Brave (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Brave (2012)

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Without delving too deeply into the Freshman's first creative writing assignment on how difficult it is to write about something then turning that into something to write about; writing about Brave is hard.  At the very least, the results of Brave are difficult to write about because if there's one thing I never expected a Pixar film to be it's totally bland.

There were quite a few people with tear streaks on their face right when the movie closed and the credits blared up.  I was not among them, but at the same time I still had to fight the urge to cry during those climactic moments.  Crying when I’m genuinely affected by a film is a wonderful experience, but during Brave I was aware that this moment was designed entirely to make me feel sad.  I knew exactly what was coming next, but because Pixar has gotten so used to pumping out these saccharine moments I felt that the previous seventy five minutes  had been nothing but a series of barely-related plot devices to get the audience to this moment.

I have not grown cynical, just able to take part of the shared experience of one moment and relate it to the whole.  This is yet another time the geniuses at Pixar have delivered on the same promise as before ("You'll weep tears of joy!"), but to a very diminishing return.  There are adult themes present, and there is no doubt very small children with little experience of film will find the movie engrossing, but I’m getting tired of the emotional ploy they throw into the last act, and here it is as naked and brazen as ever.

Brave is a pretty standard fable telling how brash Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) learns to find her adult way by clashing with her well-meaning mother.  Plenty of other kids films have dealt with this exact dilemma (even Pixar’s, Finding Nemo being chief among them) so I won’t knock the film for sticking with a winning formula.  But I will knock it for doing absolutely nothing of consequence with the theme.

The film takes place during a contest to find a man that she is supposed to marry and keep the peace between all the clans.  Her father King Fergus (Billy Connolly) seems happy with having a sparring and archery partner around the home while her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) wants to make her more ladylike.  Mom wasn’t always this way and encouraged her roughhousing, somewhat, when she was a younger lass.  But time trickles on an eventually she must become, as all Princesses do, a lady.  So Merida hires a witch to cast a spell which turns her mother into a bear, a species which drives her papa into a murderous frenzy, and tries to set about her own path into the future.

The movie does not follow the plot down this tantalizing psychological territory despite hints one of the three directors felt it necessary to leave in shots that it might.  Papa gets closer to teenage daughter, mama begins to feel jealous and foster behaviors onto Merida that would make her less attractive to her dad, then presents suitors that would rob Merida of anything which makes her unique.  This leads us straight into Electra Complex territory that any casual practitioner of film psych 101 would be able to spot from the plot elements, let alone the scene where Merida strikes a tapestry leaving mama all alone while daughter stays with papa.

But nothing is done here while other Pixar films have not been afraid to follow these psychological impulses down the rabbit hole (for example, The Incredibles).  Instead it feels like an unrealized third film sandwiched in-between a slapstick comedy and a broad drama with the trio barely intersecting.  This is another sign of how having multiple creative leads on the same project may not be the best idea because the more traditional drama and comedy are about as fleshed out as this sexually aggressive undercurrent.

The slapstick makes the film too broad.  The biggest offender being when mama is turned into a bear she can’t seem to get accustomed to her new form and proceeds to knock over everything in the castle in, by my rough count, at least forty times.  This repetition does not hurl it so far into anti-comedy that it becomes funny, just annoying.  Then the drama portion, excising the psychological subtext, becomes a series of dialogue rephrasing along the lines of “No mom, you shut up” and that’s that.Will it amuse and entertain?  For most, I suppose.  I wasn’t too bored, just let down.  Merida’s triplet siblings were fun to watch because of the creative way they used the castle as a weapon in their shenanigans, and there’s a certain charge to the way Merida takes control of her life, but that’s about it.

What’s so disappointing is the way a film with a highly touted female lead ended up so shallow and focusing on characterization that begins and ends with the hair.  It’s like a demo reel for a salon shop watching Merida with her unkempt and out of control locks, the queen keeping her hair tightly bound to hide her age, and the kindly king with his mustache and do' curled up into a smile.  The landscapes are pretty but offer no variety or unique characteristics while the directors take their love of Miyazaki to a whole new level by borrowing characters wholesale.  This is a movie where you actually can accurately judge characters entirely by how they look, and that's not a message I want repeated.

It’s beginning to feel like Pixar is starting with the emotional climax and then working backward instead of letting a story grow organically.  There are too many ideas going on at once in Brave for any one of to be effective, and by the time that teary eyed conclusion rolls around I decided I’d had enough.  If Dreamworks gets flack for easy messages and repeated montages over pop songs I don’t see why Brave deserves a pass, bagpipes be damned.

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Brave (2012)

Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell.
Screenplay by Andrews, Chapman, Purcell, and Irene Mecchi.
Starring Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, and Billy Connolly.

Posted by Andrew

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