Sunday, June 10, 2012

My 'Brave' Review (and it's spoiler-free!)

Being a diehard fan of Pixar's films, I had high hopes for Brave. Even when it was still The Bear and the Bow, I decided that I would love it. This may seem like I set myself up with unfair expectations, but Pixar has consistently made heartwrenching film after heartwrenching film, always dishing out not only well-crafted stories, but stunning animation and hilarious scripts.

Needless to say, when I settled into my seat with popcorn in hand, I was anticipating a truly great film.

And I was painfully disappointed.

Brave let me down because it's story was not on par with other Pixar films. It just didn't have heart. This section of the review is about Story, but don't worry - it's spoiler-free. I'm not going to discuss any specific story details because I don't want to give any of it away, but also because it is hardly a story worth retelling. And that's just too bad from a great storytelling company like Pixar.

The set-up of the film is great. The very real family relationships are serious and deep. The mother-daughter relationship is immediately understood and dynamic. However, Brave becomes muddled in the second act. There is far too much reliance on coincidence, deus ex machina, and other storytelling shortcuts, like the over-manufactured flashback to Merida's childhood. Pixar takes the notion of “fairytale” too seriously, utilizing exposition, magic, and on-the-nose plot devices to the point where all I could do was shake my head in disbelief. The storyteller's hand is all too prevalent – which is even worse when the story you're telling isn't good. The characters aren't given enough time to make the change that they have to make.

The final act is as good as the first, tying up loose ends and showing the character transformation well (although the Queen's line “We have both changed,” is just depressingly bad, especially for Pixar). The climactic action is exciting and fun. But you just aren't all that invested in it, since the characters aren't developed enough.

While watching, you can definitely feel the hand of Disney's corporate hounds. The triplet boys are distressingly manufactured as comic relief and merchandising powerhouses. There is no reason at all to have them in this story, except to fulfill Eisner's silly little dated list of things that audiences (apparently) want.

But for all of those shortcomings, I'd still sit through the film again.

Yes, the story was Cars 2 material. Sure, it was frustrating to see such unforgivable tactics of audience manipulation, so underhanded it made me scan the credits for “Katzenberg”. But the movie is genuinely funny (with some surprise base humor thrown in, too), with good animation and acting, and a stunning setting.

The crowning achievement of Brave is its character design. From the King's massive bulk of a body to the witch's bug eyes to Merida's wild, red locks, the characters are a joy to watch. They're all unique and vibrant. The acting is subtle and realistic, yet also outlandishly slapstick and exaggerated at times, creating a surreal, dynamic mood. Which is exactly what you want from a fairytale – it's a believable world, with just a touch of unpredictable wonder. And physical humor that'd make even the great Buster Keaton let out a chuckle.

There's also genuine fear and suspense. There are visceral bear attacks, real sword fights, and a good deal of grounded violence. Although Pixar used its fair share of Disney tactics and fairytale plot devices, they certainly didn't attempt to sugarcoat any of the action. And that keeps Brave exciting, with more of that delicious unpredictability.

Brave is beautifully cinematic. The rolling hills of Scotland are lush and vivid. The action is big, and feels very real. The story will let you down, but no other part of the movie will. Especially if you see it on the big screen with booming sound. It creates a comprehensive, dreamlike world of staggeringly real action combined with slapstick and overstated movement. The jokes are funny, the characters are each a work of art in their own right, and it is entertaining.

But I'll still never be able to completely fill the void that its lack of Story has given me. I expected more from the creators of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Up. Pixar's dedication to Story over the years is what inspired me to become a storyteller, and it is just too bad that Brave couldn't carry the torch of Pixar's trademark heart.

See Brave when it comes out on June 22. But just know that it very well might be the end of an era.


WesAlex said...

Like all things a critic is a critic. Why not sit back and enjoy the movie. What bothers me is that critics seem to love to point out why a movie does not quite deliver. And they can help destroy a movie on arrival. Witness John Carter and Prince of Persia, while not perfect movies, were entertaining. I am perplexed by the attitude about Pixar. They have had a long line of hits. Their work is consistently excellent. Sure, trying to top a great movie is a difficult thing to do, but Pixar has done it many a time. Like most moviegoers, I look at the review, then go to the movie and watch it. After which I ask myself, did the critic and I see the same picture?

Adam said...

Hi Wes!

I appreciate your honesty and clarity.

Believe me when I say that I really wanted to love 'Brave'. And I think that my review may have been interpreted as more harsh than I had intended. You will notice that I point out very many positive aspects of the film, even calling it "entertaining." The character design, tone, animation, sound design, and so many parts of the film were quite excellent. 'Brave' is a good film. And my review reflects that.

However, it is my duty as a critic to point out both the positive and negative facets of a film. Please know that this is the hardest review I have ever written, finding it incredibly difficult to not fall into my brainless fanboyism. Being critical of Pixar goes against every fiber of my being.

I did enjoy the film, but I am also in a position where I must be analytic. Would it not be boring if every review simply read "This movie is good! It's entertaining, and you should see it." Movie reviews function as a way for us to interact with art - discussing both the positive and negative aspects of it.

You should see 'Brave', and you will enjoy it. I hope that you can be open-minded as I was, realizing that the film is not perfect. It is funny and exciting, but could have been better.

Thanks again for reading, Wes. I appreciate your comments and opinion, and look forward to hearing what you think of the film!

Dan O. said...

Probably one of Pixar’s best-looking flicks, but not their best film at all. Has a great set-up, but then loses itself about half-way through and just got a little too kiddish for me. Then again, maybe some parents will like that and so will the kids, so who am I to judge? Good review Adam.

Lizzie said...

I personally loved BRAVE it brought a new light into Pixar and showed that it is not at all just the end of an era as Adam said but the start of a new one just as good where it is not the handsome prince who has to save the day, it can be a Scottish lass riding in on horseback, busting with lovable characteristics and humour. The three tripplets brought yet more humour to the film in such a way as to welcome you into the Pixar family.
A beautiful film.
I strongly recommend it!
Lizzie McCullagh

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