By Greg Reifsteck
Twitter: @MovieManiacEOTM Facebook.com/eotmmoviemaniac
Pixar isn’t Brave enough to get past a two-dimensional story with their ode to Scotland
The first time I went to the Highland games just outside of San Diego, I remember getting wrapped up in the spirit of the event. The marching of the clans, all donning their different shades of plaid and kilts that made you hope the men weren’t following tradition too strictly. There were the competitions of strength and skill usually involving hurtling a large telephone pole looking “cable,” or something else quite heavy for an unbelievable distance. Then of course was the general rough and tumble attitude of the event, complete with endless beer guzzling and song.
In their attempt to please every culture on the face of the Earth (they already took on France in Ratatouille and will be doing a Latin tinged Day of the Dead film in the next few years) , Pixar / Disney’s latest princess feature Brave, attempts to immerse us into the Scottish spirit. They also were going to very Brave and have their first female animation director at the helm of one of their films, Brenda Chapman (who was at the reigns of rival studio DreamWorks’ so-so The Prince of Egypt). Well she was fired in October of last year, replaced by Mark Andrews that co-directed Pixar’s short One Man Band.
Who knows if it was the creative shake-up, or the push to make things more commercially viable, but result is Brave is not up the usual depth and snuff Pixar has offered in some of its emotionally richer fare like Up, Wall-E and the Toy Story trilogy.
The film cranks up the energy and the Highlands wildness rather quickly in the first half hour. We are thrust into the lush green landscapes and the boisterous people of Scotland. We are introduced to Merida, who is a young red-haired lass that has a love of archery and believes in magic. When she wanders off to retrieve an arrow from the forest, she encounters a series of sprites that she realizes will determine her fate. She also comes across a huge bear that terrorizes her family, and solidifies the fate of her father as the Bear King.
But ginger-haired Merida’s fate isn’t brought into question until she reaches her teens, and the day she is to be presented to the local clans to determine who will win her hand in marriage. When the clans show up we really get the sense that Pixar is only keen on immersing us in the stereotypes of the Scottish culture. Rabble-rousing and fighting are apparently all Scottish males like to do, because we get scene after extended scene of it as comic relief from the serious story of Merida trying to find her fate.
We also get her three baby triplet brothers, whose mischief is played to its heights. If it weren’t for some of their little plots of whimsy, this film would truly drag in parts.
But it is the mother daughter story that is supposed to melt our heart, and it tries really, really hard to. Merida decides to buck tradition, and as princess declares an archery competition to see who will win her hand in marriage. Of course, she is the best archer in the land and after she splits the bulls eye-hitting arrow of the winner, she insults all of the clans and creates a huge rift with her mother.
After a huge argument, involving the symbolic tearing of a family heirloom, we are then back out to the forest where she encounters a hag witch plucked straight out of a Miyazaki movie. Merida obtains a spell that will change the fate of rift with her mother, which I will not expose the result of since it is the only original thing about this movie making it worth watching. The witch is a nice homage, but it exposes Brave for what it truly is, a mash-up of too many things we have seen before.
Sure the animation is smooth and incredible. As usual we feel like we have been transported to a far away land we will never get to see in our lifetime. That is one tradition of Disney in which Pixar never disappoints. One particular scene at some waterfalls will truly take your breath away.
But it’s the mother-daughter rift plotline makes all of the lush animation simply window dressing. We have seen it in every single princess movie, so I hoped Pixar would break that Disney tradition and take it to the next level like they do with everything else. However, my hopes for a reinvention by the usually inventive minds of Pixar are for naught. I don’t need to spoil anything else in the film because halfway through it your mind will begin to wander like mine did. You will have the end of the film already predicted as well.
Brave is not a bad movie. But it is just not A grade, this is a solid B. And if Pixar is going to keep the fate of its box office grosses above the competition from DreamWorks, Sony and its sister company Disney Animation Studios (whose last princess effort Tangled was a reinvention of the genre I enjoyed much for than this) they are going to have to elevate themselves.