Let's start with the fact that the animation is beautifully done. I really love the fact that they got how an arrow shaft wobbles coming off the bow before it settles into a spinning groove. It has all the technical proficiency one expects from Pixar.
Alas, it has all the subtlety we have come to expect from Disney. Which means it is pleasant enough, but none of the characters is developed enough to feel complicated, the humor is slapstick, and there are no long-term consequences for anyone except that We All Learn A Valuable Lesson.
Merida, for all her fiery spirit and fiery hair, lacks the basic empathy to care that she turned her mother into a bear until it becomes clear that the change may actually mean that her mother no longer cares for her. Until then, it is funny to watch Mom eat poison berries (which mysteriously have no effect on her whatsoever after visibly eating and swallowing several mouthfuls) and mock her mother's efforts to behave like she is still human ("Oh, sorry, I don;t speak bear"). There is never any attempt to humanize the 3 little princes or any of the secondary characters. They are props, good for jokes about what Scotsmen don't wear beneath their kilts and the objects of physical humor.
This is where Pixar always used to shine. Whether it was Remy or Woody or any of the other unusual characters that populate Pixar movies, the story always flowed from the characterization. Their characters were believable and empathetic. They cared about things other than themselves, and took their circumstances seriously. When Buzz Lightyear realizes with shock that he *is* a toy, it is tragic for him. Despite the fact that we as the audience want him to finally make this realization so that he can accept the world Woody and the other toys have built, we still realize the anguish Buzz feels as his self conception is destroyed and he finds himself suddenly bereft of identity.
Such empathy is utterly absent in Brave. Of course everything is going to be totally OK. No one worries it won't, except when we need dangerous dramatic tension. And then look, Merida learns to appreciate her Mom after all, just as her Mom has learned to relax a little. So it all works out just fine.
Frankly, rather than do it this way, I think the movie could have been much improved by doing a variation on the selkie legend. Elinor, having tasted the freedom of being a bear, runs off into the forest with the three boys to live life permanently bears. Merida grows up to be queen of her father's kingdom, and once a year she goes to the sacred magic Stone-hedgy thing to see her mother and brothers who live the wild lives of bears while Merida is stuck ruling the kingdom. Yes, she is acclaimed as the wisest, best and most responsible of rulers. She totally changed her fate -- and that of everyone around her. But it came with a cost.
I'm also waiting for the movie with an arranged marriage theme to someday demonstrate that it is not exactly a thrill for the young prince either. I picture a dialog like this:
Prince: But Dad, I don't want to marry the princess. I want to marry Philip.
King: Philip is nae the heir, Merida is. Marrying Merida is your duty. It's not like you have to love her or anything. Do you duty by her until ye get her pregnant and carry on with Philip all ye like.
Prince: But I want to marry him!
King: And do ye think I wanted to marry yur mithuir? Or that she wanted to marry me? Hell, no! D'ye think she could have been sleeping with half my court -- including the ladies in waiting -- and I not know about it? But we knew our duty, and we set aside our selfish desire to marry the one we love blah blah and all that rot! And you'll do the same!
Prince: But she's a girl!
King: And if it were a handsome man instead of a princess you'd throw over your true love, then?
Prince: Well no . . .
King: Exactly. You're not going to marry who ye want no matter what. So shut yer gob, do yer duty, and take lovers on the side like every bastard before ye!
Unlikely to show up any time in a kids movie, I suppose.