Posted on 6/27/12 11:13 AM
IN SOME WAYS, PIXAR HAS IT HARDER THAN OTHER MODERN MOVIE studios. ThereÃ¢(TM)s more pressure in maintaining a reputation of producing one classic after another, as datum in subsequent years from their first film, Toy Story, in 1995, until their third to last, Toy Story 3, in 2010. 2 of the 3 animated movies that cashed Best Picture nominations were Pixar films- as more probably would have been had the category been expanded before 2009. Their reviews are spectacular, most being the best reviewed of their year (Toy Story and Toy Story 2 both being better reviewed than any other animated movie on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, with 100% each).
They are loved unanimously among the mainstream, Toy Story 3 the highest grossing animated movie of all time and none of the others dipping below $300 million worldwide. All of their films leading up to 2010 were monster hits, each better than the last. Never before had Hollywood been so agreeable. Thanks to Pixar, dignity had been restored to the name of animated films, and it wouldnÃ¢(TM)t have been a decade before one scored the top prize at the Oscars- and surely it would have been Pixar.
But then 2011 hit and Cars 2 came out- Cars was always at the bottom of the pack when it came to critical acclaim, the only Pixar film not to win a Best Animated Feature Oscar after the category had been established. But its reviews were still exceptional for an animated film and it was PixarÃ¢(TM)s most successful film among young children and therefore skyrocketed in merchandising. To the marketers down at Disney, a sequel made sense. But it failed in reviews and among audiences, not seeing any light come award season. But it wouldnÃ¢(TM)t be the death of Pixar, right? All studios have their bad days. Which is fine, but thatÃ¢(TM)s not what we had been led to be expected of Pixar. They still had Brave next year, we thought.
They still had Brave.
This wherein the industry holds a collective breath, possibly more weighing on this film than any other movie this year. Brave is only PixarÃ¢(TM)s third movie with a cast made entirely of human characters, The Incredibles and Up preceding it. ItÃ¢(TM)s also PixarÃ¢(TM)s first movie with a female lead, after Disney itself has crowned ten princesses. With these new complexities added to the result of this film, we ask- does it live up?
Brave chronicles Merida, a princess living in the Scottish kingdom of DunBroch. SheÃ¢(TM)s the impetuous, horse-riding archer daughter of King Fergus and Queen Elinor. As a teenager, she naturally ignores her motherÃ¢(TM)s control over her, preparing her for life as a queen, for a life of tradition. Merida wants her freedom, refusing her suitors and publicly declaring her desire for her own hand- moments before blowing away her suitors in archery.
Merida and her mother have an explosive argument, resulting in her mother throwing MeridaÃ¢(TM)s bow in the fire and Merida ripping her motherÃ¢(TM)s family tapestry. Merida runs away and follows the blue fate lights in search of a way to change her fate.
IÃ¢(TM)m going to stop the synopsis here because I donÃ¢(TM)t want to reveal a spoiler. ItÃ¢(TM)s not one thatÃ¢(TM)s particularly big, but marketing did such a great job of covering it up that it would be a shame to ruin it for you now. That aside, I was admittedly a tad disappointed in Brave- perhaps since I hold a higher standard for the fantasy genre (and Pixar in general) that I was letdown. From the trailers and posters, I expected a billowing, sweeping fantasy epic to be the animated embodiment of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, when the film only brushed on the edges of what should have been a complex cinematic world. Only 20 minutes in all focus on the expansive forest and landscapes of the kingdom, when most of the film takes place mostly on the grounds of the castle itself.
The story was equally lacking in scope, deficient of the multi-dimension and sophistication of The Incredibles and Toy Story. I felt teased throughout, but with fairness to Pixar, theyÃ¢(TM)re exploring a story theyÃ¢(TM)re comfortable with in a setting thatÃ¢(TM)s completely new. This brings up another point- IÃ¢(TM)m all for feminist undertones, but MeridaÃ¢(TM)s a bit of an original character- rebellious princesses are all the rage these days and she brings nothing new to the Ã¢~my mother only wants me to get marriedÃ¢(TM) dashed with a typical Ã¢~I want my freedomÃ¢(TM). ItÃ¢(TM)s a typical story, one that lacked the adventure that marketing hinted at, so in that way IÃ¢(TM)m largely dissatisfied.
That said, Brave is still a good movie. Not up to what weÃ¢(TM)ve come to expect from Pixar but good. I was expecting a retrospective fantasy adventure but was met instead with a sweet, if disillusioning, mother-daughter story at the filmÃ¢(TM)s center. The comedy is mainly slapstick but some spots occasionally shine with PixarÃ¢(TM)s signature heartfelt touches- the scenes which show Merida as a child with her mother are heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once.
The opening sequence is perfection, which is probably why the filmÃ¢(TM)s downslope from there is mildly disconcerting. The film held my attention, MeridaÃ¢(TM)s younger brothers amusing characters if ones better expected from DreamWorks. ThereÃ¢(TM)s a scene where the boys and their mother share the same fate, shall we say, that caused the audience in my theater to burst out laughing.
The visuals are spectacular. ItÃ¢(TM)s some of the best I have ever seen in an animated film, although regrettably darkened by a 3D that adds nothing at all. MeridaÃ¢(TM)s hair is a work of art on its own. It took two teams and several months to get her hair working, and the effect is mesmerizing- that alone pays off for PixarÃ¢(TM)s first female lead. The tidbits of the land that we do get to see are phenomenal, especially at the end, where the sun rises over the pillars on the outskirts of the kingdom. The landscapes are breathtaking, the scene near the beginning where Merida climbs a mountain by the waterfall lush and vibrant. PixarÃ¢(TM)s use of textures and tones are exquisite, the lighting of the sun and moon carefully lit to portray the mood. Pixar succeeds in that their animation isnÃ¢(TM)t a handicap, but a visual palette.
Patrick DoyleÃ¢(TM)s score boasts a living, breathing Scottish undercurrent, elaborate in its composition but classic in a way that parallels the frenetic fantasy sequences that emerge throughout the film. Kelly MacDonald and Emma Thompson make this an audial treat as well, MacDonald perfect as the vivacious, freedom-longing Merida, her accent perfectly laced with timeless teenage desperation. Thompson is equally skilled as Queen Elinor, demanding the audienceÃ¢(TM)s attention while still maintaining the decorum of a lady.
It doesnÃ¢(TM)t meet the colossal standards set by Pixar or even those of the fantasy genre, but Brave is a feat to be admired in its ambition alone, succeeding in its heart and PixarÃ¢(TM)s usual technical virtuosity Ã¢" with a few twists along the way to keep the audience compelled.