[Review] - Brave

Courtesy of Pixar
The trend in Pixar films has been towards emotional journeys. Even in the early days, they resisted the sort of screw ball physical comedy that might populate a conventional Disney film. It has always been there, but it was used sparingly, and in their last batch of films, almost nonexistently. Since WALLe, and Up, Pixar's films felt less like the standard sort of animation you'd get from Sony or Dreamworks, and more like a film made by people who care.

Which is why I left Brave feeling let down. Excluding Cars, Pixar's movies have always been superior. But Brave felt run of the mill. It felt adequate. It felt... good enough. And that just isn't good enough for me.

Hit the jump for the review, which is filled with a chocolate, spoiler filling.

Every movie Pixar makes is a technical marvel, and Brave is no exception. Each film, the animators clearly set goals for themselves as to what they want to do better. Monsters Inc was the first render individual hair, Finding Nemo the first to render fluid water, The Incredibles had foliage, Up had the balloons which acted independently. So, from a technical point of view, Brave is the child of every Pixar film to come before it, putting all those learned elements together to create a beautiful whole, creating a picture perfect Scotland. The only way the shots of the mountains and the vales could have looked better would have been if they just filmed it. The characters too, human and thus a little outside of Pixar's wheel house, are wonderfully done, if oddly proportioned.

But the story falls short of our expectations. It just seems so... pedestrian, and that is a step back from the people who brought us Toy Story 3. It's a Freaky Friday variant, wherein a mother and her daughter learn to understand one another when something wacky happens. It's probably the only version you'll see where the mother turns into a bear, but the lessons are the same. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't have anything bold to say about their relationship, and it doesn't do anything bold to make the relationship change. Yes, mother turns into a bear, but it never seems inconvenient. It sets up some third act conflict, but mother and daughter seem to get on just fine, if not better then before, which defeats the big reveal only mostly.

The whole thing seems rushed, and might have stood some rewrites, which considering the number of writers attributed in the credits, might have been the problem. There are good ideas in here, and characters that deserve better stories. The trailers gave away nothing of the plot (in hindsight, a warning sign), so I didn't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. Merida (Kelly MacDonald) in the first act was a character I hoped to see shine in the last two, but the story ends up turning her into the Scottish version of Han and Chewbacca. For all the trouble the films goes through to establish that Merida is a strong, capable girl, better then all the males in the kingdom, we never actually get to see her make use of her abilities. From the antics in the trailers, I thought maybe her curse involved making all the men ineffectual, and would leave her to defend the kingdom. Instead, we get two separate sequences of her attempting to hide a bear in a castle.

I do have to congratulate Pixar for avoiding the standard witch cliches, making the old woman not an evil character, just an apathetic one, and one that is pretty pointless, in the end. The curse might have been cast a dozen different, less witch related ways (the will o' the wisps being firmly established in the PR for the film). And that is the film's biggest failing. So much introduced, and so little done with it. Mordo, the Demon Bear, appears whenever an action beat is needed, and for no other reason. The film lacks an antagonist, which I guess means it's meant to be the situation that is the villain, but it helps character development if there is a physical baddie to overcome, even if it just a bear. Want to see a good use of a bear in the third act, look to Disney's Fox and the Hound.

The rest of the film is filled with sight gags, stooge style antics, and slapstick. Too much. I'm game, but it feels out of place. It feels like they weren't sure what to do with the bear, so they had it whack it's head, and fall into some pots. And because of this, I never really buy the plot. Or, I never get invested in it. Everybody seems to take everything in such stride. No one gets overly upset when they find out what has happened, they all just go on. To the point that I forgot about the deadline they were under until the plot brought it back up again. Everyone seemed to be getting on so well.

The cast does a fine job, though Emma Thompson's accent slides back and forth between deep brogue, and RP. Billy Connolly as Hagar the Horrible is fine for what he does, but his character seems way, way too far out in the left field of crazy comedic relief. As are the rest of Clan Leaders, including Craig Ferguson who ridiculously uses a different Scottish accent to his native one. In fact, there are no strong male characters at all in the film, which suggests that Merida is doing the sensible thing in learning to defend herself. Interestingly, this is the second Pixar film that relies on nonverbal communication through much of the plot, and I wonder exactly what they are getting in all this practise for.

Pixar has some good stories in it's history of rescuing the damned. Toy Story 2 was torn down, and rebuilt. As was Ratatouille. Both came out the better for them. And Pixar remains calm about the shifts in the creative direction of Brave, but I wonder how much it hurt the film, and why more wasn't done to fix it. Maybe it was too far gone. In the end, they released a movie that was once called The Bear and the Bow, which remains the better title. Will o' the Wisps would have been a better title then Brave. Because there isn't much bravery in this film. There is cowardice, compromise, and a tiny bit of courage. But not out and out bravery, despite what the narration might have you believe.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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