Brave, Pixar’s latest box office extravaganza, is masterfully animated and the voice acting is, as always, top notch, but I found that the film is safe and mediocre in the worst sense of those words. It takes no risks and oversteps no boundaries and is therefore imminently forgettable. In fact, movies not bad enough to verbally crucify and not good enough to canonize are generally difficult to review because I can’t bring myself to get worked up about them one way or the other. Basically what I’m saying is that Brave is an insignificant little crab scuttling unnoticed along the grey shores of indifference.
Like a great number of other people, I began watching Brave not knowing anything about the plot, and as the film progressed, began to wonder if I had sauntered into the wrong theater by mistake. I was prepared for an epic coming of age story set amid warring kingdoms in a romanticized depiction of the Scottish Highlands. What I got, however, was something entirely different. Indeed, the film was unique in that it simultaneously surprised a lot of people and surprised no one at all. Allow me to explain.
The characters are generally likeable and in the grand tradition of Pixar animation, often unbearably cute. In addition, many teenagers will find Merida’s, our protagonist, relationship with her overbearing mother all too relatable which helps to add an element of humanity to the film. Billy Connolly, in addition, does an admirable job as the voice of King Fergus and infuses the film with a kind of vitality that it would have otherwise sorely lacked. Don’t get me wrong, all of the above areas are where the film really shined, but at the same time they were unsurprising simply because we as an audience expected all of those things from a studio as experienced as Pixar, especially after they showed us that they could deliver the goods in the form of a glittering gold nugget that we call Toy Story 3.
The aspect of the film that did surprise people was the plot, and I believe that it was fumbled enough to bring down an otherwise rich cast of characters and interesting locale. The trailer, much to its credit in fact, leaked little to no information about the plotline. As a result I was both pleased that the film threw me a curve ball and disappointed that the magical elements seemed clumsily handled and almost contrived. What’s more, Pixar seems to be going a little overboard on the whole “storytelling without words” concept and relies heavily, especially in the second act, on visual gags. I believe the film would have benefited from a more complex interaction between Merida and her ‘altered’ mother than the grunts and roars that constitute a large portion of the dialogue. Also, an interesting commentary on the moral implications of the good of the self vs. the good of the community was ripe for the plucking had the writers cared to explore it beyond something akin to “it’s your duty, Merida!” I felt let down by the abrupt transition between the bitchy Queen to the nurturing and understanding Queen, especially since there was virtually no dialogue to show that a change in her thought process had taken place. But now I’m just critiquing minutia.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that Brave is a bad film. In fact, I think it’s a decent film which disappoints me because it could have been so much better. My hope is that Pixar will continue to live up to its reputation as the undisputed king of computer animation and will soon give us a film that will knock Toy Story 3 off of its gilded throne. At the end of the day, and indeed despite my overt cynicism at the beginning of this review, I suppose that one could argue that saying that Brave is mediocre is like saying that one of the diamonds in Pixar’s money pile is slightly less brilliant than all the others.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
FINAL THOUGHT: I’d like to comment briefly on how much I like the trailer for this film. The purpose of a trailer, after all, is to establish the tone of the film and perhaps introduce one or two of the more interesting characters instead of spoil the entire plot in less than two minutes. The Master and Man of Steel trailers are also fine examples of artfully executed hype generators.
FINAL THOUGHT 2: La Luna was brilliant!
FINAL FINAL REDUX: Who else is super fucking excited for Les Miserables in December?!