Movie Review: Brave
There is Not Much to this Weak Pixar Effort
By Tom Houseman
June 25, 2012
Is Pixar on a downturn? In promotional material for WALL-E, Andrew Stanton mentioned that the film was the last of the original ideas that marked the founding of Pixar. Since then there have been two sequels (Toy Story 3 and Cars 2) soon to be followed by a third (Monsters University). Brave is the original story sandwiched in between, Pixar’s first fairy tale and their first film with a female protagonist. It is also the weakest, worst thought-out narrative of any Pixar film, and yes, that includes Cars 2.
The Pixar team at its best is on par with Shakespeare, not necessarily in terms of quality, but rather the way it creates stories. Its best stories are not groundbreaking or revolutionary, but rather they take classic narratives and find new exciting ways to interpret them. Films like Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. and WALL-E (which I consider the three most impressive Pixar achievements) take big ideas and tell them in big, exciting ways. Which is why it is a shame that Brave feels so small.
What a waste of a grand, majestic landscape. Brave is set in Scotland, and the wide shots of rolling hills and lush forests whet the appetite in the same way that the ocean floor did in Finding Nemo and outer space did in WALL-E. But those films took advantage of their settings with epic, sprawling adventures, while Brave’s story is so simple that it is largely confined to a single, uninteresting castle. There is no journey through the woods, and surprisingly little is done with the lush forests that surround the characters. It feels as if the Pixar folks wanted a story set in Scotland, but could not figure out what to do once they got there.
Brave also pales in comparison to most Pixar films in that its story is so uncreative. The idea of a princess not wanting to be a princess has been done so many times before, and Brave brings nothing new or exciting to the story. Merida is almost completely uninteresting as a protagonist, as the writers hammer in that she needs to overcome her flaws of pride and stubbornness but forget to give her much in the way of endearing traits. Her mother is the generic disapproving mother that seems to show up in every movie about a woman who wants to buck tradition, and her father is essentially the same character that as the father in How to Train Your Dragon (played in that film by Gerard Butler), which I’m pretty sure is just how Billy Connolly is in real life.
Of course, this is a Pixar film, so there are some truly delightful details woven into the movie, and some of the visual gags are perfectly hilarious. In particular Merida’s trio of silent younger brothers manage to walk the fine line between precocious and obnoxious and are consistent sources of laughs. But what makes these moments great in other Pixar films is that they are part of a great story and often simultaneously entertain and push the plot forward. When the motivations of the characters do not make sense, when the plot is driven by simple miscommunication, and when the protagonist is not compelling, it is impossible to save a film.
Which is not to say that Brave is as bad as much of the animated tripe forced on adults via the gullets of their children; even at its worst, Brave is still a passable way to kill 105 minutes. And I should include the disclaimer that I have not drank the Pixar kool-aid, as I am not as enamored of their films as most other people seem to be. But both by the standards of Pixar and the standards of what we should expect from summer entertainment, Brave is the one thing you would never expect a Pixar film to be: middling. Hopefully Brave is merely an aberration, and Pixar will be able to find its footing. If not, the studio once known for being extraordinary will merely have to settle for just being a little bit better than everybody else.