Since I didn’t get to see any film premiers this week, I thought I’d review a film I saw a while ago and didn’t write about. Pixar’s Brave.
Set in a fantasy version of Scotland, Brave stars the young princess Merida (voice by Kelly MacDonald) who is the rebellious type. Although she has a good relationship with her father Fergus (instantly recognizable as Billy Connolly), and her three rascal brothers, she does have problems with her manner-obsessed mother (Emma Thompson). Hating the idea of being forced to marry one of the sons of the three other clans, she comes across a witch who offers a spell to change her fate by changing her mother. If you know Disney you will immediately know that some things are too good to be true, which is exactly the case when the mother is indeed changed, into a bear.
The description above really does read like a Disney film, not Pixar. While the former owns the latter, we still expect different things from them. For Disney, there is more lenience in terms of the cheesiness of the plot – the constant focusing on princesses, for instance – while with Pixar we do tend to hope for some underlying message about humanity, etc. Brave does have a moral message of course, but again its more in tune with Disney: mother and daughter must learn to listen to each other. There must be balance between making sacrifices and staying true to oneself.
Some of you might point out that lots of people love Disney movies, and I’m one of them, so perhaps I’m being unfair. I think my main problem with Brave isn’t that the story feels more Disney than Pixar, it’s that it feels like a direct-to-video Disney, and I think we can all agree that’s not something to strive for. The story never really goes anywhere. There’s no big adventure to gallop off to. There is just the daughter and mother solving this one problem by sneaking into the castle in much the same way as they just snuck out. Oh, look! A bear trying to hide in front of a horde of bear-hating Scotsmen! Got it. Twice.
The thing that separates this humour, I think, from the hilarious bits in other Pixar (and lots of good Disney) films is that it doesn’t feel like the person-made-bear being funny. It feels like a person doing slapstick humour who just happens to be wearing a bear suit. In Wall-E for example there is a lot of slapstick humour, but it feels much more genuine and funny. The robots all feel like real robots who have unique personalities even though all we have to interpret is one glowing dot in place of eyes. The characters in Brave are all nice, I suppose, but they don’t feel unique or fantastic – in the true sense of the word – for an animation film. They could just as likely have popped up in a live-action Braveheart remake.
Perhaps what makes this so painfully obvious is the animation itself, and the world the animators have created. It is as beautiful as you expect. The spectacular scenery, the spooky will-of-the-wisps, the movements of animals and people alike, and not to mention the detail put into Merida’s hair – all of it is amazing. When you have this adventurous landscape and a main character who is suppose to be a proper adventurer, you expect an adventure, not a two hour romp through the woods not a five minute ride from the castle. I expected Merida to delve into a chasm or step through a portal, not discover a ruined castle outside her doorstep she should have known about her whole life.
Merida is a likable character, that much is true, and the voice-acting from MacDonald really helps to flesh her out when the dialogue falls flat. Some of the dialogue sounded like it had been lifted straight from a 90s Disney flick. I remember when the film came out and a lot of people complained about Pixar’s first princess fighting old-fashioned battles. I don’t mind that she’s fighting for the age-old right to marry whom she wants. I like those types of stores in Disney movies, or the dozens of period dramas I enjoy immensely. What I really object about is that she sounds like a whiny teenager, not a brave princess capable of fighting on horseback. I wanted bite, not hair-pulling and foot-stomping.
Despite all this, it is a cute little film. A direct-to-DVD classic even. It has a cute little story, with cute little characters and there’s really nothing wrong with that in the end, if that’s what you want. The animation is perfect, and there is something hilarious about the three little bears harassing a kitchen maid. My advice is to know what you’re going to.
Dice roll: 3