[Review] – Brave

30 Jun

Title: Brave
Year: 2012
Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell
Writers: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi, based on a story by Ms. Chapman
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Julie Walters, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, John Ratzenberger
MPAA Rating: PG, some scary action and rude humor
Runtime: 93 min
IMDb Rating: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Metacritic: 69

Last year Pixar broke its unbreakable streak. It was the one studio that had released only truly great films, the animated house that gave us Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Wall-E, that, from 1995 to 2010, had released 11 films that ranged form incredibly good to masterpieces, and had won a ton of Oscars in the process. Sure, you could say that their 2006 effort, the original Cars, was simply okay. And that’s true, were I to hand out grades to its first 11 films that would get a B+, the only one with a grade in the B-range. But it was still solid.

Then 2011 was the year in which it all changed, in which Pixar released a film that really wasn’t amazing, and it ended that streak, and it made it look like a regular studio, and not that house of magic that had given us some of the best and most spellbinding films of the last decade and a half. That film of course was Cars 2, which seemed to be a total cash-grab move (that franchise’s merchandising kills with kids), and that was a film that, to me at least, lacked any kind of emotional connection, which is what Pixar’s films are most known for. I ended up giving it a B, and praying that it was simply a bump in the road, and not the end of the road.

Well, as we all know, Pixar’s 2012 effort sees them back with new material (their last two films were sequels) and, more importantly, it’s their first film with a female lead. That film is Brave, of course, and it continues the trend that’s been dominating 2012, of women finally demanding the spotlight, being in the middle of the action and not just waiting in the sidelines for their prince to come. The Hunger Games, Snow White and the Huntsman and now Brave, women kicking ass is proving to be something of a movement it seems. You can go ahead and add Lena Dunham‘s absolutely masterful HBO show, Girls, to that list.

Now, let me say something: Brave isn’t a masterpiece. I mean, it’s no Ratatouille, no Up, nothing like that. But, at least, it’s much better than Cars 2, and I would still call it great, not as absolutely perfect as some of the studio’s other films have been, sure, but still pretty damn great. In a way, however, it wasn’t Pixar that Brave reminded of, but rather Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki‘s Japanese animation house, the only other studio that can boast of having a record as stellar as that of Pixar.

In Studio Ghibli’s films, women are allowed to have depth, to be developed as really complex characters and to rule a story, they are also films that are intensely imaginative, with really beautiful, weird and magical imagery to their names. And even though Brave isn’t “Pixar good”, which is something people have been calling it, rightly so because that’s true, but wrongly so because so very few things are “Pixar good”, it has to be admired for pulling those things off in a mainstream release, and to have opened with over $66 million on its opening weekend, and to have been given such a key role to females, not just to its main character, but also to her mother and their relationship. Something’s changing in movies with women these days, and it’s a damn good thing. And a damn brave one, too.

What is said a lot about Pixar films is that adults probably enjoy them more than kids do, even though you’d imagine kids are the target demo and they’re the ones that drive the sales of tickets and especially of the merchandising. That’s actually true, Pixar films have a way of showing some truly astonishing depth, to uncover new layers of a cinematic motif you think you know all about, to give you characters that are just superbly formed, and to tell just the absolute best stories. While Brave will no doubt still be appreciated by adults, because it’s just absolutely gorgeous to look at, I think this one may be enjoyed more by kids, because I think it will engage those thirteen year-old girls in the audience like crazy. I, for one, actually can’t wait to have a daughter and show this to her.

I also honestly can’t believe some of the backlash that has been unleashed towards this film. If it were a release by any other studio, people would be absolutely gushing over it, but because it’s Pixar and we expect only masterpieces, and because we expect them to redefine stuff along the way, some people aren’t content with it. Yes, it’s minor Pixar and, yes, it’s a story about a princess; but it’s also absolutely astonishingly animated, has a pitch-perfect cast of actors voicing the roles, and, yes again, it shows a female character front and center, and provides a really great exploration of the mother-daughter bond. And this princess is unlike any other we’ve seen.

Our red-headed hero is Merida, voiced by Kelly Macdonald, the daughter of King Fergus and Queen Elinor, voiced by Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson, respectively, and, after Katniss, the second best teenager with a bow and arrow you’ll see in theaters this year. The scenes in which you see her just riding along the forests that make up her kingdom are pretty breathtaking.

Merida’s mother is trying to get her to learn the ways of a real lady, to marry a man that will make her a Queen one day. That may seem totally run of the mill, but then Merida meets a witch and asks her to cast a spell to make her mom more relaxed on her intent to marry Merida away, and what happens from the second act forward, not only should I not spoil for you, but I will say is pretty magical, and you’ll understand the Hayao Miyazaki comparisons once you feast your own eyes upon it.

It’s just great, to be honest. There a bits in the middle act that get a bit iffy, that’s for sure, but the truth is that for a big-budget Hollywood film to even go there in the first place is tremendous, and at least it’s consistently visually marvelous. Another thing you can say against Brave is that, even though the character of Merida and her mother are so well constructed, and their relationship is so deeply explored, and to such amazing effect, the rest of the characters feel kind of flat.

Those negative things may be true, which is why Brave is no Pixar masterpiece, but this film is still absolutely gorgeous to look at, one that provides a really nice message and great look at mother-daughter relationships. I really, really liked this one, and I’m definitely of the opinion that last year was just a small misstep by Pixar, and they’re back at making bold movies that speak to them creatively, with a real emotional backbone. Next up for them is another sequel, or rather a prequel this time, Monsters University, hopefully that one will be another winner.

Grade: A-


2 Responses to “[Review] – Brave”

  1. colincarman June 30, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    Good eye on this feminist trend and hope it continues!

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