Jake's Take: "BRAVE"
Published: Thursday, June 21, 2012
Updated: Saturday, June 30, 2012 09:06
These films have always been branded as Disney*Pixar, but never before has the Mouse House’s pole position in that lineup been felt so clearly. “BRAVE”, the 13th film from world-class producers Pixar, certainly lives up to their standards of quality when it comes to singularly luscious animation and engrossing family friendly storytelling. But there’s something missing here, something that was in “RATATOUILLE”, in “WALL*E”, in “UP”, something that we’ve come to love Pixar for. “BRAVE” may be a damn good movie, it’s not a new one.
Though Princess Merida may be Pixar’s most striking visual concoction yet: her bouncy red hair, every single strand animated clearly, floats along with a vibrancy that transcends words. Her plight is a bit different from most princesses: she wants to spurn the three Prince Charming’s (who, of course, are not charming at all) her mother has lined up for her. While I won’t spoil the central plot conceit, let’s just say that Merida’s constant pleas to “change her fate” (which are never specified – expect an explosion of articles scouring the film for moments that prove she’s a lesbian any minute now) follow us into all the classic traditional fairy tale tropes – a threat against family bonds, witches, mythical beasts, and wacky sidekicks intended as comic relief.
Let me defend “BRAVE” for a minute first. I certainly won’t be the only ones echoing these sentiments of ‘been-there-done-that’, so I feel the need to clarify something: in some ways, “BRAVE” tops “UP” and “WALL*E” (maybe not “RATATOUILLE” though.) Those two films hit us with soul-shatteringly emotional sequences in the first act, only to allow the second and third acts to lighten up into slapstick and action sequences; as if to make sure we’ve had ample time to dry our eyes before walking back out into the unforgiving daylight. In contrast, “BRAVE” builds to a climax that is undoubtedly the height of its emotional build; and as such feels even more tightly constructed than the aforementioned toons. The highs aren’t as high, but you never feel left down.
It’s a classic traditionalist tale, steeped in beautiful animation, quality values, and entertaining sequences. It’s just so strange seeing Pixar fulfill genre expectations for once, instead of subverting them. Yes, there’s the whole “She’s not just marrying a Prince” thing, but contrary to popular belief that’s very much just the background to a larger story, about the connection between mother and daughter.
The replacement of director Brenda Chapman (she was to be Pixar’s first female filmmaker; as it stands two others are credited with her) probably goes a long way towards explaining the all-over-the-place feeling of the film: sometimes it’s a feminist battle cry, other times it’s a family drama; sometimes it’s deathly serious, but then it shows a greater interest than Pixar ever has before in fart jokes.
In the end, it feels more like “TANGLED” than anything else, right down to the vague adjective titling (for the record, it was previously known as “THE BEAR AND THE BOW”, and Disney just retitled their next CGI entry “FROZEN”.) It’s always been pretty easy to discern which Pixar movies where made for Disney, and which were for them: “CARS” for Disney, “UP” for Pixar, “CARS 2” for Disney, “WALL*E” for Pixar, etc. But for once, I’m not quite sure where the film falls. Expect a lot from “BRAVE”, it’s probably the best animated film of the year. Just don’t expect that Pixar magic.