Thursday, June 28, 2012

Brave (2012) – Review

Review: Brave is an entertaining parable involving fate, focusing on the relationship between a mother and daughter. The film is about Merida, a Scottish princess who does not want to be married off to a lord. So, she runs away, happening upon a witch who offers her a deal to change her fate, and she takes it (but, as we have learned from countless other Disney films like The Little Mermaid, taking a deal to change one’s fate never works out how one hopes it might and there are serious repercussions). Earlier in the life of the film, writer-director Brenda Chapman was bringing the story to the screen, but due to creative differences, she left the project in the hands of writer-director Mark Andrews, and the story and setting changed a lot. Andrews, building on Chapman’s characters, does well with Merida. She, as a character, is probably the strongest aspect of the film in that she is not only Pixar’s first female protagonist but also a character worthy of admiration from young girls (but is not without her flaws as well). Unlike many of the Disney princesses, Merida seems more like normal girl (much like Rapunzel in Disney’s Tangled who is very much happy to be herself and go on her own adventures), as much as a Disney princess can. Notably, Merida does not need a prince charming to be happy – in fact, she does not want one (and there is no love story, which is unheard of in Disney Princess lore). Andrews structures the film as a coming-of-age story for Merida as she struggles with the transition from childhood to becoming a woman, and the pressures her mother (Elinor) puts on her to act more her age and give up childish things and ideas. It is a narrative targeted at young girls – one that addresses their relationships with their mothers, and one that they need. In that way, the film very much works. However, in many ways, the film feels much more like a Disney film than a Pixar film – it is Pixar’s third film to have humans as the primary characters (though, Ratatouille has both animals and humans and could push the number to four) and their first period adventure. Also missing is the adult-directed and more ironic humor, as much of the comedy here is slapstick (involving Bears and Merida’s rascal brothers, who are the funniest thing in the film). It is not as funny as good Pixar films normally are (yes, ‘good’ is a shot at Cars and Cars 2), nor is it as exciting or entertaining. The action seems secondary to the coming-of-age aspects and the relationship between Merida and Elinor. That is fine, but there are almost built-in expectations for Pixar films, two of them being films that are very funny and have great engaging action. Andrews misses the mark a bit on both these aspects. Visually, however, Andrews and the Pixar animators do their usual magic, crafting a grand visual experience. Brave does have good characters, especially Merida, and a good lesson laden story, but falls short of the very high expectations that Pixar films carry with them.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Mark Andrews (and his co-director Steve Purcell) are part of the new guard rising the ranks at Pixar, as proven directors like Andrew Stanton and Brad Bird have moved on to live action. Stanton, Bird, Pete Doctor and John Lasseter (though, he is responsible for Cars one and two) are the master directors behind Pixar’s wonderful films. Andrews has shown that he can make a good film, but Brave is not quite there among the best Pixar films (though it is certainly better than Cars and Cars 2, and is probably better than A Bug’s Life as well). Patrick Doyle, being Scottish, was a good choice to score the film, as his music captures the flavor of Scotland (where the film takes place) and its traditions. That said, I did miss Michael Giacchino, whose Pixar scores are always wonderful. The voice-acting cast is very good, also made up mostly of Scots. Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd, Robbie Coltrane, and Billy Connolly all provide festive voice-work. Emma Thompson (only non-Scottish principal voice-actor) is good as Elinor. Her more refined voice and tone, match her character of the Queen well, and she also brought a lot of authority to her role as well (again matching the character). Kelly Macdonald is wonderful voicing Merida. She gets the angst and annoyance of the age perfectly.

Summary & score: Brave may be average in terms of Pixar standards, but it is still a great animated adventure and good addition to the Disney Princesses line (with a more feminist approach for once). 7/10

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