This is a Disney movie made by Pixar, with both parties wanting equal creative rights. And it shows a lot. At face value it's clearly a Disney princess movie painted with beautiful strokes of Pixar animation but while we got both of them, it seems neither took a stance and just settled in a middle that feels uninspired. The movie isn't really bad but neither does it feel like it has its own personality.
Reading some of the comments here it seems that many people were underwhelmed with this movie and I agree to some extent. I don't think the story itself was complex and the writing didn't do it any favors. For example, I thought the whole bear-dynamic was uninspiring. However, the movie was engaging and there were some scenes I thought were quite touching. The animation was flawless, but I wanted good storytelling.
2-3. I think if the story had its act together for the first act, then the film would be altogether stronger. About the time stasis is broken is when the film turns around, and the theme about mended bonds and the way it's interwoven with the lead characters to represent the necessity for national unity comes out okay. Merida is a fine heroine as well, though some more complexity would have been appreciated.
Brilliantly unorthodox mother-daughter relationship counselling. I liked how toothy Merida is. She is terrible and spirited and the first Disney princess I've seen genuinely in need of redemption. Gorgeous music, very similar to Tuomas Holopainen's 'Music Inspired by the Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck'. Like that album 'Brave' is awkward, unexpectedly sober Disney 'venturousness.
Given that I'm from Scotland the attention to detail to the gorgeous visuals and the Scottish cast and dialogue should make me sing this films praise from the highest point of Ben Nevis. That's why it's painful to see such a weak story that lacks direction attached to a beautiful looking film. The film should have taken more risk and taken the film in a more darker direction instead of a throw away Dreamworks flick.
People seem to have an issue with this film because it simply isn't as high concept as Pixar usually is. However, Brave is surprisingly bewitching and IMO may be the most emotionally and thematically mature/complex film the studio has released. It's not often that an animated children's film can be picked apart and analyzed like this one can. It isn't perfect but it's definitely much more challenging than it appears.