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There is a very good story here, but unfortunately it is crushed under the weight of the most typical of Disney tropes.
on April 2, 2013
I'm a bit worried about Pixar of late... they seem to be having a hard time finding their way since UP, which was followed by the overestimated TOY STORY 3, and the "let's never mention this again" CARS 2 ... BRAVE seemed like a shot at returning to form with a new original story.
And there is much to admire here. The animation is, of course, outstanding - reportedly a new software upgrade was required for handling the heroine's fiery red hair, and it shows. Pixar has yet to falter in the graphics department, and BRAVE is a stunning and beautiful film to behold! The voice acting is typically top shelf as well, with the likes of Emma Thompson, Kelly McDonald, and Bill Connoly leading the cast. And the underlying theme of learning how to swallow your pride and admit mistakes is a very good one to share with the youngsters.
With a strong foundation such as this, it is a shame that the movie ends up feeling so ... bland. The problem here is that there really isn't anything new to sink your teeth into. Perhaps we hold Pixar to too high of a standard now after one major innovative story after another. I have long bragged over Pixar's ability to avoid the commonalities of Disney and other animated features - but here things are about as rudimentary as they come.
So how many over-worn story elements you can find here:
We have a young princess (check) who has a problem with her parents authority (check) who decides to follow her own path (check) which leads her to making a deal with a witch (check) that ends up backfiring and hurting those she loves (check), requiring her to mature in order to solve the problem (check) - but in doing so, she still ultimately kind of gets what she originally wanted (check and check).
Supposedly there was originally an intention to make this more of an adventure story of the "good vs. evil" kind, and you can see in the build up of the heroine how this might have been. She is an expert archer in the medieval days of Scotland - a setting rife with possibilities for adventure. But, midway through you can sense the script being wrested out of one pair of hands and into another as the story takes a right turn into fable territory... one wonders how this setup might have functioned as more of an adventure.
But as I said, the theme overall is a good one, and the relationship that builds between Merida and her mother is a very touching and positive one. There is certainly a strong pro-family message here, which is always nice.
However, there are also the typical ongoing tropes that are, sadly, rampant in Disney's films of late - adult responsibility is not as important as personal freedom, men are immature idiots while woman must take up their slack, etc...
And most annoying of all, nearly every shot of the movie has to have someone bumping into something, or being hit by something, or screaming, or falling, or laughing uproariously. It's as if the filmmakers are afraid of losing the kids' interest for a split second, so they had to dress up every shot with some overly kinetic movement. Add to this the over-animation of the characters. Merida cannot simply bob her head as she utters a line - she has to sweep her hair up, or fall onto a bed and then roll off, or bulge her eyes, or something... these are the elements that are common among Disney films, but have not plagued the Pixar movies of the past.
Overall, BRAVE is a passable piece of entertainment - but it quickly leaves you once you've walked away. Enjoyable? Sure... but BEST ANIMATED FEATURE? Hardly! The handful of children I know of who have seen it have expressed no interest in seeing it again. That's your target audience, Pixar - I hope you're paying attention!
I'm not excited about Pixar continuing this year with the "franchise development" mentality in delivering a MONSTERS, INC prequel ... I really want to see them getting back to groundbreaking and innovative storytelling - and keeping away from the commonalities of children's animation - here's hoping the best animation studio in the business will remember it's roots!!