Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Much hype and anticipation has preceded Brave, the newest animated film from Pixar featuring their first female lead. The film is aptly named in that it is a drastic departure in tone and spirit from many of other lighter, comedic films in the Pixar canon. This film is dark and daring. The studio also supposedly re-wrote its entire animation formula to give Brave an impressive look and feel of an unmatched quality compared to its predecessors.
You can’t fault them for trying to stay on the cutting edge. Sadly this time out - in the case of story, character and theme - Brave is a befuddled mess of tired Disney yarns that never seems to untangle effectively.
Princess Merida is the heroine at the center, her flowing red curls more lifelike than ever (man is this animation getting good nowadays). Her loving father is the King of their Scottish kingdom, and her mother the Queen is over-protective and proper. They try to raise Merida as an appropriate princess. She’s more of a tomboy though, feeling better suited with a bow in her hands than in her hair.
Merida is still just knee-high when her father and his clan gets attacked by a vicious and legendary bear, Mor’du. The King loses his leg in the attack and the bear escapes to the forest...think Captain Hook (or Moby Dick if you'd prefer).
Years later when Merida is a teenager, she is to be married, and each of the local clan leaders present their sons as potential suitors...think Cinderella. Not wanting to accept her fate, she has a fall-out with her mother...think pretty much any Disney tale. Upon meeting up with a mysterious old woman (think...oh, you get the point) she feeds her mother a tart given to her by the witch, thinking that it will change the Queen’s mind about Merida's future. Instead, her mother is cursed and transformed into a bear. Merida has two days to reverse the spell and can only do so if she “repairs a bond.”
The problems with Brave are numerous, but most glaring of all is this uninspired story in which all else orbits around. On one hand, you have these very familiar conventions – a princess, a loving buffoon of a father, the wicked mother, the evil enchantress...all characters we've seen before. On the other hand, there are several baffling elements introduced here that seem to buck tradition and reason – there is no Prince Charming or love interest at all actually, for example. Mor’du the monstrous bear hardly qualifies as a villain. If anything he’s just a big bad beast out in the woods who just keeps getting attacked by Scots. I’d be pretty pissed too.
A swash-buckling tale without a main squeeze or a bad guy? Brave safely chooses to go the mother/daughter route. It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that there aren’t any recognizable themes at all…just that they’re worn out and beaten down themes.
Merida basically makes a quick decision in anger and spends the rest of the movie trying to fix it. From the moment this happens, Brave quickly disintegrates into a murky, adult bear hunt that really has no pay-off.
The look of the film is exceptional and riveting in 3D, and whatever Pixar did to its animation process seems to be worth it. Is it leaps and bounds above what other current animation studios like DreamWorks Animation are doing? Not really. But still worth the cost of the extra dimension.
Animation doesn’t have to be meant for kids by default, so Brave’s more mature tone isn’t a knock against it. But there are few laughs past the first 30 minutes or so, and it is not over-stating things to say that smaller children will need to be mighty brave to sit through Brave. The 5 and 7 year-old (girl and boy, respectively) that I saw the film with diverted their eyes several times during the screening, telling me afterwards that they didn’t like the movie. This coming from kids who ranked Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore amongst their favorite films of 2010.
Pixar – like Disney years earlier with traditional animation – is King when it comes to creating animated classics for a new generation. Brave is not even close to Pixar’s best, although it may be one of the studio’s most courageous efforts.
There is the problem of using original material: You don’t know if it really will work. It's a problem not found with tried and true fairy tales regurgitated every year or so by Disney and other studios. The failure of the film could also point to inexperience in directing- between the film's three directors, only one has directorial experience (Brenda Chapman directed 1998's The Prince of Egypt).
High expectations come with being regarded as the best, and for Pixar this film is a clear miss. Without the Pixar name attached I wonder if many more would be as direct.
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes, Rated PG
Starring (voice talent of): Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, John Ratzenberger
Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
Opens locally Friday, June 22nd, 2012 (check for show times).
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