Friday, June 22, 2012
Movie review: Brave
A step in the right direction, but Pixar still isn't back to full strength.
Pixar blazed a new trail starting with 1995’s Toy Story – not only did they prove that computer animation had finally gotten to the point that it could be done, and done well, in a feature-length film, but they also showed that outside-of-the-box thinking was not dead. They demonstrated that films centered around toys, cars, bugs, rats, and robots, with almost no humans in sight, could be the norm and not just the exception. Even the ones that did feature humans – The Incredibles and Up – approached their stories in unique ways, never taking the tried and true route to success.
So it’s a tad disappointing that their latest, Brave (also showing in 3D), treads so strongly on familiar territory. First of all, it’s a movie about a princess, even if Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is no ordinary princess. A Scottish tomboy who rides horses and excels at archery, she balks when her mom Elinor (Emma Thompson) and dad Fergus (Billy Connolly) announce that the time has come for her to be wed, and that she must choose her groom from one of three men from rival clans. Her efforts to resist the tradition result in all manner of chaos, including impromptu clashes between the clans, bear attacks, and a witch’s spell.
Yes, you read that right – not only does the three-headed directing team of Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell (all of whom, plus Irene Mecchi, had a hand in the script) deliver Pixar’s first-ever princess movie, but they throw in that good ol’ fallback of magic as well. There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing that, but since it’s been used in virtually every other princess movie Disney has ever put out, it might have been nice to have Merida, say, rely on her own wits and abilities rather than have magic enter into the equation.
Brave does feature some nice differences, however. Mothers are usually mystifyingly absent in these types of movies, but Elinor is front and center the entire time, even if her relationship with Merida is strained for much of the film. The ancient Scottish setting also allows for some interesting, if somewhat limiting, attempts at humor. They take a few cues from Braveheart, mining laughs from the clans’ outfits and war paint, and also, surprisingly, the idea that underwear was not yet prevalent at that time, as bare butts are seen on more than one occasion.
What remains steadfast at Pixar is their eye-popping animation. The filmmakers take plenty of opportunities to do sweeping shots of the hills and lochs of Scotland, and if you didn’t know you were watching an animated film, you could easily mistake them for real life. The detail seen in the characters’ faces and hair has the ability to sweep you away, too. Despite the best efforts of rival studios, there has yet to be a match for Pixar when it comes to visual quality.
Unfortunately, that’s not all that matters, and while Brave is a significant step back in the right direction following the near-debacle of Cars 2, it doesn’t come close to realizing the greatness of the first 11 Pixar movies. It’s too early to call it a trend, but if next year’s Monsters University doesn’t live up to their standards, Pixar may have some serious explaining to do.
For showtimes for Brave, click here.