Occasionally, we here at Festival of Films Blog believe that a particular film warrants a Second Look. Another perspective could bring new ideas to light that may change your mind about a subject. It may also confirm your belief and make you certain of it once and for all. Either way, we hope that this Second Look offers you further insight into this film.
Pixar is a brave company. They’ve released child-friendly films that have long stretches of silence (WALL-E) and a main protagonist who is well into old age (Up). In the hands of another company, these ventures would surely fall flat and disappear from the public mind in no time. But Pixar has a knack for making audiences fall in love with robots, grumpy old men, monsters, and even rats. This makes it all the more shocking that the company would release a film called Brave and have it be one of the safest films they’ve ever attempted.
Brave is a run-of-the-mill Disney princess fairy tale, with a small hint of Pixar magic. Set in medieval Scotland, Brave is the story of Merida (Kelly MacDonald), a tough teenage princess with a great talent for archery. Her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) is trying to force Merida into marrying a suitor from neighboring allies, in order to keep peace throughout the land. But Merida doesn’t want to blindly accept this path for her life and instead opts to put a spell on her mother in hopes of changing her mind. As can be expected, the spell isn’t exactly what Merida was hoping for, and now, she has to face a ticking clock before the effects of the spell become permanent.
All the typical fairy tale elements are present in Brave: witches who cast misleading spells; legendary beasts that present physical obstacles; magical elements that appear randomly to push the plot along. Brave has been in development for over seven years, and yet, it has the feel of a film that was hastily put together using fairy tale conventions. Even with all the magic, the film is surprisingly unimaginative and dull, especially for a Pixar film. I watched Brave in 3D, but no technology in the world could prevent this film from feeling flat.
At the center of Brave, there is a troubled relationship between a mother and a daughter. The mother has a plan for her child that she expects to be followed to the letter, while the daughter wishes for independence. It’s a solid premise that could have easily worked, but none of the characters was particularly unique or memorable, and therefore, you never feel a genuine reason for caring about them. You want the mother and daughter to resolve their differences, but only because the film is telling you that’s how you should feel. There are no moments of authenticity in Brave that make the audience root for these characters without having to be told.
Previous Pixar films almost always contain characters that are immediately iconic. This is because of the magnificent amount of depth each character has. Take the film Up, for example. Carl was a grumpy old man, but he loved his late wife and everything he does is motivated by his desire to keep her in his heart. He eventually learns that he can remember his wife while still continuing on with adventures of his own with new friends. Carl is a touching character whom you remember long after you finish watching the film. Merida in Brave is an angsty teenager. And she’s got lots of curly red hair. That’s about it. She’s the closest thing that Brave offers to an “iconic” character, and the only reason she will probably be remembered is because of her impressively rendered hair.
Much fuss has been made over the fact that Merida is Pixar’s first female protagonist, but I don’t really see the big deal. She may be the first leading female character, but she is far from the most interesting and layered. Jessie from the Toy Story films is a hootin’ and hollerin’ cowgirl, but she’s got severe abandonment issues brought on by past experiences. The world has treated her unkindly, and she’s wary because of it. Merida is nothing more than a cliché teen who wants to step out from under her parents’ shadow.
As I watched Brave, I couldn’t help but feel like I was just watching a showcase for Pixar’s incredible animation skills. Merida’s enormous hair is the most memorable part of the film, each strand of which is clearly definable and unique. When she plays in a river and her hair gets wet, it reacts realistically with the new conditions. But excellent animation is something we’ve come to expect by now, given how used to technology we are as a community. You can’t expect audiences to be won over by graphics alone.
You may be thinking that I’m comparing Brave to other Pixar films too often, and you may accuse me of not seeing the film for its own merits. Ignoring the fact that this film is a Pixar product, Brave is still far from a great film. The story is tired, there’s not a strong character to be found, and worst of all, it just gets plain boring after a while. You can do much worse at the movies, but you can also do a lot, lot better.
My Rating: (4/10)