Sunday, 24 June 2012

Brave (A Review)

If yew had the chance to change yewr fate, woudjya?
I feel kinda bad for Pixar. It's tough to be on top. With an amazing run of movies, a couple of which have cemented their place in cinema history, the expectations of them are insanely high. I think that's why everyone was a little bit taken aback last summer when Cars 2 rolled out. It was the first Pixar movie most people could look at and say, "y'know, that wasn't very good." Especially when you consider the amazing slew of movies that came just before that (Toy Story 3, Up, and Wall-E.) With that in mind, people want everything from Brave. They want it to be the end all, be all, Pixar film. Back to form. Back on top! And now that it's here I can proudly report to you all that Brave is...good. Yes, it's good. Brave is a good movie. Is it another instant classic that will once again be some of the best storytelling Hollywood has to offer? No. But it's good. I understand being simply "good" to some people is a disappointment, but read on and you'll see there's plenty to love in this feature, as well as some choices that, in my opinion, don't quite pay off. Not to mention a huge bait and switch by Pixar that may prove to be the film's undoing.

First of all, let's start with the best part of Brave, the visuals. Holy hell, to say this movie is a feast for the eyes is an understatement. It's a 10 course meal and an after dinner mint for your eyes. After this movie your eyes will never go hungry again. Taken place in medieval Scotland, Pixar once again pushes it's rendering techniques to a whole new level, showing some amazing vistas of the Scottish highlands. Graphic nerds will go ga-ga over some of the beautiful details in the textures, as well as the amazing physics on the gorgeously untamed red curls of Merida (our main character.) And the animation is once again top notch. Every character moves in such unique ways. Every little nuance in the movements is perfectly planned out, giving memorable quirks and an abundance of personality to this cast of characters.

The royal family: I love em all!
Speaking of the characters, I love them. Every character in the movie, I loved. There was something about their chemistry, and the way they all were presented that just gave every character an enjoyable performance (with only some reservations about a witch character, who at points seems like she was in the wrong movie.) Merida's family took front and center: the loving yet overbearing mother Queen Elinor (played by Emma Thompson,) the rambunctious yet kind hearted father King Fergus (played by Billy Connolly,) and three minuscule, mischief-making, mute triplets who provided a bulk of the movie's visual and slap-slick humour. Speaking of humour special mention should go out to the three feuding clan leaders and their respective hopeful suitor's for the hand of Princess Merida. While not overall that important to the story, the clans of Dingwall, MacGuffin and MacIntosh (I see what you did there Pixar) definitely gave the best laughs of the movie. 

But I've yet to mention specifically about our main character, Merida (played by Kelly MacDonald.) True, she's a pretty big cliche in the respect that she's a princess longing for more, and desires freedom from her royal duties, but Pixar does its best to give her such a twist in her personality to make her more then just a "girls can kick ass too" character. She's a bit of a goof. She loves a good laugh. She can be undignified, yet charming. And all these characteristics are strengthened even more when she interacts with the other characters, such as her father. On the ball, Merida and her family feel and act like real people. It's skillfully acted in both the voices and in the animation, and they're able to get some great emotion from the performances. Something tells me if these characters were inserted into a more interesting plot, this would be a grade A movie. And yet...

This gorgeous promotional art doesn't accurately portray the plot...but it looks nice!
Ok, now we come down to the elephant in the room: the plot. Or rather, the misleading plot. While I won't spoil anything in this review, I will say that the trailers don't showcase an event that happens at the beginning of the 2nd act of the movie, and this huge event is what brings about the rest of the movie's plot. Most of the times I like being surprised by not knowing the true nature of a movie's plot, but in this case the plot transformed what I believed was to be an epic adventure on a grand scale to a very small story about the importance of family...and that's kinda lame. It's a shame too, because we're already in such an aforementioned beautiful and epic setting that it just screams for a larger scale story. It's like expecting Lord of the Rings, and instead getting a movie where hobbits never leave The Shire and have breakfast, or something. The potential to do a story on a grander scale is there, it's just never really taken advantage of and that's a shame. I mean, it is possible to have a film about the importance of family and still make it epic. Hell, Pixar already did it. It was called The Incredibles. And it was awesome.

Sadly, this picture more accurately portrays the plot
So for a moment let's ignore that the adventurous character of Merida is not used to her fullest potential. And let's ignore the fact that this is not the sprawling epic that Pixar advertised to us. Removed from our expectations, does this film's plot still hold up as a good movie? The answer is a resounding...kinda. And again, this is hard to explain without exposing the movie's massive twist, but I'll do my best. Long story short, the plot we get feels very safe. Critics have said that this is Pixar's take on a Disney princess story, which isn't 100% true. While Merida does show a lot of the same characteristics and desires as a standard Disney princess has (all be it with a very Pixar-ish way of portraying the character,) this film is not a lot of things Disney princess movies are. It's not a musical, it's not based on a well known fairytale, and most of all it's not a love story (thank God.) It can, however, be perfectly compared to another Disney animated movie that is not a princess tale at all...but again even saying the name of this movie would spoil Brave's secret plot twist. Sooo...ugh! Damn it Pixar! See how hard it is to talk about your movie?!

Ok, fine! Last thing I'll say about the movie's plot, and hopefully you'll get what I'm saying. The movie shares less to do with The Little Mermaid and more to do with Freaky Friday. That's right, the live action teen comedy where the mother and daughter switch bodies and come to better understand each other through this magical happenstance. The focus in Brave is clearly the relationship between daughter and mother. And honestly, that's not a bad idea, and I like having the focus on two female leads for a change, but they just don't make it terribly exciting. Hell, one of the major climaxes of the film is Merida giving a speech while her mother watches on. What doesn't help the matter is the fact that we don't really have a true villain in this film. Most of the conflict arises from a series of character's misunderstandings, which doesn't do the best job of ramping up the drama. True, there is an antagonistic element in the feared "demon bear" Mordu (who is skillfully designed to be a wonderfully terrifying beast,) but he's much more of a force of nature then a true villain for our mother/daughter duo, and in that respect only poses a physical challenge rather then providing a true conflict for our characters to overcome. 

Badass archery. It's so in right now.
The first thing I said once I got out of the theatre seeing Brave was "that was different," and it really is, but not really in a positive way. There are elements from Disney films, and tropes from Pixar's past, but they both come together to make a film that doesn't feel like either studio's work. It's a weird Frankenstein of a film that doesn't hit the highs it was aiming for, but it's still a commendable effort. And honestly, if it wasn't for the amazing execution that comes with a Pixar movie in terms of acting, animation, and visual fidelity, this could have been easily a straight up bad movie. But lucky for us, it's not. It's just good. And that's alright. Maybe it's time to realize that the folks at Pixar aren't the invincible Gods we make them out to be, sitting on Mount Olympus manufacturing animated films into pure gold. We should face the fact that not every Pixar film will be gold. Some like Brave will be silver, and some will be "Cars 2" bronze (especially with the prequel, Monster University, coming up as their next feature. Honestly, one can only get so excited over the prospect of a prequel.) Maybe then we won't be so disappointed when a just plain ol' good movie like Brave comes out. Either way, Brave, while not what is expected, could have been much worse in less capable hands, and still rightfully deserves paying a trip to visit the highlands and these wonderfully enduring characters.


- Moo