FIGURE ONE - WHY I WAS EXCITED ABOUT THIS MOVIE:
FIGURE TWO - MY REACTION TO SEEING THIS MOVIE:
I have SO MANY THOUGHTS, YOU GUYS.
With Pixar at this stage in their brand identity, which has the most consistent reputation for quality in Hollywood, frankly, expectations shape the experience of watching their films. As stated above, all I really wanted in my heart of hearts was pretty mountains and bagpipes, so I walked out well pleased. But many people did go in wanting a certain perceived level of sophistication. I grew up during the Disney Renaissance, and love going back to those films, but my god, how lucky are the preteens who are going to rediscover RATATOUILLE in ten years and find that besides being touching and suspenseful and hilarious, it’s also one of the most loving, truest statements about The Nature of Art?
BRAVE isn’t that. It feels like the break in a streak - from WALL-E to TOY STORY 3 Pixar has been behind what a friend best described as the “G-Rated Narrative Vanguard” - and if you put your money down for that extra level, I imagine you’re a bit disappointed. The short before the film, “LA LUNA,” is an airtight, delightfully surprising story that glows with deep beauty; it, definitely, is a trueborn child of Pixar. BRAVE, I sense, got half its genes from someone else; the film, and particularly bold lassie Merida, is equally heir to the long line of Disney Princesses (TM). As such, her motivations are less clear and her spunk more pronounced.
But if this film had come out of DreamWorks SKG, y’all, we would be in awe of it. It is, not just by virtue of being their newest, the most gorgeous artwork Pixar has ever rendered. At last! A fairy tale that doesn’t perfunctorily off the parents, but saddles the hero with the much more adult task of learning how to triumph, true to one’s self, with one’s family in the picture. At last! A story about mothers and daughters: how harmful it is when parents try to shape their children in their own images, how children ignore the quite useful gifts their parents unstintingly offer them because ick, and how each can learn from the other. At last! A bear version of Moby Dick.
What’s missing is that fourth layer of nuance and meaning that infused the Pixar streak. BRAVE doesn’t have anything deeper to say about family dynamics or discovering one’s own fate/place in the world than what it presents in voice-over. Instead, the film has a couple song montages, one of which is painfully on-the-nose. That’s alright. The movie does have things to say, there are some outstanding action set-pieces and character beats, and the story held my interest even after I knew exactly where it was going.
Reviews have been complaining about Merida as a character, particularly about her boyishness, and I frankly don’t get that. It is a fine line between her and what I call the Eowyn syndrome: that is, a girl who does masculine things for the approval of men or acceptance/power in the male-dominated world. Who Merida is, is a kickass archer, and she just wants to spend her days ridin’ aboot and havin’ adventures (with a rolled rr). She has no ambitions towards the combat-filled rule of her father, but neither do the courtly duties of her mother appeal to her. Once she figures out how to fix the enchantment of the conflict, though, it requires her to shoulder responsibility and use the skills of both her parents to solve the problem. That synthesis is, for the most part, well done.
The final climax kinda isn’t, though, because, much as I hate to admit this, of the bears. Lesson One from the DIE HARD School of Action Writing states that the resolution of the external, physical conflict somehow has to facilitate the internal, emotional conflict of the hero. As ably as Pixar telegraphs the character beats (and terrifying not!character beats) of Merida’s ursidial companion, we never really get under the hides of the bears, or get deeper than just the physical obstacles they pose. Taking Merida out of the final bear confrontation diminishes her journey, too. There are ways this could have been avoided - Riggs and Murtaugh shoot that one dude together, guys.
Overall, though, BRAVE is solid. It’s got a little padding, it isn’t what Pixar has been doing, and it’s own particular heart and charms are hurt by the comparison. However, if you clear your expectations, there’s a lot to recommend it, its breathtaking visuals not the least. The Pixar generation kids will still rediscover wonders when they go back to this film, but I suspect they may find the lessons of this legend to be already learned.