Saturday, June 23, 2012

Brave - An Arrow That Lands Off-Center

As I've stated on this blog before, I am a fan of Pixar movies. They've been able to make great movies throughout their entire span, which still hold up even after a few years have passed. Then along came Cars 2 and for the first time I became worried that the studio may have been losing their edge. While I was looking forward to Brave anyway, I had my reservations based on the ad campaign (which seemed to have a "Lol, Scotland" feel at times). After viewing it today, I can say that while Brave isn't exactly perfect, it's at least a  step in the right direction for the studio.

Not all is well in the Castle of DunBroch (which, if my research is to be believed, translates to Castle CastleCastle). We open with the main character, Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), receiving a bow and arrow as a birthday present in her youth from her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly). As she grows up, Merida becomes increasingly adept as using this weapon, but also becomes annoyed by her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), teaching her how to be a true princess at an equal rate. When she is to be betrothed, Merida sabotages the event for the suitors and runs off on her horse Angus after a disagreement with her mother. In the forest, she follows a trail of Will O' the Wisps to the hut of a witch/wood carving enthusiast (Julie Walters), where she strikes a deal: in exchange for a pendant and the purchase of every wood carving, she would receive a pastry that will change her fate. When Merida returns to the castle, she offers it to her mother, with the most unexpected results.

As the movie went on, I felt as if this was a tale I had heard before, with some similar execution. There were some plot points that, after a while, I could predict a little, something I didn't feel that much in other Pixar films. I understand that a movie can have a plot done before but have a very good execution, something that doesn't ring as true here. The characters aren't as intriguing as the ones in, say, The Incredibles. In The Incredibles, there is a very interesting family dynamic that the audience gets to see multiple sides of and we learn a great deal about how everyone lives and interacts on a daily basis in normal situations. In Brave, the deepest character relationship we get in the mother and daughter bonding tale is that Elinor asks Merida to do something and Merida doesn't want to do it. Fergus comes off as the weird, supportive, dad and the triplets run around without any meaningful dynamic to speak of. They are willing to help their sister in a time of need, but not much else is taken from them. In a sense, Brave does what it can to get through its plot in a similar manner to other Pixar features, but it felt like there was something missing in the end and it didn't feel quite as original as others the studio has put out in the past.

If there's one thing Pixar never disappoints with however, it would be the absolutely stunning visuals. There is definitely an amount of painstaking detail put into the scenery and the stylized character models to bring the world to life. In fact, I heard that because of this, Pixar had to rewrite their animation program for the first time in 25 years. What impressed me the most about it though was the hair, especially with regards to Merida and Angus. There is an absolutely insane amount of detail with a lot of very realistic physics to raise the bar on what can be done in CGI. I also liked the effects on the fire and water, which seemed very real in a fictional world; it's a very nice combination. Unfortunately, no matter how good the visuals are, it can't completely carry the story to its conclusion.

As for the humor in this movie, it isn't as strong as other films in Pixar's past. I did laugh a couple of times, but it isn't as witty and contains humor focused on butts, and a snot joke, that didn't feel entirely necessary. I also couldn't really get into the fact that there is some modernity to this 10th century Scotland, such as the way certain characters behaved and the witch having, of all things, a potion-based answering machine (instead of pressing a button, you pour a vial into a cauldron). It doesn't completely bog down the movie, but it's a little distracting that they would include such anachronisms that feel very out of place. I would have preferred them to stick closer with the time period.

Brave, while a good movie, isn't as strong as other Pixar titles. The amazing visual impact can't completely make up for the somewhat unoriginal execution of the story, duller humor, and more hollow character development. I can safely recommend fans of other Pixar works to see it, but I feel that it will be a lot more appealing to kids (if the audience I saw it with was any indication) or parents that want a movie to see with them. I'm glad that Pixar is still on its feet, but this is the point where I feel that they are losing their creative edge.

On the bright side, it is a vast improvement over Cars 2.

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