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Film Review : Brave

Jun 23, 2012 05:02PM ● By Justin Buettner

Merida is a tomboy at heart, much more happy to shoot arrows and mountain climb than to play princess, much to the dismay of her mother the Queen. When Merida defies an age old custom of her people, picking her future husband from the surrounding kingdoms sons, Merida runs away into the forest and meets a witch. The witch promises her a spell that can change her fate, but like all witch’s spells there are unintended consequences and things go horribly wrong. Now it is a race against time to reverse the curse before it destroys the kingdom and Merida’s family.

Past Pixar movies have a certain magic to them. They all hit just the right notes in terms of story and heart. While doing this many of them have a certain uniqueness about them whether it’s about a little robot seeking love or an elderly man befriending a pudgy boy scout on an adventure. Brave seems to have all the right ingredients to fit among Pixar’s best but it never really comes together. In the end I couldn’t help thinking I had just seen a variation of a past Disney film Brother Bear.

The movie is directed by Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews, neither of whom have stellar track records. Chapman’s last and only film was Prince of Egypt. Andrews directed a previous Pixar short, One Man Band in addition to his screenplay credit on John Carter. How these two earned a shot to direct a feature Pixar film I will never know, perhaps it’s magic. Many of the problems with Brave can be traced to the direction of this film. The pacing is just not good. The movie races through emotional and tense moments where previous Pixar films would have taken it’s time. By the time we come to the finale and the film finally slows down to show an emotional moment it is too late for it to have the kind of impact the movie needed.

The script, written by Chapman and Andrews with the help of rookie Steve Purcell and animation veteran Irene Mecchi (responsible for many of the weaker Disney animation films in the past two decades) did not help matters. The  story seemed scattered and unfocused. The tone was not set as it switched stories completely midway through with an odd twist. The sad part was the big plot twist was completely unneeded. In fact if they had removed the odd bear subplot the story would have been much stronger for it.

Even worse, where Pixar films in the past were famous for their deep and meaningful characters, Brave was devoid of memorable heroes or villains. The only engaging character of the bunch was King Fergus. I really wished perhaps the story could have been about him. Merida’s character was very shallow and that really hurt the film. She did not have a clear dream or focus. All we knew is she wanted her freedom, but for what end? So she could go horseback riding whenever she chose? Merida needed a purpose greater than herself and the movie never bothered to offer that. Instead it focused on a common and boring theme of an over controlling mother versus a rebellious daughter without anything creative or new to add to conversation. In short the main conflict in the movie was quite dull.  Even more shocking Brave did not have a villain. Seriously, even the witch wasn’t evil.  

The animation and artistry on display in Brave is second to none. With each film, the technical achievement Pixar is able to put on display is awe inspiring. There is a scene with a waterfall that is just breathtaking. It’s a shame that great artists time and skill were used on such a pedestrian story.

I know Pixar has made a commitment to try and increase its feature output to at least one a year, but if it is at the sacrifice of quality, in this case storytelling, then it should scale back its plans. As a fan of the company I would much rather have a excellent Pixar movie every two years than have an average Pixar movie every year. And after an unparalleled run of success, Pixar’s last three movie have all been underwhelming. You have to go all the way back to 2009’s Up to find Pixar’s last great film.

Ultimately will children like Brave? To be honest I don’t know. It will keep their attention while they watch it but judging from the reaction of the kids I know that have seen it, I don’t think they will have any interest to see it again. Unlike the manic Madagascar 3 where action was happening in almost every frame, Brave is dialogue heavy. There are long stretches of talking for much of the film. Even the action has a dark undertone and isn’t as creative and fun as other animated fare.  This is the worst film Pixar has released and its weaknesses are shocking for a company that once seemed so strong. If you decide to go just lower your expectations and know you are seeing a run of the mill type of film and nothing special, something I never imagined I’d write about a Pixar film.

Films like Brave : Brother Bear, The Princess and the Frog, and The Wild

Justin Buettner is Style's resident movie dude! How did he get this role? Well, he graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor of Arts in film Production and a duel minor in Animation and Business with an emphasis in the entertainment field. He later went on to work on several independent films in various key roles including writer and later worked in the special effects field as a motion capture artist. He has since relocated to the Sacramento area with his family and continues writing for small independent films in addition to his movie reviews for Style Magazine.

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