Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Movie Review: Brave
View the video version here.
If nothing else, Brave will stand as a fine example of Pixar’s willingness to try something new, or at least new to them. Once thought of as the male alternative to Disney Animation, due to their lineup of films about more generally boyish subjects, Brave finds them taking on the more traditional fairytale princess formula. It’s an unexpected & exciting move for Pixar, and under the direction of Brenda Chapman, who brought us the excellent Prince of Egypt, it had all the makings of a classic. Which is why it’s a shame it’s not a lot better. Not that it’s bad, far from it. Pixar doesn’t do BAD movies. All the same this is as perilously close to “mediocre” they’ve come since A Bug’s Life.
The problem really starts right around the part the trailers refused to tell you about, conveniently enough. The first act of the movie you know & it goes smoothly enough. Merida is a tomboyish Scottish princess with nothing but contempt for her prime & proper mother’s attempts to make a lady out of her. When she learns she is to be married off to one of the local noblemen’s sons, she consults a witch for a spell to change her destiny. The results of that spell, however, Pixar has kept oddly tight-lipped about, and having seen the movie I can sort’ve see why. In deference to them, I won’t outright spoil it for you. I’ll just be vague and say what they came up with basically amounts to Freaky Friday meets The Shaggy Dog. Now when you saw all that advertising material promising a serious fantasy adventure about a feisty warrior princess battling bears with her bow, I’m betting the first thing that came to mind wasn’t FREAKY FRIDAY MEETS THE SHAGGY DOG!! Fortunately this is Pixar, so they manage to keep this out-of-place plot twist from being a total disaster, but is still makes for a jarring tonal shift that the movie never really recovers from.
Speaking of jarring shifts, the film seems frightfully unsure of what it wants to be about on a thematic level. Early speculation that this was some kind’ve feminist piece prove inaccurate. The already famous “I’ll be shooting for my own hand!” scene is indeed the highlight of the movie, but it only pays off as a well-worn “parents should let their kids run their own lives!” moral. They also go on and on about “fate” and “destiny” without actually saying anything about them. For a company that so eloquently taught kids complex subjects like existentialism & mortality, this is really scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Thankfully the film does at least have one good thing going for it, & that’s the relationship between Merida and her mother, Elinor. Brave is a touching mother/daughter story in the same way Finding Nemo was a father/son story. Sure they’re the most basic of archetypes: the uptight, controlling mom and her rebellious tomboy daughter, but the voice actresses really sell it & a fair amount of depth is displayed by their characters.
So yeah, pretty disappointing given the hype, but by no means bad. As Disney Princess films go it stands above average. It's heartfelt & entertaining, even if some of the humor dips a little lowbrow at times. Not quite up to Pixar standards, but a good time will definitely be had by all.