A Lass, It Was Not To Be, by Tyler Smith
I guess I’ll start by saying that Brave, the new film from Pixar, is the most beautiful movie I’ve seen in years. In a time when computer graphics can make anything possible on screen, we feel as though we can no longer be dazzled by special effects. When you can do everything, nothing is really that special. But Brave manages to create a world that feels both grounded in reality, yet magical. The way the leaves shimmer in the setting sun and the mist clings to every tree is awe-inspiring. I wanted to live in that place and felt as though I could.
It is a shame, then, that such love and care went into a story so… ho hum.
Brave is the story of Merida, a young Scottish princess set to be betrothed to one of three princes. A longtime tomboy, Merida cringes at the idea of being paired with any of these goofy suitors. So, she rebels in the only way she knows how: she beats the princes at their own game. Her mother is furious and the two clash over Merida’s strong will.
That’s all well and good, but it’s been done before. Many times. And while I found myself caring about the characters and their plight, my general attitude toward the proceedings was that of indifference. It was all just so familiar.
It feels somehow unfair to compare this film to the other Pixar movies. I feel like one should strive to take a movie on its own merits, rather than simply measure it against similar films. But it’s hard not to do when dealing with a film that is one of only about a dozen to come out of a respected studio. Especially when that studio has set up an expectation of originality and innovation, both in concept and execution.
Pixar has a history of making movies that are exciting and fresh, even when dealing with a familiar genre. The Incredibles, for example, is a superhero comedy. But director Brad Bird layered in darker elements reminiscent of no less than Alan Moore and Ayn Rand. That he was able to do this while still maintaining a fun and entertaining tone is a remarkable achievement.
Compared to movies like that, Brave comes up short. There are moments of poignance between Merida and her mother, and the film wisely takes the opportunity to explore generational friction. The queen tries everything she can to make Merida conform to tradition, while Merida resists her at every juncture. Both characters are unable- or perhaps uninterested- in the other person’s feelings. They care only about their own goals. The filmmakers are inclined to take Merida’s side, but they understand the frustrations of her mother, which I consider to be a mature attitude and one that will benefit the kids that watch the film.
But, as mentioned, the story, themes, and even characters are secondary to the visual styling of the film. Not only do the animators create a beautiful, extremely tangible world, but they people it with unique character design. From Merida’s gigantic father to the arrogant, athletic prince to Merida herself- with her unkempt red hair- these characters are distinct and memorable, if only in their look.
The filmmakers also show a flair for action in this film. Many of the characters in the film are willing to fight at a moment’s notice- so much so, in fact, that I wouldn’t be surprised if there won’t be a few Scottish viewers that object to the stereotype- and the ensuing brawls are quick, violent, and surprisingly fluid. While I felt that there were maybe a few too many big fights, I admired the filmmakers’ willingness to incorporate a manic feeling into their film. This is, after all, a less civilized age we’re dealing with, and the knowledge that violence can break out at any moment is probably in everybody’s mind at all times. This adds a playful tension that is maybe a bit too often indulged.
There’s really not much else to say, unfortunately. Do I recommend Brave? Yeah, sure. It was fun to experience and breathtaking to watch. But, in the end, it’s a film that I think will fade from memory and become just another animated kids movie. That wouldn’t be so bad a thing, were Pixar just another production company. But, we know that it isn’t. Which is what makes Brave all the more disappointing.