johnlink ranks BRAVE (2012)

It’s surprising that it has taken me this long into the year to rank my first animated film. I am usually good for several a year. But BRAVE is a film I wanted to see in the theater. This was a unique story for Pixar to tackle, and my curiosity level was very high going in.

I watched BRAVE (2012) in theaters on 7.14.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

Pixar’s canon is filled with whimsy and magic. The concepts, however, are usually wild. You look at TOY STORY and have toys coming to life. You have MONSTERS INC supposing that there really are monsters under the bed. CARS exists in a world where cars are individuals, just like humans. And so on and so on.

Humans don’t usually get to take center stage in Pixar films. It happened in INCREDIBLES, a story about super heroes. It happened in RATATOUILLE, though that was a film more about its titular culinary rat than it was about people. And it happened with rousing success in UP.

BRAVE is a film about people. More specifically, it is a movie about family. It is much closer in story to the Princess era of Disney movies in the 90s; closer to ALADDIN, MULAN, or (most specifically) THE LITTLE MERMAID. Yes, there is magic, and that magic plays a central role in creating the end of Act 1 twist. However, BRAVE is easily the most traditional look at a stock story that Pixar has ever done.

We are in medieval Scotland where Merida (voiced by the great Kelly Macdonald from BOARDWALK EMPIRE), is a young princess with flowing red hair and a keen eye for shooting arrows. Her mother is Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), a businesslike woman who harps on Merida constantly in hopes of making her a proper Princess. Dad is Fergus (Billy Connolly), a rousing heroic fighter who is much more interested in telling old stories and ensuring that people like him, than he is in concerning himself with the development of his daughter. He’s a good man, a fun man, but he absolutely plays good cop to his wife’s bad cop.

The clans are coming together to present a potential suitor for Merida. She wants to be able to be a kid, to be free, to take time to pick someone she loves rather than being forced to marry someone for the quote-unquote ‘good of the kingdom’.

There’s a pretty cool twist at the end of Act 1, which I will not spoil (I’m assuming the trailer did not spoil it. I avoided the trailers on this one). The effect of the twist is that Merida ends up leaving the castle and setting out on her first real adventure. The script, in creating this scenario and the Challenge-She-Must-Overcome, is fairly tame. This is a film much more about its characters, and much more about the interaction of family than it is about plot.  The plot is simple, tame, and a vehicle to force mother and daughter to come to grips with their differences.

I love that my daughter (arriving in theaters on or around October 10) is going to be able to grow up in a world that has Merida as a heroine. The Disney Princess era is very much about finding a man. Although some of these young women are allowed to be strong, or to have a moment of strength, the point is usually to pair her off with a man. Sometimes this is because the man she wants isn’t the man she is supposed to have, and so she must find a way to make it work. Sometimes the man she doesn’t want to be with manages to win her over. But, in the end, love is found.

The closest Disney has to Merida would be Ariel from THE LITTLE MERMAID. Red hair, free spirit, over-protective parental figure who happens to rule the kingdom ultimately leading to her taking drastic measures utilizing something she doesn’t understand. The stories play out, providing obstacles each must overcome as a way of showing their strength and maturity. The difference is that BRAVE doesn’t feel like the end result needs to be tied to Merida being with The Man of Her Dreams. In fact, BRAVE doesn’t bother with such an impossible concept as The Man of Her Dreams. Instead, this film happily allows Merida to be a strong, independent, and unflinchingly brave young woman.

The supporting characters in this are so much fun. I thought the three little boys on all the advertising posters would be annoying as all hell. Instead, they bring great joy to the film. The battling clans is both nice comic relief and the film’s wink at what a world without women looks like. The three suitors are played for laughs, but they are also there to provide stereotypical types of young man serving to show the anonymity of such a silly process as selecting a marriage partner.

This is not Pixar’s most fun movie. The establishing shots and some of the character work are absolutely breathtaking (this film often looks more real than the crappy CGI of, say, CAPTAIN AMERICA), yet this is probably not Pixar’s best film. What it is, however, is Pixar’s first attempt at a more traditional style of story creation. It is a rousing success in that the characters are superb, the storytelling effective (Liz cried several times, and not just because she is pregnant), and the overall presentation is a pleasure. I really enjoyed the message of this film, and its one I can’t wait to share with my children as soon as they are old enough to sit through a movie.

SCORES

FILM: 8; MOVIE: 7; EFFECT: 9; WRITING: 7; BONUS: 1 (Just a reminder that, when reviewing an animated film, I use EFFECT OF CHARACTER in place of ACTING. The ranking considers the animation, voice-over work, and overall effect of creating character).

The bonus point is for the world that Pixar created in making Brave. Scotland is stunningly beautiful. It’s the first film I have ever wished I had seen in 3D. I hate 3D. And I want this in 3D. Go figure.

8+7+9+7+1=32

FINAL SCORE: 8

~ by johnlink00 on July 15, 2012.

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