or indeed this reviewer, could forsee.
That's right, one of the best parts of the movie is that the second-act plot development is genuinely surprising. To say more would ruin the surprise, but the external conflict is not one you're probably expecting. The internal, emotional conflict -- the heart of any Pixar movie -- is easier to spot, and while the movie dramatizes it OK, I never felt sufficiently invested in any character except Merida -- somewhat -- to fully latch on.
Of course, that may in part be a gender thing -- my wife and Miss Mary Mack loved the movie more than I, whereas I thought the short that preceded the movie, "La Luna," about three generations of (male)... janitors (for lack of a better word) said many the same things about parenting and self-determination that Brave did, but did it with more humor and far fewer words. It was something that particularly struck me the second time I saw the movie.
[Side note: As a music reviewer, movie-reviewing is an odd beast. Whereas I often listen to an album five or six times in the process of writing a review, notes by my side, movie reviews are done based on one viewing, in the dark, with all electronic devices sequestered by a movie company worried about electronic leaks. Not quite sure how those movie reviewers manage it, aside from trying to jot down notes on a darkened pad of paper.]
Which isn't to say that Brave isn't funny, either. The witch whose assistance sets the conflict into motion is an absolute hoot and the antics of Merida's younger siblings will keep the younger siblings in your household amused. But often in Pixar movies the humor is rooted in emotional truth (think of Nemo's dad's neurotic ramblings) and here it can feel like the diversion from the story at hand. I would also note that some of the scenes are pretty intense and the 3-year-old who loved Cars may not be ready for this.
I'm not being entirely fair to the movie. It was fun, I recommend it, and I'm only sounding down because the bar set by Pixar for its other movies is so high. If this movie came out from any other studio, it would be lauded unreservedly. I just wish I could have felt even more attachment to the characters.
Note: I was invited to attend a press preview showing by Disney; I also saw the movie a second time, paid for by me.