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Brave (2012)

June 26, 2012

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.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2012 5:59 am

    I haven’t seen Brave. I will, for the sole reason it is a Pixar film. But I can’t remember being less enthused about an upcoming Pixar flick.

    Personally though, I was a big fan of Cars 2. I thought it was a heap of fun, and being a big James Bond fan, I thought it was one of the better spy film spoofs that I had seen for a long time.

    • June 26, 2012 9:35 am

      Very interesting. Probably shouldn’t be casting stones at movies I haven’t seen, but glad to hear someone out there liked it! Might have to give it a fair shake one of these days.

      With that being said, really not sure whether I should recommend this movie to you or not. But being that you’re already so unenthusiastic about it, waiting ’til it’s on Netflix is probably the way to go.

      And thanks for stopping by! Awesome blog + blog name, man.

      • June 30, 2012 7:09 am

        Haha, no, you shouldn’t be bagging movies you haven’t seen. But I think we all do it to a degree. Cheers for checking out the blog, hope you continue to do so. I’ll be stopping by here regularly.

      • July 17, 2012 10:34 am

        Sweet! Will get more reviews up here soon. Such is life when you move out of state.

  2. June 26, 2012 6:20 am

    This is the first time I won’t have to justify my opinion because I totally agree. Great review.

  3. June 26, 2012 9:33 am

    I think that weird tension between pedigree (Pixar) and background (princess film) is going to be a big stumbling block for many. When we’re so used to being taken to outer space, across the ocean floor, or to undiscovered tropical vales, seeing Pixar output something so familiar feels like a crime.

    But I don’t think that’s really fair to Brave. It’s not perfect– there’s definitely a sense of there being too many fingers in the pie, or tart, so to speak, and the stuff with Fergus and the rowdy Lords (note to self: awesome name for a rock band) isn’t as developed as it should be– but it’s very, very good, and I think that requisite heart is absolutely present. Surprised you didn’t feel it yourself. Was there just something missing for you overall? I’m curious.

    The relatability thing I get to a degree, but I think you can look at the specifics first (Merida being married off by her parents) and the broader picture second (parents just don’t understand/kids just don’t understand), and then walk away with a stronger connection to the film.

    • June 26, 2012 9:51 am

      Dude, might have to start a band just for the sole purpose of making Fergus and the Rowdy Lords a reality.

      I wasn’t bothered in the slightest that Pixar was making a princess movie, in fact I think it was high time they went down this road. The thing that was missing for me was the heart. I didn’t feel any kind of connection to these characters – even Merida to a large degree – and all in all, it came off like a vain attempt to reinvent a proven formula with these kinds of “kid movies”. To me, they were all a bunch of short-sighted, stock characters. And I didn’t laugh once the whole time! What the hell! I felt like a parent who’d been dragged to a movie by his non-existent kids, a movie that my non-existent kids would have gone ape over while I snuck out to go watch Abe Lincoln kill vampires. That’s not the Pixar I know.

      And it’s just really hard for me to come to terms with the broader picture when it’s so easy to take Merida’s side over her mother’s in terms of the specifics. I don’t think there’s much of a case to be made for the “kids just don’t understand” argument given that Merida’s mom’s head is so far up her ass. If Merida had said, [SPOILER ALERT] “I want you to turn my mom into an effing BEAR,” [SPOILERS OVER] then that’s something else entirely. Merida’s mom just doesn’t understand, but Merida just got duped. Comparing the two is like chalk and cheese, it tainted a great deal of the movie for me, and I think it was a sloppy move on Pixar’s part to have Merida be the one who has to clean it all up. Her mom should have been the one giving that “follow your heart” speech in the grand room, not her.

      Does any of that make sense?

      • June 26, 2012 10:08 am

        I call dibs on guitar, but if need be, I’ll take the bullet and be the bass player. I know, I know. I’m selfless.

        Interestingly, I came at the Merida/Elinor thing siding more with Elinor. I’d still characterize myself as being in the middle here– I don’t at all cotton to the idea of selling one’s daughter off for marriage, even at royalty levels– but Merida needs to grow up. I’m with her in that she does deserve to maintain autonomy of her own life, but even then, she has responsibility (responsibility most of us don’t have, but still) as the eldest daughter in her family. She doesn’t get to just do whatever she wants. That’s just how life goes as you get older. (Barring independent and vast wealth.)

        But neither of them has a clue how to communicate what they feel and what they want/need to one another. If they could have had the conversation with each other that Elinor roleplayed with Fergus, I think the whole movie would have been over a lot faster. That they fail to do so feels very typical, to me at least, of most parent/child conflicts.

        None of that matters if you can’t invest yourself in the characters, though. Just goes to show how important that element is in making a successful movie! I get what you mean, Aiden; if you’re not connecting with the cast, you’re not connecting with the film. For me, the movie clicked right away, but I think that’s one of those intangibles that’s hard to explain fully.

  4. June 26, 2012 4:30 pm

    Wow, even the trailor looks dull. You know what though, there is actually a girl from my church who hails from Scotland with red hair that big.

  5. Ryan permalink
    June 26, 2012 5:26 pm

    Bummed you didn’t like this. Was hoping they would have another classic here. Cars 2 was stupid, but still better than most of the other animated movies that have been out recently. I’m also weary about the Monster’s Inc sequel. Loved the original, but think Pixar needs to stay away from any more sequels (They got lucky twice with Toy Story). Although I’d welcome a sequel to Up. “Up 2: Ellie’s Revenge”

    • June 27, 2012 9:13 am

      Bummed as well, man. Thought this was a sure thing, too.

      And I’m with ya’ on Monsters University. LOVED the first one, and like you said, the Toy Story trilogy is helping me keep the faith, but I agree, they need to cut back on the sequels big time.

      I’d totally see Ellie’s Revenge though.

  6. July 2, 2012 9:13 am

    I liked Brave, but it wasn’t over-the-top love for the film. I did connect with the characters in the beginning scene where the little Merida is running around… probably because I have little ones myself. As usual, great review Aiden.

    • July 25, 2012 11:39 am

      Thanks! I didn’t hate it by any means, and I probably would have been more partial to it if I were a parent. But alas, maybe when Brave 2 comes out, that’ll all change.

  7. August 4, 2012 4:17 pm

    I agreed with a lot of what you said, but there’s one part that I couldn’t disagree more.
    Merida do had reasons for being sorry and her mother wasn’t totally wrong. Maybe you couldn’t see it because, well, each one is each one, but I thought that was very clear that they’ve created characters that are more human and less heroical. They have virtues and flaws. Although it isn’t the most original Pixar movie, I did thought that the story was quite touching and easy to relate with real life.
    I almost forget, but I did like the bagpipes!

    • August 8, 2012 11:01 am

      I agree that Merida and her mother are far more human than heroic, but whereas her mother’s actions were intentional and narrow-minded, Merida’s were warranted and, ultimately, accidental in their repercussions. It is relatable to a degree considering that no one has ever seen eye-to-eye with their parents on things, but I still think the message is really muddled/warped. I don’t know, man, Merida was totally in the right in this scenario.

      Gotta love the bagpipes though.

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