Saturday, November 17, 2012

Movie – Brave (2012)

Note: when doing my 2012 Big Summer Movies category I did not get a chance to see Brave, so I was not able to review it during the summer.  I have now just seen it and am writing this review to complete this category.  You can read the parent post for it to see the other summer movies I reviewed here.

Brave is the latest movie from Pixar Studios.  It is also the most “Disneyfied” to be released since Pixar was acquired by Disney.  It features a princess, a witch, cute animals, and a couple intended-for-the-pop-charts songs.  Those are steps backwards.  On the other hand, Pixar was attempting to emphasize they were moving forward by making their first film for girls with a female lead character in a movie written and directed by a woman.  They hit some speed bumps along the way, though, and were not completely successful.  I will explain.

One thing you can always count on from Pixar is outstanding animation and Brave is one of their best in this regard.  The red, curly hair of the lead character is practically a character in its own right.  The landscapes that appear are also very beautiful.

Princess Merida (voice of Kelly MacDonald) grows up as a tomboy.  She has no interest in the things her mother wants her to do.  She’d much rather be shooting arrows.  Her parents, King Fergus (voice of Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson) have different approaches to raising their daughter.  Fergus is the fun one, while Elinor is the stern, uncompromising one.  Merida also has three much younger, triplet brothers who wreak havoc through much of the movie.

Unbeknownst to Merida, Elinor arranges for the three other Clans to send their firstborn sons to be suitors to marry Merida.  This does not go over well and Merida throws a truly spectacular hissy fit at the thought of being forced to marry and be a “good wife” like her mother.  Both daughter and mother clash, each doing and saying nasty things to each other, before Merida finally runs away.  Merida meets a witch and asks her for a spell to change her mother, and with it Merida’s fate.  Merida gets what she wishes for…but not what she wants.  Of course the spell goes badly and this leaves Merida and her mother the second half of the movie to try to make things right, both with the spell and each other.

While I sometimes liked the main character of Merida, there were also times when she was a downright spoiled brat.  Her mother Elinor was also unlikable for much of the movie, especially when she tells her daughter that she was unhappy when she had to get married, so she is going to ensure that Merida also marries, even if it is unhappily.  It’s the old “If I had to do something I didn’t want to do, then I’m damn well going to make sure you have to do it, too” message.

I mentioned at the top that Pixar ran into some issues with their “movie for girls” project.  The biggest of which is that original writer/director Brenda Chapman had to be replaced after four years of working on the film and not being able to deliver it.  She has said that the finished product pretty much still delivered her story, though.  If so, she didn’t do her gender any favors.  Both Merida and Elinor are presented as mostly two-dimensional characters, rather than the more complex ones we’ve seen in past Pixar films.  The father/son relationship in Finding Nemo is given more depth than the mother/daughter relationship in Brave, for instance.

And whether it was intentional on Chapman’s part or not, all of the male characters in this film, even Merida’s father, are essentially extraneous to the story.  They are there to make fart jokes and fight mindlessly with each other for comic relief, not to add anything constructive to the plot.  And I’ll just include this observation – the first Pixar movie to be mostly written and directed by a woman features about a dozen bare, male butts in it, all manscaped to remove any unsightly hair, of course.  For all the talk of the “Boy’s Club” that Pixar is, how many bare female butts have appeared in any of their male-directed movies?  (Dory doesn’t count.  Neither does Mrs. Potato Head.)

If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering why I am recommending the movie.  I am doing this because for all its faults, it is still a Pixar movie and that makes it better than the large majority of other animated films that get released in a year.  As I mentioned at the top, the animation is nothing less than excellent.  This is especially realized in the physical actions of Elinor after she is under the witch’s spell (I don’t want to spoil what happens to her, so I will just leave it by saying a lot of non-verbal communication has to occur.)

There are serious moments in the film, and a few of them are a little tense and scary (which is a good thing.)  There are also some very cute scenes with Elinor and a young Merida before the latter grows up and the two start to fight with each other.  And even though the men are just there for comic relief, some of the jokes do work, including one where a character speaks in an accent so thick even his other Scotsmen can’t understand him.

In addition to the vocal talents mentioned above, the film also includes Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, and Craig Ferguson.  On the Blu-ray extras Pixar is proud to point out that this is an all-Scottish cast and that they asked all of them to insert some real Scottish words and sayings now and then, if they felt there were some good places for them.  (Technically, Emma Thompson was born and raised in England, but her mother is Scottish.)  In case anyone is wondering, yes John Ratzenberger’s voice is heard, and the Pizza Planet truck does appear, despite this being a period film.  (Keep an eye peeled in the witch’s cottage for a number of interesting objects.)

Finally, don’t shut the movie off when the credits start.  There is a short, funny scene at the end that is a call back to something discussed earlier in the film.

While Brave is not among the best of films that Pixar has produced (Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3), it is also not among the worst (Cars, Cars 2.)  While I was a little disappointed by it seemingly having been diluted some by Disney, many Pixar moments still came through.  If you are thinking about seeing this film, then I recommend you give it a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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  1. Good review Chip. Started off very promising, but then just falls into kiddie-land and seemed like a real disappointment. Oh well, maybe Pixar will knock it out of the park again soon. Hopefully, that is.

    1. Thanks. After the brilliance that was Toy Story 3, Pixar seems to have dropped a notch. I also hope they can pick it back up.

  2. I saw this one on a plane in September and fits quite well in the category of movies to watch on a plane. It is quite harmless and light and if you do not catch all the dialogue you are not really lost (classic problem with movies on a plane).
    I see your problem with the movie though. This works well for a child, but Pixar movies also have an adult element that makes them very watchable for us adults too and this element is almost entirely missing here. You are right, too much Disney, too little Pixar.

    1. "A good movie to watch on a plane" is a good way to describe this. Thanks.

  3. Nice review, I agree with most of what you said (I wasn't a fan of Merida's hair, but did like the comedy and animals).

    1. I admit that sometimes her hair was so distinct that I wish they had made her face more human and less a caricature. It sometimes made her face look, well, cartoonish in comparison.

    2. Definitely. That's what I didn't like about the hair, it didn't seem to fit with the rest of the film, especially when compared to the other character's.