Commentary &Daily post 21 Jun 2012 06:21 am

Brave

- I saw Pixar’s Brave on Tuesday night. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s certainly the best film they’ve done since Ratatouille. I have my share of complaints but was quite surprised it’s as good a film as it is. Let’s start off with the story.

I was surprised the story isn’t quite as cliched as I expected. As a matter of fact, there are many things that aren’t expected in the story, and it turns in some unusual ways that are very positive.

Probably giving away some spoilers, the story is this: A young, immature Scottish princess follows the lead of her father as she tries to make herself into a tomboy warrior, an expert archer, while her mother continually cajoles her into acting properly as a princess should. Things build to a head when her mother sets up three suitors to meet with her hoping to find a future husband for the girl, Merida.

Merida contacts a witch for a spell to transform the mother, to get mom off her back. But the potion, of course, runs afoul of the plan when it turns the mother into something unexpected. The plot thickens, as they have 48 hours to break the spell.

Up to the introduction of the witch character (who reminds me both of Andreas Deja’s Madame Odie from the Princess and the Frog and the Mad Madame Mim from Sword in the Stone), the story is thoroughly entertaining. It takes an obvious turn or two, then it gets wonderful again with focus on the Queen Mother. This is the best and funniest animation in the film. She’s a wonderful character who reminds me a bit of a minor but delightful Chuck Jones character.

The ending is forced as all the men are given short shrift; they act like dolts for the last third of the film. There isn’t one male in the film that we can look up to. In fact, the father who starts out as a strong and solid heroic type, with a subtle and charming character, turns fool like all the other males. Merida rejects the suitors out of the box, yet they’re all doofish and unattractive characters. It would have made more sense to have one of them look the part of a hero, then the girl’s rejection would make more intellectual sense. As it is, she’d be an idiot to accept any of them (and you have to wonder about the parents expecting her to marry any of these guys.)

The film steals from a number of different other animation films. There’s the scene from Sword in the Stone where Wart chases an arrow into the woods. Merida does the same here until she meets up with a wood sprite. They steal from Miyazaki often in a very obvious fashion. Sprites taken from Princess Mononoke dominate woodland scenes and bring the Celtic magic to the forest.

The real magic of the film comes when the mother is transformed, and they steal away to the woods to try to get the witch to change her spell. At one point the Pixar people have struck gold as they’ve dug into a real fairy tale that they’ve created. It’s right out of Russian or Germanic mythology, and it feels like real magic. It almost feels as though a tapestry has come to life. For this moment, the film truly soars.However, we’re very soon out of this magical moment and back to the world of the animated ordinary. The finale feels tagged onto what has been such a fine film through the first hour or so.

One would like to know what Brenda Chapman did before being replaced by Mark Andrews. I know that the film took place in snow throughout Chapman’s cut, and that was altered. I also know that the film’s title was originally The Bear and the Bow, which is a much more appropriate title. It hints at the notion of folk legend, and it has everything to do with the story. The title, Brave, makes no sense in the film I saw though there are a couple of lame attempts to justify it..

Generally, the acting – meaning the animation – in the film is better than recent other Pixar films, with the animation of the transformed Queen nothing short of wonderful. Merida’s horse is also solidly done with a strong and real character. They don’t try to anthropomorphize the character as was done in Tangled, and it’s a strong choice. The principals, Merida and her two parents, have been imbued with strong and complex character, and I enjoyed watching it develop. Whereas the father falls apart quickly, as I said, Merida’s personality continues to unfold right up to the end. The voice work is also brilliantly performed. Kelly McDonald is exceptional in her part as Merida as is Emma Thompson as the mother. Billy Connolly is also strong as the father, until the last third of the film when he can only read the lines he’s fed.

This is, as I said, my favorite Pixar film since Ratatouille, and I must admit after seeing recent films from them, I am surprised. It gives me a bit of hope. Congratulations to all who worked on it. CGI moves another step forward. I think Monsters 2 is up next. One step forward and . . .

15 Responses to “Brave”

  1. on 21 Jun 2012 at 8:37 am 1.Elliot Cowan said …

    When you say it’s their best film since Ratatouille do you mean that in a positive way?

  2. on 21 Jun 2012 at 8:52 am 2.Michael said …

    Elliot:

    Yes. I will always be transparent when I write. I don’t like “snarky.”

    So Yes, I mean that in a positive way. Ratatouille was one of their three best films.

  3. on 21 Jun 2012 at 9:14 am 3.Elliot Cowan said …

    Heya.
    Wasn’t suggesting anything untoward – just clarifying.

    I find Ratatouille very hard to enjoy, myself.

    And I really wish I were more enthusiastic about Brave.
    The reviews on rottentomatoes.com are very mixed.
    Even the ones rated “positive” are hardly glowing.

  4. on 21 Jun 2012 at 9:24 am 4.Michael said …

    one could easily write a lot of negatives about this film. The story is unexpected (up to the last quarter) and doesn’t follow the predictable rules of the game. It gives it an improvisational feel. No wonder there were a lot of negative reviews. Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t always work unless you’re searching for a thumbs up/down kind of review.

  5. on 21 Jun 2012 at 4:45 pm 5.The Gee said …

    I am curious about ‘Brave’ though. The “magical” sequence mentioned has me intrigued and if the story has a solid core then that sounds very promising.

    As it goes, I’m not sure if and when I may watch the movie. But. even from the earliest images and info released it never seemed like it could be horrible. For some reason the pre-release promotion for the heavily jokey CGI features always seem like they will be the worst. The promos released for this flick didn’t seem too make it seem weak or bad. To me at least.

    (I understand why Rotten Tomatoes seems like a good resource for people but I never feel that good that people put so much faith in when choosing whether or not a new film is worth seeing. )

    (as for ‘Ratatouille’: I have mixed feelings about it, too, Elliot. It is clever in a lot of ways; amazingly well realized, visually; definitely interesting to watch once, maybe twice; and, there’s other positive things about it, too; but, there’s a lot that pushes me out of it.

    Too often my Auto-Whatever Reaction kicked in. For one thing, there’s too much narration by the lead and then way too much monologue for him. But, whatever, right?

    I guess take what I’m writing with a teaspoon of salt.)

  6. on 21 Jun 2012 at 4:54 pm 6.The Gee said …

    Rotten Tomatoes:
    “…never feel that good that people put so much faith in when choosing whether or not a new film is worth seeing…..”

    or to support whether or not a film is good at all.

    Why support a personal opinion like that?
    Just stick with the personal opinion. But, I see people baring stats from “RT” in supporting their movie preferences a lot on websites.

    I’d feel much better if citing or relying on just one critic would suffice for more people. That seems better because at least then it would seem like people put some thought into comparing their view with one others’ critical view. It would also force them to better consider what they saw or might see if they thoroughly read a substantial critical review more often

    argh. I guess a big part of my thing is that as a reference it is way too easy and that’s not a good trend. It is like using a search engine instead of asking someone who may know an answer. Too easy and very awkward.

    But, whatever…

  7. on 21 Jun 2012 at 6:28 pm 7.Elliot Cowan said …

    Gee – I find Ratatouille to be way too long and I have real trouble with the whole business of the rat controlling Linguine.
    More than anything though I think they missed an interesting character arc with Linguine.
    I feel that instead of being totally inept, he should have been an average, workaday chef who went from job to job.
    Never shining, never rising to the top, because although he understands the fundamentals he doesn’t have that extra something that makes him extra special.
    The rat should have taught him all those little things to make him a star.
    The conflict arises when Linguine no longer needs the rat as he finally matches the greatness of his father.
    That’s what I think, but what do I know?

  8. on 21 Jun 2012 at 9:38 pm 8.Michael said …

    The big bugaboo in RATATOUILLE, for me, is that they’re rats! I think of the one scene where the mass of rats, looking like rats, invade the kitchen to help out Remy cook his big meal. That’s enough for me not to want to watch it. But given that problem, I can deal with the rest. The staging was fine, the animation was as good as Pixar has done (before or since – up till BRAVE.)

    I have to hand it to Brad Bird; he knows what he’s doing.

  9. on 22 Jun 2012 at 10:14 am 9.allari said …

    The problem i have with Ratatouille is that i could not stand the boring predictable characters. I agree with the Gee that they didn’t to enough with them and wasted their potential to tell a better story.

  10. on 22 Jun 2012 at 9:48 pm 10.The Gee said …

    Admittedly, I, too, had a problem with the rats in the kitchen.

    You know, if the movie had been a Herman and Katnip cartoon where that kind of mouse were the main character and it was filled with similarly designed mice, it would be fine with me.

    Admittedly, I did laugh when they closed down the restaurant. If they hadn’t, I would have probably freaked.

    Here’s the thing, as I see it:

    The story has a ghost. That ghost is based upon an illustration of a character that does not truly appear in the story; he’s dead by then.

    To me, that was an opporunity to make a more interesting choice in how the character designs worked. Granted, I “get” the overall joke, I get the contrasts that are presented, I get carrying through the theme of character growth/development (including the refinement of Taste). I get all of that. But, it seems ham handed to approach an animated cartoon with rats like they are presented.

    Maybe the Golden Books designs would have been a sublime, acceptable way of presenting that.

    You know. It is like the “Bee Movie” It might sound good on paper. It might seem funny. It might seem like a lot of smart irony, too. But, even as forgiving as cartoon logic is (and it is forgiving) it didn’t seem like a good first step, storywise. A throwaway gag maybe.

    Now that I think about this, there was a freaking ghost in the movie. Call me cliched here, but, a possession was not out of the realm of comedic possibility.

    Am I right on that? You could not have complete puppet-like control over the kid. There could still be a learning curve on both ends of that synergy: student-mentor relationship.

    Maybe it is an easy way to do it. Maybe it was dismissed from the outset. But, the ghost was right there.

  11. on 22 Jun 2012 at 10:02 pm 11.The Gee said …

    What I mean on the last part is that the ghost controlling the kid didn’t have to be mechanically perfect from the start to the finish.

    A possession is generally depicted as the ghost having complete control.
    That combined with the ghost being a Master Chef seems to preclude him from being imperfect, as a character goes.

    However, that aspect that

    a) he wrote a book that posits Everyone Can Cook;
    b) an illegitimate child was had, maybe he didn’t have great relationships;
    c) it would be a character flaw for him to be bad a puppeting his kid.

    I think that flaw would be an acceptable one. Having that additional focus on him would also allow for that backstory Elliot mentions. Plus, you could better craft and build the restaurant and the other characters histories.

    Since so much of that movie is centered around cooking, the process of creation and seeing how it can go right and how it can go wrong there could have been a decent framework for the story, plenty of opportunities for gags and a story which developed along a parallel track to what was made.

    Granted, I just realized this and I might be wrong, wrong, wrong and missing key parts that make me wrong. But, at this point it seems like there was a suitable alternative route to that story.

    And, I know full well that I’m second guessing when they already twenty guessed themselves on the movie.

    Sorry for the lack of brevity.

  12. on 25 Jun 2012 at 9:59 am 12.Pat Rock said …

    Michael, sometimes I let your opinions of movies I haven’t seen yet influence me a little too much (I think you’ll understand what I mean given your recent memories of Andrew Sarris), and so I took my daughter to see Brave this weekend expecting to be a little underwhelmed.

    I was blown away. I loved this movie. Maybe it was watching it with my daughter and seeing it through her eyes, but I thought it was very well done.

    The witch was a perfect homage to Miyazaki’s witches, but you are certainly right about one criticism. The will-o-wisps were less homage and more outright stealing.

    I loved everything else though:
    1. Kickass girl protagonist (It’s Joss Whedon’s world we just live in it now)
    2. Madcap zany cartoony adventure. (The three little brothers stole every scene.)
    3. A great story about family struggles and bonds. Hardly any too cheap sentimentality or maudlin hoohaa. (At the end when she’s embracing her mom, that’s the only time in an American animated film I haven’t wanted to cringe. I thought it was extremely well done. I got pretty choked up myself.)

    I plan on watching it again soon to see if it holds up to a second viewing. I hope you can get a chance to do the same.

  13. on 25 Jun 2012 at 12:38 pm 13.Michael said …

    I’m glad you enjoyed it. I can’t believe the endless negative comments I’ve read. I thought the film was brilliant until they went back to the scene of the witch and ran the ropes to conclude the film. It was too rushed and obvious an ending. But there was a lot of brilliance before that point.

    I will see it again; there’s no doubt about that.

  14. on 26 Jun 2012 at 6:39 pm 14.Elliot Cowan said …

    I too found I enjoyed it an awful lot more than I was expecting.
    Hugo (nearly 2) sat through the entire thing with a small nap in the middle.

  15. on 04 Aug 2012 at 8:08 pm 15.Jacques-Louis David said …

    Pity Robert Pattison – all those adoring women to pick from and he picks possibly the one girl in the world who isn’t obsessed by him to play house with. Doh! LOL!

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