Sunday, June 24, 2012

Review - Brave

A young Scottish princess, who is determined to make her own path, defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom.

For obvious reasons "Brave" is the closest thing Pixar has done to an old fashion animated Disney movie and in some very brave ways the tale rises above the very movies it is taking its cues from. The most obvious link to Disney, this time we have a princess. Something Disney has long focused on while Pixar chose to stay away from. For good reasons too, Pixar established themselves as their own dynamic. Creating titles that felt and looked miles apart from what Disney had previously done. Stories about toys, bugs, monsters, fish, superheroes, cars, rats, robots, and oh yeah, old people. Perhaps Pixar finally grew comfortable enough in themselves to attempt a princess story and not feel like they were mocking the house of mouse or maybe it just happened, either way the result is a resounding swell of joy.

We'll get back to the princess in a moment but first it is necessary to focus on the story or rather the legend within "Brave." Pixar does a miraculous job creating a brand new fairy tale that feels ages old yet still contemporary. It feels like a fable that came directly out of Scottish folklore. A tale the Scots have been telling their children for ages much like stories American families have read to our children from Aesop's fables and the Grimm fairy tales. The legend and lesson within Brave comes across authentic and pure. It furthermore breaks tradition with the early Disney tales, by not aiming to have the princess find her Prince Charming. It has other intentions and lessons to teach both children and their parents. It sets the importance not on a female character finding a love but learning a lesson about her actions. This comes full circle to how the films feels like an age old fable, it is a cautionary tale, focused on how our actions can have devastating effects on our family and loved ones.

Speaking of loved ones and family, "Brave" is the best mother and daughter movie that either Disney or Pixar have made to date. Earlier I mentioned Brave rising above the very movies it takes it cues from and I stand behind that statement. Disney and Pixar have given us previous films like "Finding Nemo" or "101 Dalmatians" with wonderful parents who go out of their way to find or rescue their children, but name how many Disney or Pixar animated movies have parents and their children working together? The answer is one, "The Incredibles." Brave is the second Pixar animated movie to have well-rounded parental units that continually interact with their children, not to mention are married. Difference is they have completely different intentions. One is focused on a man reliving his glory days as a superhero with a family dynamic nicely worked into the story, but Brave is dedicated to telling a story about a mother and daughter's relationship. Something Disney never really learned how to do. Disney previously was real good at ripping the parent(s) out of the child's life. Think back to the agony caused from titles like "Bambi," "Dumbo," or even "Pinocchio." Parents killed or ripped away from the children. I still to this day get uneasy at the thought of Dumbo, forget about watching it. After a number of titles that left many children outside of myself scarred, Disney wisely moved into the orphan territory leaving the parental units out of the picture altogether. Even Disney's most recent tale "Tangled" (which I loved), like so many other old Disney films featured cliched parents that are stiff and only really act like patriarchal parents laying down rules the audience knows will be broken.

I want to be real clear about what I am favoring here. Both Disney and Pixar have made movies that focus on a child disobeying their parents, they are a dime a dozen, but they only dealt with one side. Go back to "Finding Nemo" and we have an emotionally disturbed father searching for his physically disabled son with a mentally disabled person. The father and son moments in the film are few and far between. Nemo doesn't really change his ways, his father learns to be more lenient with his son through his own personal adventure. Brave on the other hand breaks the mold with having a learning experience for both the child and parent, but most importantly, they learn it together. The Incredibles does to a certain extent also have a lesson learned for the whole family, but it comes very late in the film where Brave uses the lesson nearly the entire film. 

Breaking away from comparisons for a moment it is vital to talk about the look and sound within and throughout "Brave." I'm really liking when Pixar uses real locations like in "Finding Nemo" in Australia, "Ratatouille" in Paris, and "Up" in South America. Here Pixar does a fabulous job with Scotland. It goes a long way to have a location the animators and directors can visit and experience and it is clear by watching the final result, it was a benefit worth having. The landscape is lush, mystic, and visually stunning on screen. Matched with Patrick Doyle's energetic score the film swept me right into the Scottish culture and lore. The two original songs by Julie Fowlis and one by Birdy & Mumford & Sons also work themselves perfectly into the film utilizing the tried and true montage moments that Disney more than Pixar are known for. "Into the Open Air" by Fowlis even moved me to tears combined with the mom and daughter montage that transpired on screen.

Back to our princess, Merida should be a hit with kids. My family fell for her and her red locks. And why not? Pixar created a stunning character to look at. You could watch nothing but the curly hair and be impressed. Kelly Macdonald voicing Merida matches the character without error. Merida has plenty of spunk that kids will enjoy and attach themselves with and like I said previously, she is contemporary. Pixar broke the obvious Prince Charming mold by having a character who refused to be betrothed, then again "Mulan" had similar intentions. Here though, "Brave" moves beyond the tired love interest angle. It practically ignores it, which again is why this story does take some very brave strides. Another aspect that ties back into the family aspect I've concentrated on is not giving Merida any real characters to interact with like so many other old Disney films have. You know the side-kick. The side-kick hear instead of a fairy godmother, helpful talking animal, is simply Merida's mother. Children look up to their parents and I can't hammer home how important it was for me to see an entire film devoted to a mother and daughter's bond.

"Brave" holds a number of emotional beats that really tugged at my heart however it is also laced with laughter and comic relief I truly appreciated. For one, Merida's three little brothers are a riot. These three little guys are all over the place and leave you questioning space and time. The witch (or wood carver) is another wonderful example of comic relief thrown into Brave. She's also another example of Pixar breaking from Disney tradition. We don't see any evil witch who is hell bent on the destruction of the young princess, instead we have a helpful witch who is tired of the bad rap others witches have given her. Merida's father and the rest of the clans represent the more brash humor; the pratfalls and juvenile humor but it is blended in lightly enough that I did not mind. Lastly there is plenty good to great humor between the mother Elinor and Merida. Stuff that will have you laughing one minute and sniffling the next.

Pixar is a dynamic company that I hope continues this amazing streak. Each movie they have produced has a lesson to be told and they handle it with care. Sure some of them have been more effective than others but all have held a certain level of quality that other studios fail to maintain. Whether it is a story about friendship, learning from our mistakes, or working together I feel safe knowing that if Pixar is making it'll have meaning and importance. "Brave" is no different, it is a wonderful tale that not only mothers and daughters will appreciate but people of all ages.