Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Brave" (2012)

"If you had a chance to change your fate, would you?"

Princess Merida is the first born daughter of Fergus and Elinor, King and Queen of Dunbroch. She’s independent, loves the outdoors and practices archery whenever she can. Most of her time is taken up with learning skills that she will need as a queen one day, such as playing music and giving speeches. Merida feels that it’s all rather unnecessary but doesn’t mind until she learns she’s being prepared for marriage. Three neighbouring clans with chiefs that have sworn fealty to her father arrive with sons in tow. Each intend their son to win her hand through feats of strength. Merida is fed up and after sabotaging the competition she argues with her mother and runs away. In the woods she encounters a witch and buys a spell to change her fate. Instead the spell nearly ends up destroying her family and it’s up to her to put everything right.

I saw this film in 3D and felt that the additional cost and digital manipulation was unnecessary. Close to the beginning of the film I actually forgot about the 3D and didn’t find it that noticeable. I did find that the glasses were extremely irritating though. As for the visuals, they were stunning. Digital animation has come a long way since the days of "Toy Story". They allow for the creation of vistas one can only imagine or as in this movie, faithfully reproduce specific settings from a country. As well, the textures and fabrics of the film were exquisite. I loved Merida’s hair, how I was able to see the individual strands of hair, that it bounced when she moved and how her hair acted when wet and it's a complete evolution from how hair was rendered in "The Incredibles". As well, everyone’s clothing felt as if I could reach out and touch it. The satin looked silky smooth and the tartans, as if they would be rough to the touch. I also liked the scraggly wilderness, the gnarled trees and various mossy vegetation peppered throughout.

I did have some issues with the movie though and this mainly stems from my high expectations of Pixar. I always expect more from them in terms of visuals, story and character and "Brave" just didn’t do it for me. This is a solid movie that I think many people would enjoy but there are some glaring issues that keep this from being a top tier Pixar movie for me. The biggest problem was the story. We start off with this great introduction to Scotland, Merida and her family. We get a good idea of who Merida is and we’re set up for the main conflict of the movie. The problem is that after the set up the story feels hollow. There's only one storyline and this would have been fine if there had been more to the story. After watching the trailer, I expected a grand adventure in the woods with Merida having to defend her family from Mordu the bear. But instead of making Mordu the villain, he was part of the conflict with Merida’s mother. So already we’re lacking real villain as he has barely any screen time. And for that matter, since when are there bears in Scotland? Seriously, I spent the whole movie distracted by this.

Another issue I had was with Merida and her mother. I think it’s fine to have a movie filled with family conflict. In fact, many movies are only about family conflict but there wasn't enough tension here. I wish there had been a bigger divide between mother and daughter to create a more dramatic emotional response when they try to work out their differences. Why not make Merida more resentful of her ‘queen-in-training’ lessons? Have her hide from her mother when she’s supposed to be practicing the harp. Have her outright argue with her mother in front of others. Make the tiffs at dinner about weapons on the table more hostile. Have Queen Elinor hate that Merida practices archery and rides off into the wilderness instead of just discouraging the practice. Make Merida a petulant daughter with no regard for anyone but herself. Make her a grumpy selfish brat rather than a good sister.

My last problem is with Merida herself. Throughout the movie and in the trailer there’s a big emphasis on her wanting to change her fate. She meets up with a witch and obtains a spell to grant her wish. I loved this part of the movie but it was too short. The witch was hilarious! But Merida isn’t the one affected by the spell and in the end she doesn’t really go through a sea change. Instead she stays pretty much the person she is. She just understands her mother better.

And what about the title? Originally this film was called "The Bear and the Bow" which I feel would have been a better fit. I already felt that Merida was brave. She went out charging into the woods alone, she wasn’t afraid to stand up to her parents, to the witch or to men seeking her hand in marriage. Therefore, when she encounters Mordu and feels fear, I didn’t really believe it. And Mordu has so few scenes anyway that it felt wasted. I wanted to see her afraid of something, possibly bears, at the beginning of the movie and then overcoming that fear and growing as a person. Her reconciliation with her mother was such a small thing because they already loved and cared about one another.

Also, the film also has quite a lot of nudity for a purported children’s movie. There are several bare bums and emphasis on a servant’s bosom. I wasn’t sure what to make of this. Was it part of the slapstick comedy that peppered the movie? I didn’t see the need for this and it was jarring coming from Pixar. They’ve had humans in other films before so I wasn’t sure what they were going for with this. Also, this film was scary. No one under the age of ten should watch this. The bear scenes in particular are what I think would frighten little children.

Almost the best thing I can say about the movie is that it’s pretty, never a good compliment for Pixar, as they excel at story and characters. My issues with the story probably stem from the director changing halfway through the production process. Originally this movie was supposed to be the first Pixar movie with a female hero and there was a female director at the helm. The director, Brenda Chapman, was replaced by Mark Andrews due to creative differences over the film’s direction. This may be why the story isn't as fleshed out as you would expect.

I know it seems like I’m harping a lot on this film for what it does wrong but as I said above, I hold Pixar to a higher standard than other studios. They have an amazing track record for making great movies and telling great stories. And not only that, I was really looking forward to this film because of the female protagonist. Instead I was left with all these questions that kept piling up. I enjoyed the film but I was left wanting more and saddened by the fact that this could have been an absolutely amazing film. It is visually stunning but I believe the story is the most important part of a movie and serves as a foundation. Without a strong foundation, the movie is weakened, especially if it’s intended for people of all ages, including discerning adults.

Rating: 3/5

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