Movie Review: Pixar’s “Brave” – There Will Be Butts

I know that’s a weird title for a Disney/Pixar movie, but I think that was the most surprising part of the film. But I’ll get to that at the end.

Disney (it seems they’ve taken the “Walt” out of the title – the opening credits read “Disney Presents”) and Pixar’s latest collaboration is this summer’s Brave, a highly anticipated original movie from the studio that brought you Finding Nemo, Toy Story and Monsters Inc. With the disappointment that was Cars 2 (really just a cash-in for merchandise), Pixar needed something to bring them back, to remind people of the masterful and poignant storytelling they’re capable of.

I’m not sure Brave will do that for them though. Let’s start with the good points:

First and foremost, the animation is astoundingly beautiful. The misty and heavily wooded forests of Scotland look so real and the characters have a cartoonish yet real quality to them. Merida, in particular, stands out as being unique in her design, even without that untamed mass of red, curly hair, which was probably a pain in the butt to animate. No other character in the movie looks like her nor any character in recent animation. I didn’t see the movie in 3D, but I assume it looks just as amazing.

Second, this is a princess movie. By Disney. But don’t let that completely deter you. It’s not that kind of a princess movie, really. For one thing, this princess has a mother, and their relationship is the key focus of the movie. Brave takes the standard Disney Princess trope (none of them have mothers or have evil stepmothers) and explores it.

It’s new ground for the studio in more ways than one. This is Pixar’s first movie featuring a female lead — and a teenage female lead at that. But by having the movie focus not on Merida’s romantic relationships, but on her relationship with her mother, Brave gains an edge over most common princess stories. Mother/daugther relationships are the most important ones, especially for young girls growing up and entering adolescence. It is also a relationship that is not explored nearly enough in kids’ movies. So I commend Pixar for doing a princess movie that’s not a traditional princess movie.

That’s not to say that Brave doesn’t deal with the usual themes of a princess movie either. The entire first half is devoted to Merida being forced to marry to a suitor and she doesn’t want to because she’s a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need to be married and likes to ride her horse and climb mountains and do archery which is SOO wrong because that’s not princess-y stuff. There’s even a corset scene. It’s a tale as old as time and boring as dirt and it’s been done . . .

over . . .

and over . . .

and over again.

Brave doesn’t have much new to say about that particular theme other than people should have freedom to choose what they want blah blah blah America rules blah blah blah women oppression blah blah blah.

It’s at about halfway through that Brave takes a weird turn. Here be spoilers. After a rather nasty fight with her mother, Merida runs off into the woods and finds a witch who gives her a spell that will change her mother and thus, change her fate. Now I walked into the movie spoiler-free and not even seeing any previews for it so I had no idea what was coming. I was ready. Okay, Pixar — show me something awesome.

SPOILER

The spell changed her mother into a bear.

What? This is the direction you’re choosing to take, Pixar?  If you thought I could maybe predict where your movie was going in the first half, I can most certainly see where it’s going now. I’ve seen Brother Bear! I can tell you that Merida and her mother are going to learn lessons from each other that for some reason they couldn’t learn without Moms being a bear and at the end, even though it may seem like it, she won’t stay a bear forever. It’s happened . . . 

over . . .

and over . . .

and over again!

I understand that Pixar can’t always do something completely original-that’s-never-been-done-before-oh-my-gosh-that-was-mind-blowing, but the whole second half of the movie felt . . . done.

Was it done well? Yeah, for the most part. I felt bad for Mommy Dearest for getting changed into a bear and I pretty much hated Merida for doing it, ungrateful little offspring. Did Mom deserve it? Not at all. But Merida goes through her trials and makes up for it in the end. She made a mistake, she admits that and then works to change it. That’s a good, relatable character. Queen Elinor too is a good strong female character — one Merida should look up to. She can silence a hall full of men with one look. She’s commanding, poised, beautiful, strong and tries to keep peace with the feuding clans. But you can relate to Merida too when she gets fed up with her mom being a big nag all the time.

But despite all that, I think where Brave falls flat is at the source — Merida, herself. She’s not a character that can keep an audience’s interest long enough. She’s not that engaging. It’s sad that her brothers and father steal the show right out from under her. I’d rather hang out with them any day. Plus, in making her a non-princess-y stereotype, they’ve turned her into the extreme other female stereotype — a tomboy who shoots arrows, and that has been done

over . . .

AND OVER . . .

AND OVER AGAIN!!!!

What about after the end of the movie? What happens after Merida and her mom are done with their jaunty horse ride through the forest? What are Merida’s other goals in life besides shooting arrows and riding horses? I think we learned from the Lion King that you can’t hakuna-matata your way through life. Compare her to Tiana, who has an ambition to open her own restaurant or Mulan. who wanted to prevent her father from going to war, or dang it, even Ariel who at least wanted to get laid by the human prince of her dreams. Pixar’s portrayal of female empowerment is paint-by-the-numbers and only gets it halfway done because at the end of the day, Merida is still a princess – the quintessential standard female role.

 The movie was good for what it was, but, like I said, it felt done from the opening and closing narration to pretty much everything in between. Brave is a good kids’ movie compared to others out in theaters this year . . .

Oh the horror . . .

But compared to Pixar’s own standards, I’d put it somewhere between Toy Story 2 and A Bug’s Life. It didn’t leave a big impression on me and it just felt average. It felt more like a Disney movie than a Pixar movie, which I know sounds weird, but I think adequately describes it. Brave wasn’t all that brave at all since it didn’t take any real risks, despite the fresh mother/daughter relationship. There weren’t any big human emotional moments that stick out to you, like Up or Finding Nemo or Toy Story 3, and because of that, Brave falls a little on the underwhelming side.

Also, this movie is preoccupied with nakedness. There was a cleavage joke, a naked joke, and two butt scenes. TWO butt scenes. Just keep in mind that some animator had to spend weeks animating Dad’s butt.

B-

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