Brave (2012)

Directed by Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman
Written by Mark Andrews & Steve Purcell and Brenda Chapman & Irene Mecchi

Pixar is such a stand up company. For the past four years, it has catered directly to my needs. Starting with their Academy Award winning film Wall-E, Pixar has released a new film the week of my birthday every year, which seems intentional since I am a huge film lover, a huge animated film lover, and one of the many Pixar enthusiasts. So this year for my birthday, my friends and I made our way to the local multi-plex to take in the new Pixar, Brave, a return to original material after two years of sequels. All it has to do is have Pixar in front of it and I will see it blind. I must admit though, I was curious to see where they would go with this one after seeing the trailer, which in Pixar fashion hid the main plot. But I still expected it to be phenomenal.

The bunch went international with this one, as they did with Cars 2. The film is set in beautiful Scotland and follows a princess, Merida (Kelly MacDonald) destined to take the throne of one of the four cornerstones in a kingdom as she struggles to come to terms with picking a suitor to marry. She is strong and independent, taking after her father, the King (Billy Connolly), and having to defend herself from her three brothers she describes as “wee-devils”. Her mother (Emma Thompson) is much more strict than Merida’s father, and she forces her into dresses and proper manners when Merida would rather be riding horseback and shooting her bow and arrow for her own hand in marriage. But when this resent causes Merida to make a questionable request after a chance encounter, she must realize more than ever who she is and who she loves.

The one and only thing you always know going into a Pixar film is that it is going to look stunning, and so it only makes sense that this would be no different. Always at the cutting edge of computer animation, Pixar delivers a beautiful looking film which captures the beauty of the highlands of Scotland. I say this is the only thing you can count on in a Pixar film because, while massively entertaining and endlessly excellent, Pixar always has a trick up their sleeve, a surprise to give the viewers, which is why I wish their cryptic trailer approach would be embraced by all film studios. But that is an argument for a different forum. There is no let down in the surprise department with this film either, though I will admit to being somewhat unenthusiastic about the twist.

Whatever it was, it just seemed to be lacking in the Pixar magic this time around. There was no character to hang my hat on, there was no soaring moment or scene that made me say “wow”, there was no definitive song that rose above and made itself known. Sure, I am sure part of it is that I have come to expect these things as part of some sort of secret Pixar recipe that is handed down in secrecy from generation to generation. But isn’t that kind of the point? Pixar, while including many of the same ingredients, has always been able to put in a dash of this and a pinch of that to make it something you’ve never tasted before and want to eat for the rest of your life. This film lacked that magic, and while it had good characters and good songs, it didn’t have great ones.

This is Pixar’s first real fairy tale, which is what made/makes their partner company Walt Disney as successful as they are. It seems strange since fairy tales usually lend themselves so well to animated films, but ultimately I think it limited the writers/directors in what they were able to come up with. Certainly the fantasy world of 10th century Scotland is a blank enough canvas that a painting of endless beauty could be painted, but it is a vein that uses fewer colors in my opinion, thus making it that much more difficult to craft a masterpiece. I want to end the review on a bit more of a positive note however. As much as I have been talking about how disappointing the film was, it was a still a good film, just not one that lived up to the Pixar record. In years when Pixar led the pack with their film, others lagged behind in mediocrity. This year, it seems the merely “good” Brave may struggle to garner a nomination in the Animated category. Don’t even think about Best Picture.

*** – Good

P.S. The short beforehand, La Luna, is a perfect example of the simple magic Pixar is capable of providing, a lovely childish vision of how the cycles of the moon occur.


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