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Brave

Brave

What She said:

She

So here’s the $64,000 question, “Can Pixar do no wrong?”  We’ve got Toy Story, WALL-E, Up, Finding Nemo—clearly this studio knows what it’s doing.  Their reputation is not just for visually spectacular CG animation, it’s also for rich and vibrant story-telling.  Pixar’s films have masterfully written plots with a tight narrative, sharp humor, and secondary themes that are impactful.  So, back to the $64,000 question—this answer, it seems, is no.

That’s not to say that Brave is all wrong.  Even with its weaknesses, it’s still not a bad movie.  But it fails to capture the brilliance for which Pixar has forged its reputation.  Let me lay out the basic premise: Merida is an adolescent Scottish princess, who is as wild as her crazy Medusa hair.  Her mother, Queen Elinor, has been painstakingly trying to tame Merida for years, preparing her for her destiny, to be a trophy wife whose marriage holds the kingdom together.  Meanwhile, King Fergus does little to help Elinor’s cause.  He’s a brute who wholly believes in roughhousing and barbarism, by the looks of it no different from any other Scottish male.  Stubborn Merida wants to create a new future for herself, one that’s filled with excitement and doesn’t involve marrying a rival clan heir, but her reckless ways threaten to bring war upon her people.  To compound things, she’s set loose a spell that is causing more harm than good.

Ok, so that’s my vague description of the plot.  Now, on to the real spoilers, which I’m not going to hold back on.  If you don’t want to read them, then know that despite its flaws, I generally enjoyed this movie and am giving it a “thumbs mostly up.”  For those who want some spoilers, let’s proceed.

As Brave develops, it becomes apparent that this movie isn’t so much about Merida’s being forced to marry as it is about her relationship with her mom.  This notion is quite touching—you’ll get the Finding Nemo chill.  But things between Merida and Elinor never become that genuine.  You see, Merida cops out of facing her problems head-on, and like the teenager she is, tries to take the easy way out, which in this case means that she gets a spell made to change her mother.  And it works.  But it doesn’t change her mother into anything but a bear.  That’s right, she changes her mother into a bear. 

This is where, for me, the film becomes slightly derailed.  The kids will love the people turning into bears stuff, but it cheapens the developing relationship between Merida and Elinor.  I am convinced that they could have grown closer without Elinor turning big and hairy, and the end result would have been more meaningful.  The spell has a timeline set on it, and so you immediately know that things are going to have to be reconciled cleanly in a short amount of time.  That ruins the complexity of what is supposedly happening between Merida and her mother. 

Merida and Elinor are the only two characters in the movie with any real substance.  Even the King is little more than an oaf.  Because of this, you’ll find yourself caring exclusively about those two, and consider most of the others as just hogging screen time.  The movie starts off bright and funny.  The comedy early on is very good.  It will stale somewhat as the film proceeds, as certain jokes become repetitive.  Again, this will bother adults more than the children. 

In the end, things turn out alright, as we know that they will, and both Merida and her mother become better people.  You’ll feel pretty good about it, but not quite as fulfilled as you have from other Pixar flicks.  The voice acting in Brave is compelling—gotta love a Scottish accent—but it doesn’t do enough to fix a narrative that’s not as strong as it needs to be.  This movie is not bad, but it doesn’t live up to the high standards assigned to it.

Thumbs mostly up.

What he said:

He

I remember when I saw the first trailer for Brave. It was just a little teaser, but boy did it look good. The trailer didn’t really tell you a whole lot about the movie, but it looked like it had a real sense of adventure to it. Then a saw a few more – like this one – and was hooked.

Brave is about a young princess named Merida (Kelly Macdonald). She has big, wild, bright red hair and the personality to match it. She is reaching the age where she is expected to marry and being the princess all of the other clans are competing for her affection. The only problem is Merida is a spunky and independent gal. She wants no part of an arranged marriage and plans to break tradition.

Her mother, Queen Elinor, will have none of this. She is a traditionalist and the one wearing the pants in the family. Despite Merida’s protests, her mother makes sure she minds her Ps and Qs. Merida is more interest in shooting her bow and practicing sword fighting, but her mom wants her to behave like a lady and find a suitor.

Though certainly not anything new, the dynamic between the two characters was certainly strong enough to make the movie work. Watching these two strong-willed Scottish women duking it out may have been a little stereotypical, but it was certainly entertaining. Everything comes to a head when Merida decides to upstage her potential suitors. She breaks out her bow and arrow and blows everyone away with her superior archery skills. Declaring herself the winner, she says she gets to choose her path.
This leads to the inevitable argument, Merida flees the castle, and gets herself into some trouble that sets up the movie. 

Like I said before, it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before, but I was digging it. But the whole middle chunk of this movie takes something of a nosedive. The drama between her and her mother didn’t have the same emotion to it. Even the jokes weren’t as funny during the middle of the film. Was there some kind of production issue that forced someone to take over for a few weeks and hand it back to the original writer/director at the end?

Because once the final act or two started to approach, I felt the movie coming to life again. I enjoyed the final conflict and felt like the emotion that was there earlier in the movie came back. If this movie had stayed on track it would have been a lot better.

Rating: Thumbs half up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on June 28, 2012.