Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review of BRAVE (2012)

- Rated PG for some scary action and rude humor (but the MPAA failed to mention that there is animated bare ass on two occasions.  Way to be consistent, jerks).
- Featuring the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson
- Story by Brenda Chapman;  Screenplay by Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell, Mark Andrews and Irene Mecchi
- Directed by Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews
- Running time: 1hr 33min.

There's always great anticipation when Pixar releases a new movie.  They have definitely raised the bar not only in animation but with family storytelling as well.  I've liked all of their films except for A BUG'S LIFE.  The CARS movies are decent but not great.  I personally love THE INCREDIBLES and UP, but my favorite has to be WALL*E.  This time, Pixar has made a movie with a female protagonist which is sure to draw in hordes of little girls.  However, this movie has had a bit of a checkered past.

Originally called, THE BEAR AND THE BOW (which is a more appropriate title for the story if you ask me) with Brenda Chapman at the helm, she was replaced by Mark Andrews and the title changed to BRAVE.  Now, I'm not sure what happened and why, but the most important thing is how the finished product turned out, though I would love to interview Chapman to hear what her thoughts are about the situation.  Anyway, back to the movie. 

Taking place in the Scottish highlands (during the middle ages I presume), the film opens with a short prologue showing how young Merida can see magical blue sparks called whisps, which are supposed to lead you to your destiny.  Then a big nasty bear attacks the village, which leaves Merida's father with a peg leg.  Then the movie jumps ahead 15 years or so to when Merida is a young lady.  Since her father is king, she's a princess and the time has come for her to meet 3 suitors from different Scottish clans.  But she doesn't want to get married.  And if she does, then she wants to marry the person SHE wants to marry.  Also, her mother overloads her with all the rules to follow in order to be a proper princess.  Merida ends up resenting her mom, and runs away from home so she can live the life she wants to. But when she meets a mysterious old woman (who claims she's a wood carver) is when her fate will change forever.  Oh yeah, and Merida has 3 little triplet brothers that like to eat a lot, not that really has to do anything other than make 5 year olds laugh.

It's at this point the story changes tones and goes in a different direction than you would expect.  It's not exactly an original twist or plot development, but not one that I was predicting.  Even though some trailers have given aspects of this away, I won't say anything too specific about the second act.  Read Roger Ebert's review if you want to know the whole thing.  I also want to get this out of the way: This is NOT as good as Pixar's best.  It's toward the bottom of their dozen or so films.  That's not to say it's bad, cause it's not.  It's actually pretty good, just not great or revolutionary.  And that's okay.  Because Pixar has raised the bar in the past, it's almost unfair that we expect so much from them.  To ask a ballplayer to hit a homerun every time they're at bat is ridiculous, not to mention selfish. There's nothing wrong with a single or a solid double, is there?  And that's what I would call BRAVE, a decent single.

For me, I would say that the weakest part of the movie was the first half.  It wasn't terrible in any way, but it was all too familiar.  How many times have we seen the tomboy-ish princess not wanting to follow tradition and marry someone she doesn't want to, or her defying her mother.  It's the oldest Disney story in the book.  But the pre-title sequence does a good job setting up what's in store for us in the second act, which involves magic spells and slight fantasy adventure.  I've read some reviews that didn't like the shift in tone, but I welcomed it.  Even though it wasn't a groundbreaking twist, at least I wasn't expecting it.  This is also where some of that Pixar magic comes to play.  The heart of the story reveals itself.  From the trailers, I assumed the movie would be about Merida finding her true self, but it ends up being more about her relationship with her mother, and this portion of the story is often touching.

Some of the humor, which was mostly in the first half, felt kind of forced to me.  It was very much like a Dreamworks movie as far as the comedy was concerned.  I guess I don't find old Scottish men mooning each other funny, and the triplets weren't as adorable as the filmmakers thought they were. But then there were some moments in the second half (that involve the story shift, so I can't mention specifics) that had me laughing out loud.  But this isn't a comedy.  It's a story about mending bonds and relationships, with some adventure laced in (since they set up the bear story early on, you know it's going to come back).

As you would expect, the animation looks great, though not quite as good as Pixar's last few.  In fact, if you would've told me that this was from the creators of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (by Dreamworks), I would've believed you.  That's not too much of a knock, but it's just not groundbreaking.  And I guess it's okay that it's not.  As I said before, that's unfair to expect every time.  The landscapes are terrific, and the character designs are wildly exaggerated, Merida's beautiful flowing red locks are absolutely gorgeous, and the bear is pretty menacing (he might even scare small children).  Patrick Doyle has crafted an appropriate Scottish score and even Mumford & Sons contribute to one of the film's songs.  Merida is a great role model for kids, and I think many little girls are going to want beginner archery kits for Christmas, cause she sure looks cool flinging arrows. 

I think most kids will enjoy BRAVE and parents with the right mindset should like it as well.  Just don't expect anything terribly deep and epic.  In fact, I was surprised by how self contained the story and scope were.  It's a relatively small story, which was good cause that meant it was tightly focused.  This is probably the best bet for family films this summer, as MADAGASCAR 3 was a bust (at least for me).  My daughter ate up the magical elements of the film and says it's her 3rd favorite film of the year (next to THE AVENGERS and MOONRISE KINGDOM).  After the predictably generic first 40 minutes, the movie turns into an unexpected magical journey that was moving the way we expect Pixar movies to be.  It's worth a look! 

(Note: The 3D looked pretty good, so if thinking about the upgrade, go for it.  But most little kids won't keep the glasses on, so if you have real little ones, I would see the 2D)

*** (out of ****)

1 comment:

  1. Good review. Had a lot of fun with this one for the first half or so, but then after that, things started to go downhill for me and it lost my focus. Usually, I love the heck out of Pixar films but this one didn’t do much for me, except give me plenty of eye-candy to gaze at.