Friday, June 22, 2012

Pixar's Brave: Missing the Target

I don't ruin much, but if you don't want certain aspects of Brave spoiled for you, read this review after you've seen the film.

Before Brave, Pixar had mostly been a boy's club.  With 12 feature films under their belt and not one of them featuring a leading lady, it was only a matter of time before we saw a female main character from the world-reknowned animation studio.  Originally set to be titled 'The Bear and The Bow,' the production was first announced in 2008 with Brenda Chapman attached as director (Pixar's first female director).  This would be a less "cartoony," dark fairy tale without talking toys or cars - in their place a fiery haired and hearted heroine wielding a bow and arrow, set in an ancient and mystical Scotland.  On paper it sounds so great, but after what appeared to be a bumpy production including a director change to Mark Andrews and some "creative differences" behind the scenes, Brave ended up a disappointing mess.

Like past Pixar films, you can't complain about it on a technical level.  The animation is state-of-the-art and Merida's heap of curly red hair is visually striking.  The setting of a Gaelic Scotland is also well established, if similar to other recent animated films (How to Train Your Dragon, Tangled).  I also thought the score by Patrick Doyle, featuring many authentic Scottish instruments and sounds, was one of the best aspects of the film.  But when you start looking at this movie from a story perspective, the area that Pixar normally knows better than anyone, it just doesn't add up.

At first the plot is what you've seen a million times before: a young princess, Merida, is unhappy about her mother forcing her to choose one of three husbands in an arranged marriage. Wanting to make her own decisions about her life, she runs off into the woods all upset after a scuffle with her mother.  This is where the movie starts to show some promise: Merida then follows these magical blue will o' the wisps to a small cottage inhabited by a small witch, a funny talking crow, and hundreds of intricately crafted wood carvings of bears (all of which are never seen again, unfortunately). Merida requests for the witch to make her a spell that will convince her mom to change her mind about the marriage.  The witch gives her a spell in the form of a cake, telling Merida it will surely "change her fate." After an empty apology Merida then gives the treat to her mother - the results are unexpected and I won't spoil it, but there is some serious left-turn action going on in the plot after that.

Brave is just too mediocre for Pixar.  Although it had a perfect set-up, it never really went anywhere groundbreaking with it.  I was practically in tears watching Up, Wall-E, and Toy Story 3, but the emotional moments in Brave just didn't hit their mark.  Pixar is generally known for their grand-scale adventures, and the setting of an enchanted Scotland would have made for some great action set pieces, but this is probably Pixar's "smallest" film yet (and let's face it bears are not quite as exciting as say dragons or dinosaurs).  The world didn't seem as rich or filled with the same fun details as a Monster's Inc. or even A Bug's Life; besides the character designs and the landscapes the film actually looked kind of bland to me.  Again, I won't spoil what happens to the mother, but I think it's safe to say that the main idea is having a strong mother-and-daughter theme, but the film never bothers to delve deep into its surface-level morals.  It's not a complete disaster, but it's so slight, unmemorable, and cringeworthingly unfunny (I know that's not a word) that Brave is only marginally better than Cars and Cars 2, located right near the bottom of Pixar's proverbial barrel.

Rating: C

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