4/10 Birds Ensnared
Strike two, Pixar.
Brave is about a young Scottish princess who has little interest in conforming to the gender role she was born into. Rather than listening to her mother and learning how to act like a proper lady, she spends her days climbing mountains and shooting arrows like the father’s daughter she is. But then one day her parents drop a bomb on her: playtime is over. You, lassie, are getting married. Despite her objections, her folks don’t budge, and before she knows it, her potential suitors from the neighboring kingdoms roll up in force to win her hand. Even though no one really likes being married off to a total stranger against their will, she plays her part thinking that her fate is sealed. That is until she discovers a blatantly overlooked loophole that allows her to compete for her own betrothal, takes advantage of the situation like a total boss, and throws all of Scotland into a tizzy as a result. Her mom gets pissed, words are exchanged, and our princess gallops off into the woods where she stumbles upon a lonely witch who grants her one wish: to change her mom. Since witches aren’t the most trustworthy and straightforward of folk, the princess ends up causing even more trouble for her kingdom, trouble that she has to resolve before it ends up being permanent.
Now, I didn’t see Cars 2, but from what I’ve heard, I’m probably better off. Apparently they turned Larry the Cable Guy into the main character, which is unforgivable in itself, and the moral of the story was something along the lines of “Fossil fuels are bad, but so are alternative fuels. Therefore, keep using fossil fuels. Mmkay?” Right. On top of being a sequel that no one over five was looking forward to, that sounds like an awfully stupid story from a studio that tends to have it down to a science. But since Pixar’s been on a winning streak that would make the UCONN women’s basketball team look like a bunch of lollygagging freeloaders, I think we were more than ready to just forget about Cars 2 and trust in Brave to set things right.
And from a technical standpoint, it does just that. Scotland is fittingly gorgeous and the character models/animations are second-to-none. Hard to say how it ranks against the likes of Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, but the life alone in princess Merida’s flaming locks is more than enough to get those salivary glands working. Swell voice acting across the board, too.
So that’s all well and good, then again, that was all expected. Alas, the same can’t be said of everything else.
In a nutshell, there were too many hands in the cookie jar with this one. It was directed by three people, written by four, and long before my suspicions were confirmed by the end credits, that’s about how many people I thought were writing and directing this. With that many brains trying to screw in a light bulb, more often than not you end up with good intentions and broken glass. For example: the plot devolving into a Celtic clone of Beauty and the Beast and Shrek by Act Two. As far as the plot and its development are concerned, the whole thing is terribly muddled, shockingly unoriginal, and when it was all over, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was supposed to take away from it all?
The premise is at least relatable in the sense that every parent thinks they know what’s best for their kid and every kid knows that parents just don’t understand. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: that Fresh Prince was wise beyond his years. The problem comes with the generally unrelatable manner in which this parable of sorts presents itself: a mother forcing her daughter to wed against her will for the good of the kingdom. Yes, there are women in the world who know this story all too well, but because it’s such an extreme set of circumstances, it makes it very easy to sympathize with the daughter and incredibly difficult to sympathize with her mother, even after the daughter unintentionally makes things worse. But since you can’t exactly make a Disney movie that tells children to rise up against those who gave them life, the writers start to backpedal towards some warped notion of common ground. God forbid they get a nasty letter in the mail, or worse, teach some parent how to parent.
Anyway, this all brings us to Merida.
In her defense, it’s about damn time Pixar put a heroine under the spotlight. Nothing against, Buzz, Woody, and the rest of the gang, but in today’s world of Toddlers and Tiaras and Keeping Up with the Kardashians, girls can use all the role models they can get. And being of the opinion that Jane Eyre is and always will be the apex of fictional female role models, it’s nice to see a lot of Jane in Merida. She’s an independent woman, she doesn’t “fit the mold” that’s expected of her, and she doesn’t sit by idly while the course of her life is dictated by those around her, especially when it comes to men and their pissing contests. You know, the more I think about her now, the more I’m realizing that Merida is kind of a great character, one that didn’t deserve to be so ultimately hobbled by her writers.
Without giving anything away, Merida is totally justified in everything she does in this story, and while some unfortunate things happen as a result of her actions, she is nonetheless warranted in taking them. Yet, for some reason that is clearly beyond me, she’s the one at the end crying and apologizing for disobeying her mother’s wishes. And, folks, that’s just nuts. Call me crazy, but I don’t know if that’s the kind of lesson we should be teaching our daughters, that even if you’re right, you should be sorry when things go wrong. How about this for a lesson: you should stand up for your convictions and you shouldn’t have to apologize because your mom’s got ass-backwards priorities. To do the opposite is to define your fate to someone else’s bidding. That’s how you get married off to some Scottish hick you’ve never met.
I’m not the kind of person who needs to be slapped across the face by a story to understand its moral, but I am the kind of person who appreciates it when storytellers don’t dig themselves into a ditch of moral contradictions. Sometimes parents are wrong and sometimes their kids are right. I don’t know what kind of story this movie was trying to tell, but that sure wasn’t it. Wish it had been though, could have been very easily pulled off with a healthy dose of focus and backbone.
And I also think this is the first Pixar effort I’ve seen that felt specifically catered to kids. The slapstick humor is as weak as it is childish, the musical montages just seem like they’re there for your Oscar consideration, and it feels far more commercial than it does genuine. Man, the greatest thing Pixar ever did was make movies that everyone could enjoy regardless of age, race, gender, or preconceived notion that adults don’t go to Disney movies. With each new Pixar movie I’ve seen, I’ve only laughed, welled-up, and smiled more than I did the time before. They changed the game, folks have been riding their coattails ever since, and I can only hope this isn’t a sign of things to come.
Not too long ago, I read a letter that Up director Pete Docter wrote to a kid who was interested in getting into the animation business. In it he writes that “[Pixar] films don’t get finished, they get released.” For a long, long time, that sounded to me like crazy talk, but now that I’ve seen Brave, I’m starting to think that he’s onto something. As pretty as this may look, it only serves to prove how insignificant eye candy is when the heart’s not there to back it up. There’s a slight chance that I’m probably being harder on this movie than I need to be, but this is Pixar we’re dealing with, a studio that kept setting the bar higher for itself, only to keep clearing it by leaps and bounds each year. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before they started hitting snags, but that doesn’t make this any less disappointing.
However! If you’re still in the market for a fantastic animated movie about being yourself and paving your own path in life, then watch La Luna – the short film that plays right before this – and walk yourself out of the theater. Now that was something special.