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3 reviews, 8 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"I Don't Wanna Lose Heart In Pixar. I Wanna Believe."
2 stars

Pixar has generated so much good will over the years that it was inevitable its lofty expectations were going to produce a creative dud or two. Both of them just happened to involve Cars. Beyond those, even as I have found Ratatouille to be merely just good (while others have called it Pixar's true masterpiece), not a single film from their repertoire has failed to delight either emotionally or visually opening up the possibilities for animated storytelling. The Toy Story trilogy is unquestionably one of the best ever. The Incredibles and Monsters, Inc. have set pieces beyond belief. Finding Nemo and Up are as good as heart-tuggers as you are going to find. After hitting rock bottom with Cars 2 in 2011, Pixar had nowhere to go but up (no pun intended) and the idea of introducing their first female heroine in a perceived Scottish adventure held enough promise to declare "Pixar is back" before a single moving frame scroll across a movie screen. It is with a hard heart then to say that reports of Pixar's revival have been greatly exaggerated and that even with nowhere to go from last summer's abyss, Brave still ranks as the greatest disappointment to date of 2012.

In the Scottish kingdom of DunBroch, Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald) has been preparing her whole life to be the perfect little princess. At least that is how her mother, Elinor (Emma Thompson), has raised her. Her father, Fergus (Billy Connolly), gives her a bow and arrow at a young age in her preparation for the upcoming Hunger Games. Joking, of course, but to mom this is no joke. While her daughter craves adventure, Elinor is content to show her the ways of the lady up until Merida's hand is forced into one of the suitors from the other lands. After Merida shows up the boys at an archery competition of her choosing, the bond between her and mom is tested as she is led into the woods by mysterious blue fairies and attempts to discover her fate on her own.

From here on out, consider the rest of this review a big spoiler warning. When John Lasseter presented the first half hour of Brave for attendees at the annual CinemaCon convention in Vegas, this is precisely where the film left us hanging. Despite a rather conventional first act, there was still enough beauty and promise to entice us with a narrative that we could tell had not fully revealed itself. And when it finally does, we still keep waiting for it to reveal itself. Merida does not so much meet her own fate but meets someone who might be able to help change it. Perhaps into a full-grown woman warrior or the leader of a kingdom thanks to a living Zoltar machine. Sorry, that's not it? Oh, she's going to change her fate by changing someone else's fate? Like going back in time? Nope, not it either. Mom, meet this magic pastry and enjoy your life as a bear.

That's right, Pixar lovers. It wasn't enough that Disney already made a direct-to-video sequel to Brother Bear, but now the company that changed the future of animation has gone hopelessly into the past to deliver a story with even less consequence. The Avengers successfully argued the need for a little "old-fashioned" which could be interpreted in its ideals or its working-together-to-defeat-evil storytelling. Brave has all the tell-tale signs of a classic Disney tale - a princess, a forest, a witch, a magic potion and animals with human qualities - and it might seem unfair to knock Pixar and their directors (first-time feature helmer Mark Andrews & The Prince of Egypt's co-director, Brenda Chapman) for going that direction. But disappointment is trumped by even poorer choices along the way.

The initial appeal as we warm up to Brave's introductory scenes are the potential for the filmmakers to take its majestic medieval setting into some of the same territory that made How To Train Your Dragon so wonderful and glorious. Instead everyone seemed content to forego such a distinct lack of scope and keep it a more intimate affair. Fair enough since Pixar's emotional highs have been just as memorable as their visuals and ideas. As the central maternal relationship reaches new strains, Brave had every opportunity to place Merida and Elinor on their own kind of walkabout adventure where each of their skills and life lessons could compliment their survival. The absence of a hissable villain is not uncommon for Pixar's heroes, but the manner in which Andrews, Chapmans and co-writers Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi tease one and then ultimately reveal his place in this story is representative of the very anti-climactic feel that perpetuates throughout Brave's entire second half. The conscience decision to take away mother's voice seems more like ironic punishment than poignant erudition and it only brings further scrutiny over the film's most depressing revelation.

Quite simply, Pixar's first female protagonist is more brat than heroine. No one can deny the universal quest for individuality; particularly at a time well before the feminist movement when women didn't have a birth certificate so much as a pre-printed life plan. Merida's behavior though does not suggest a direct effort for independence but a devious shortcut that would make her the villain in most tales. Precisely what the title is implying (other than a marketing familiarity to a certain Mel Gibson Oscar winner) will leave viewers in a wonder as well since Merida hardly does anything particularly courageous. The film may as well be called Bright since it is another adjective that does not accurately describes her. Unless you feel another female being led by spiteful emotion who doesn't bother to ask questions of a witch's brew is a positive role model for the princess culture our society has bred. One question an audience should ask is how if the particular spell is directly tied into a mending reconciliation between the initial parties, how are the others who fall victim to it affected or disaffected by the end?

Brave can easily find praise for its visual palette. Though praising Pixar solely for its expressive imagery is like bestowing an award upon water for being wet. Kudos is worthy of any voicework these days when one needs the end credits to discover their identity. In this case, Emma Thompson gets the prize. But so what of the technical accomplishments if the film's real goals fall flatter than a black bear with two left feet. Films like the superior How To Train Your Dragon and Rango have upped the game amongst Pixar's competitors in both the visual splendor and unique storytelling and it may be time for them to take a cue from their own The Incredibles which suggested that if everyone is special than no one is. Big climactic moments in their films used to produce tears and not the sort of cringe-worthy awkwardness in the written exchange at the end of the film's penultimate sequence. Brave was a promising mystery after seeing those first 30 minutes in Vegas. After seeing the final 60, its an even greater enigma producing little in the way of bravery and virtually none in the way of heart.

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originally posted: 06/22/12 09:00:00
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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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