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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look46.15%
Average: 7.69%
Pretty Bad46.15%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 8 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Once Again, It Seems As If Mike Myers Is In Error About Something"
2 stars

Back in the summer of 2006, Pixar Animation released "Cars" and while it brought them the expected zillions of dollars in ticket sales and merchandising, it also brought them something that they had not yet received during a run of films that included the likes of "Toy Story," "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles"--bad reviews that dismissed the film as the kind of shiny, soulless hackwork that might ordinarily be expected from the numerous competitors that sprung up in an effort to cash in on the popularity of their efforts. Although there was some worry that this rare misstep might signify a permanent end to their astounding critical and commercial hot streak, they bounced back less than a year later with the gorgeous "Ratatouille" and went on another astonishing run that included such other instant classics as "WALL*E," "Up!" and "Toy Story 3" before hitting another speed bump last summer with the inevitable "Cars 2," a film that even those who were willing to give the first one a bit of a break dismissed as a lazy cash grab from a studio that ordinarily could be relied on to give their audiences something more.

Seeing how brilliantly they bounced back from their previous artistic misstep, I went into the screening of the latest Pixar joint, "Brave," with the firm belief and hope that history would repeat itself and the film would kick off yet another run of smart and entertaining films that would captivate viewers young and old alike with their blend of heart, wit and visual spectacle. For the first few minutes, my belief that all would be right held firm thanks to "La Luna," the charming little short preceding the main feature about which I will say nothing except to note that you had better make sure that you are in your seat when it begins. Unfortunately, then the film proper began and within a few minutes, that enthusiasm began to wane at the sight of yet another Pixar film unraveling before my eyes. In a way, this one might actually be more disappointing the "Cars" films because those were just the inevitable end results of a story conceit that probably never had a chance of working in the first place. "Brave," on the other hand, has all the ingredients for a good movie at first but then proceeds to squander them with such inexplicable additions as an unlikable central character, a weak and uninteresting narrative and one of the silliest plot twists to come along in quite a while and the end result is an endlessly frustrating bummer.

Set in a fantastical version of the Scottish highlands, "Brave" tells the story of Merida (Kelly MacDonald), a spunky, titan-haired princess who is the daughter of the garrulous King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and the proper Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). As it turns out, Merida is more Katniss than princess and prefers shooting her bow and arrow and riding her horse around the countryside to the more ladylike duties that her well-meaning mother continually tries to drill into here. Things come to a head when representatives of the three nearby kingdoms arrive in order to participate in a contest of derring-do that will end with winner receiving Merida's hand in marriage. Needless to say, Merida is not entirely on board with this development and after sabotaging the contest by winning her own hand in an archery contest, she runs off into the woods and encounters a will-o-the-wisp that leads her to a remote cabin populated by a strange old woodcarver (Julie Walters) who specializes in bear-related items. It also transpires that the woman is a bit of a witch--no, really!--and after some coaxing, Merida convinces her to help cast a spell that will change her mother and her attitudes and thereby allow Merida to skip the whole betrothal thing and thereby become the master of her own fate. This spell comes in the form of a cake and when Merida returns it to the castle, she convinces her mother to eat it and then. . .

And it is precisely at this point that "Brave" shifts from another tour of familiar fairy tale archetypes separate only by its Scottish setting (and inevitable haggis jokes) and takes a sudden turn towards something else that I am unsure of how to deal with here. On the one hand, I don't want to reveal this particular development because it is the major twist in the story and it is one that so far has not been widely revealed as I am writing these words--at the very least, I hadn't heard of it when I saw it. (Then again, I understand that none of the footage shown in the film's striking initial teaser trailer is actually in the final film, which might have helped a little in that regard.) On the other, the twist is so ridiculous and so inexplicable that I almost feel the need to spoil it simply because it is the source of many of my key frustrations with the film as a whole. After many seconds of soul searching, I have decided not to get into any specifics--my guess is that news of what exactly happens will get out soon enough once the film is released--and will only speak in general terms of my utter disbelief over what happens and how it pretty much torpedoes the entire endeavor, which, to be brutally honest, wasn't exactly firing on all cylinders at that point anyway.

Suffice it to say, this particular development never comes across as anything other than a screenplay placeholder that would be discarded the instant that a better idea came along. Well, either a better idea never came along (I shudder to think of the reject pile in that case) or the writers never got around to doing the kind of rewrite needed to make something this absurd work. As it is, the gimmick is dropped into the story so arbitrarily and with so little forethought that many may just assume that it is meant only to be gag and only gradually will they realize with incredulity that they are supposed to be taking it seriously. To make matters worse, even if this particular element did somehow work on its own terms--if it were woven into the central narrative with grace, wit and logic--the damn thing still wouldn't work because it bears enough of a resemblance to another Disney animated release of relatively recent vintage to make one wonder how it is possible that no one involved with the production could have overlooked the similarities.

Although the Premise-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named is easily the worst aspect of "Brave," the sad fact of the matter is that the rest of the film is deeply flawed as well. As has been noted in some quarters, this marks the first time in the history of Pixar that one of their features has had a female as its central character. Under normal circumstances, that would be a cause for celebration but the problem here is that Merida is by far the least developed or emotionally nuanced central character in their entire oeuvre that didn't also include four wheels and a fan belt. Instead, she is the typical modern-day Disney princess character--she is bold, spunky, resourceful, perfectly able to take of herself and, perhaps most importantly, pretty enough to inspire an avalanche of merchandising tie-in featuring her lustrous red locks and whatnot. At the same time, however, she is also petulant, bratty, self-absorbed and perfectly willing to run the risk of having something horrible happen to her her mother just so that she can get her way. (Frankly, she isn't exactly that brave either--most all of her derring-do is the result of self-interest but never mind.) Worst of all, she is kind of a bore and utterly lacking in the quirky humanity that Pixar has managed to bestow in the past to toys, rats, robots, closet monsters and people played by Ed Asner. This is a shame and the implication that it is easier to write for a rat or a robot than it is for an ordinary human of the female persuasion is a bit disturbing but I will let others vent their collective spleens in regards to this notion.

"Brave" is not completely useless, I suppose. The look of the film is quite beautiful, though the unnecessary conversion to 3-D robs the visuals of much of their brightness by making things look even more overcast and foggy than one might expect from a depiction of the Scottish highlands. The vocal casting, as always, is top-notch in the way that the filmmakers have chosen the right actors for the parts instead of the most famous ones--Kelly MacDonald, for example, is not a name that is likely to lure many people into the theater on its own but I for one could listen to her lilting voice for hours on end and cannot think of anyone better to give voice to Merida. As I mentioned before, the "La Luna" short that kicks off the program is a quiet delight that take sone fairly nifty idea and executes it in a delicately beautiful and entertaining manner. Other than that, though, "Brave" is a major disappointment--the story is uninvolving, the main character is not particularly interesting or likable, the comedy relief is weak and the major plot twist sends the already teetering project flying completely off the rails. Yes, little kids, especially the undemanding ones, will probably like it but if they were pressed to choose between the two, my guess is that most of them would voice a preference for "Madagascar 3." Strangely enough, so would I.

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originally posted: 06/22/12 12:05:26
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Nantucket Film Festival For more in the 2012 Nantucket Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/24/19 A Kenai for puns This movie is... unBEARable! (Turns to wink at camera) 3 stars
8/01/13 Suzie Williams Meh, Brave didn't do it for me. Animation was fantastic, but I found it rather boring. 3 stars
2/17/13 Charles Tatum Not so bad, not boring like some Pixar of late. 4 stars
7/24/12 Mick Gillies Interesting mother/daughter relationship. great animation 4 stars
7/21/12 Sean Harrison This may not be Pixar's best movie, but the soundtrack and humor stiill work. 4 stars
6/25/12 Richard I liked the movie, the animation and the main character, Merida, was delightful. 4 stars
6/22/12 Anime Nut My big gripe was the repeated cribbing from Miyazaki's playbook. But in the end, I liked it 4 stars
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  22-Jun-2012 (PG)
  DVD: 13-Nov-2012


  DVD: 13-Nov-2012

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