Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: "Brave"

Brave, the new film from animation giant Pixar, is the most Disney-esque in Pixar's limited history. Since its first release in 1995 (Toy Story), the studio has released thirteen feature length films and won six Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature. Unlike DreamWorks, Pixar's chief rival, the studio has only released three sequels. And it has also had one major bomb: 2011's Cars 2, which was the first film to not receive a single Oscar nomination. Brave is Pixar's first foray into princess territory, a genre Disney has monopolized since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Originally, I had no intention of seeing Brave. I was not convinced by any of the teasers or the official trailer. It was Kelly Macdonald's voice and the Scottish hillside that finally convinced me to see Brave late on a Saturday night when I really did not want to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I was a little put off by the fact that the theatre had one single showing in 2D at noon and the only other option was 3D. I do not think that the film was enhanced by 3D. The beautifully lush and green hills of Scotland would have been equally awe-inspiring in 2D. I have repeatedly discussed by somewhat overgeneralized distaste for animated films. I did not care for Up (2009) at all and I was mostly underwhelmed by The Incredibles (2004) and Cars (2006). That being said, Toy Story 3 (2010) made me weep and Finding Nemo (2003) may be one of my favourite animated films. I expected more from Pixar with Brave than what I got. It is a decent story, of a stubborn princess' desire to live free in opposition to her mother's plans, but it felt so much like any other Disney story without the magic of Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid - even though magic plays a crucial role in the film! Brave, set in the exquisitely-crafted Scottish highland, is another visual masterpiece from animation giant Pixar, but the story is far too generic to garner much excitement from me.

Brave is set in the highlands of 10th century Scotland (known as the High Middle Ages of Scotland). In the prologue Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is given a bow for her birthday by her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly). Merida's mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), does not believe that it is appropriate for a princess to be using weapons. While playing with her bow Merida sees a will-o'-the-wisp, a magical blue light, right before a giant demon bear attacks her father. Years later, Merida now has three identical triplet brothers (Harris, Hubert and Hamish) and she is to be betrothed to one of her father's allied clans. Merida has no intention of marrying anyone, and challenges the first born child to compete in an archery tournament, knowing that she is the best archer in the kingdom. Later, after a violent right with her mother, Merida flees to the forest where the will-o'-the-wisps lead her an elderly witch. The witch (Julie Walters) grants Merida a spell, one that will change her mother. Unfortunately her mother is changed into a bear (much like the bear that has haunted her father). It is soon revealed that the only way to break the spell is to repair a pride-torn bond before the second sunrise.

As I have already compared Brave to Disney films of past (even though Disney is the parent company of Pixar), Brave seems (to me at least) most reminiscent of The Little Mermaid (1989). It is the story of a young princess who chooses to ignore her parents' wishes and uses magical means to change her fate. And for that reason, I am not sure what Brave has to offer besides the beautifully imagined Scottish highlands. The story is just too cliched and reworked to feel like something fresh. I was also disappointed by how little music mattered in Brave. The songs just did not seem to hold much power. The soundtrack features two songs by Gaelic signer Julie Fowlis and one song by Mumford and Sons (featuring Birdy). Brave did little to make me feel helpful for Pixar's future as a revolutionary film studio. Audiences are tired of 3D and every single animated film seems to be released in 3D. The next Pixar release is a prequel to 2001's Monsters, Inc. entitled Monsters University (scheduled for release on June 21, 2013). Hopefully these past two misfires is not an indication of a lack of original ideas at Pixar. DreamWorks, which is suddenly hot on the heels of Pixar in terms of animation domination, is much more willing to throw sequel after sequel at audiences - with  five variations of Shrek, two Kung Fu Pandas and three Madagascars. With three titles to be released prior to Monsters University, will DreamWorks become the animation standard? Brave left me incredibly underwhelmed. The story had no bite. Pixar has a history of creating emotionally complex stories and bringing them to life with flawless animation, but Brave was a lifeless story with beautiful images. Beauty without intelligence is something that is far too common in Hollywood.

My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.

1 comment:

  1. While this film could have been anywhere (other than a few kilt jokes and one joke about drinking it really had no significance that it was in Scotland), the part I appreciated most about this heroine is that she figured it out for herself. This is not a film where the heroine is swept away to be married and finds her prince charming. This is about Merida finding herself.

    I liked it. Though it's a children's movie so I wasn't really expecting too much. Then again, look at The Lion King.

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