Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Toon-arama: Brave (2012)

Let’s do a little thought experiment. If you wrote for Disney and wanted to produce a truly stand-out animated script, what are some things you would avoid? Princesses would probably top the list. Of course, if you went with a princess anyway, you could always just make her a “free spirit.” Oh, but that’s been done before. Still, you could likely think of something more original than having her betrothed to someone she doesn’t even like and trying to avoid marriage. No?Anyhow, you would certainly avoid witches casting spells with unintended consequences. And if you can’t do that, for heaven’s sake, avoid bears. (Giant, buffoonish father figures are okay, though.) In any case, if you do decide to go with all those tropes at once, don’t call it anything like “Courageous” or “Daring” or anything like that. Oh, crap.

** spoiler alert **

The above spoiler alert is merely a formality because, odds are, you’ve seen this movie before... even if you haven’t. But, just in case the introduction doesn’t paint a clear enough picture, here is a synopsis in one sentence: Merida, a Scottish princess, is betrothed to whichever clan’s firstborn son can win her hand in an archery contest, but would rather continue her carefree life of horseback riding in the woods than get married to an unknown suitor, so she employs the services of a witch who casts a spell to change her mother into a bear that can only be reversed after everyone involved becomes enlightened and better people. That was depressingly simple.
Still, I could get past the fact that Brave is almost entirely recycled—many excellent stories are built from recycled elements—if there had been a better attempt at masking it. Alas, there really is nothing to do that. Character development is non-existent; everyone is introduced as a fully-formed archetype or, more aptly, stereotype. Many of the comedic elements seem like shoehorned afterthoughts. But the ultimate failure of Brave is that there is never a moment of uncertainty in the film. The stakes never feel high because the film constantly assures us that everything will work out.

Of course, audiences do expect a happy ending from a children’s picture, but Brave doesn’t even allow a sliver of doubt to creep in. In that way, it couldn’t be any more cautious.

The tone is set in the opening scene at young Merida’s birthday. As the family celebrates, the pastoral moment is suddenly broken when the demon bear Mor’du (actually kinda cool) attacks. But then we immediately cut to several years later. Everyone is fine. We only learn that Merida’s father Fergus lost his leg to the bear through exposition. The audience never had opportunity to wonder about his fate. And this occurs over and over throughout the film. Merida climbs a cliff and drinks from a waterfall, but we only learn this was dangerous afterward. She misses a crucial message from the witch, but she ultimately receives it anyway. And every time she enters the woods—which is like, all the time—there is not even the worry of getting lost because the magical “wisps” provide a glowing trail. Once this pattern is established, we no longer wonder how things that are not immediately resolved will end. The message is clear: everything will be just fine. And while assurances are nice, it’s no way to keep one interested in a movie.

It’s worth mentioning the wisps again, because after I had seen them a couple of times, I couldn’t help but think of them as markers in a video game. I don’t think of video games as mindless, stupefying entertainment in general, but the bad ones can be. And the bad ones tend to include glowing trails like those provided by the wisps. In that sense, the way they led Merida along, without her having to find or discover anything on her own, was emblematic of what is wrong with the movie.
Still, my mother raised me that if I can’t say anything good, don’t say anything at all. (Incidentally, that line is also in the movie.) Besides, I’ve already said the worst I can, so there’s really nothing left to talk about but the good.

I’d be a liar if I told you the film was anything less than gorgeous. If the story is (severely) lacking, it may be because Brave is really a vehicle for Pixar’s new software (which they failed to promote). Sadly, too few people appreciate the complexities of animating an unruly tangle of curly red hair from polygons, let alone the painstaking subtleties of painting digital moss. Still, most people can and do appreciate the beauty of the Scottish highlands and so can admire the faithful reproduction by Pixar’s computer artists. The only drawback is that the awe only lasts for the first few scenes of the movie as nothing is brought later to revive that initial wonder.
Similar statements can be made about the vocal performances. A Scottish tale is a perfect excuse to assemble a primarily Scottish cast, whose natural brogue is entertaining in itself. If you can speak in your normal accent after 93 minutes of exposure, you’re a stronger man than I. On the other hand, the performers breathe an uncommon verve into these characters which, frankly, is necessary to keep one engaged in the picture. This is no mean feat, considering the aforementioned lack of character development. Truly, the character performances are the saving grace of the movie, being simultaneously a cast of clowns as well as reminiscent of folks we likely all know. Or maybe I can only say that because I possess a bit of Pictish heritage.

Conspicuously absent was much in the way of Scottish-sounding music, a real no-brainer given the film’s setting as well as the current popularity of Celtic and Gaelic folk music. This is surprising given that Scottish composer Patrick Doyle was on the job. Certainly the music never seemed out of place, but the thing lacking was a discernible and hummable theme. A couple of vocal pieces overlaid some montages, but I can’t say they stuck with me. Pixar has yet to do a musical. This may have been an apt place to start.


Commander Max said...

I haven't seen Brave yet, I still have some trepidation from seeing anything from Pixar after UP. That one was a serious downer.

But how about a radical idea for a plot Disney wouldn't touch these days.
A well adjusted Princess with no issues, who has both parents(a kind mother and a wise non bumbling father, both loving(oh no!)). A prince she loves and wants to marry(who has a similar background), who have to overcome some external problem, like a crazy witch or something. Have a bunch of "things"(a word Walt would use)happen. Then everybody lives happily ever after. That's it the end, lets not make a sequel.

Disney has done this many times. I think that was before most of us were born.

K said...

Well written review with some good points, Andrew, but perhaps I can add a few things.

Primarily, this is the film that PIXAR had to make since it was well and truly pointed out that they had yet to have a story with a female protagonist. Subsequently, Brenda Chapman, who is the most experienced and accomplished woman feature animation director today was brought in and the movie is based a story of her creation.


While BRAVE does have quite a few Princess tropes, it does have some surprising aspects. Usually plucky Princess movies are of the "coming of age" type - the Princess is propelled towards her destiny as an adult and eventually parent. In this case the film marches down that path and then takes a sudden surprise turn into a mother daughter relationship movie. The Princess doesn't find her true love - the suitors are portrayed uniformly as idiots and fools - she sorts out "issues" with her mother and goes riding with her in the forest instead.

Perhaps I've missed a Princess movie or two but I don't remember that particular trope coming up too often.

As would be expected given the movie's origins, protests, the story makes some strong feminist points. Primarily, that marriage shouldn't be the central aspect of a woman's life. Another strong point, surprisingly, is that women shouldn't be afraid of carrying weapons. (!!!)

And while the movie was engineered to appeal to young girls, I was pleased that pains were taken to also make it interesting and more importantly for me, non-insulting to the male audience. The father is an admirable figure and parent who also loves and respects his wife. It's obvious that the daughter gets her wildness from him and he's the first to encourage her. Personally, I put this down to having a woman director, who doesn't have to follow the party line to be considered an authentic artist of gender.

tryanmax said...

Max, I haven't seen UP yet and, after several comments like yours, I may continue to neglect it.

tryanmax said...

K, I suppose it's a matter of perspective. I'm a child of the '80s, so the thing about the princess not needing a husband is a trope to me. The big exception in the case of Brave is that the princess doesn't get married in spite of that realization.

tryanmax said...

I feel like I should probably state before any more comments get made: I really wanted to like this movie going in. I was super-excited about the whole Scottish thing. Unfortunately, all that lent to the film was aesthetic.

rlaWTX said...

I enjoyed this movie. It was fun, the little brothers were entertaining, the dad was NOT a total idiot, daughter got to figure out that her parents were noble despite their issues. It ended with them still compromising and the future uncertain. There were formulaic designs, but even Pixar isn't perfect... :)

I also LOVED "Up". Identifying with that feeling that one's life is over because The Plan didn't work out, that often life isn't what you decided it should be, that fun is out there waiting, that other people need you - and your experiences - in order to make their lives better and richer. Plus "SQUIRREL"!!!

Jason said...

I remember the trailers for this film. They didn’t reveal very much about it, a few flashes of Merida in the woods, some cool-looking epic shots, and that spooky tagline, “If you had the chance to change your fate, would you?”

I figured, hey this is going to be a neat fantasy epic. Perhaps the fabric of reality itself is going to be altered.

Instead, I got the queen being turned into a bear.


Perhaps my imagination ran away with me, but I wasn’t expecting something so low-key, so familiar. I definitely didn’t think this would fall below the quality of, say, How to Train Your Dragon. Not to say Brave was bad, but man, I got set up for something much grander than what we got.

BIG MO said...

I haven't seen this one yet. I've felt kind of "eh" with theatrically-released animated movies for the past couple of years because there are so blasted many of them and they've been infested with sequelitis.

Not that there aren't gems, but the sheer number of new films, sequels and re-releases is tiresome. Too much of a good thing.

Don't get me wrong: I love animated movies. My family ended up watching The Lion King last night. It's still one of the greatest animated films ever made (or of any type, for that matter), and demonstrates that superior craftmanship and compelling storytelling can be done.

I do wonder how well The Lion King would have done if it were released in the last two years instead of the 1990s. Would it have stood out, or would it have been lost amid the 4th Shrek, the 2nd Cars, the 3rd Toy Story, etc. etc.

Anonymous said...

This may be misogynist, sexist, whatever-ist but nobody...ok proper man or boy wants to see another grrl-power womyn-power movie. For pete's sake, we have video games! I'd rather play black ops 2. This is the result of pixar finally giving into the liberal pressure that they haven't catered to the "female" demographic. Video games are also facing that criticism and pressure that they're misogynist and don't bow down to feminism. The day those companies start listening to that message is the day their billion dollar properties will fizzle out.
It made decent money because its a pixar film but if they keep going in that direction then they'll be heading into disney's post lion-king territory.

Tennessee Jed said...

My current crop of grandkids are too old for this stuff so I tend not to pay close attention. I thought these guys did "Tangled" (a.k.a. Rapunzel) as well, but perhaps not. I actually tried to watch that one and was grossed out. Every female character anymore has that same overly nasal New York accent that was present in the daughter in the Incredibles.

At first blush, this one seems like "lets do an animated Braveheart!!! . . . . with a girl as the warrior hero!!!) I know you have stated otherwise, and I know I am an old reactionary curmudgeon, but damn I swear there is this agenda out there in Hollywoodland that is screaming GIRLS ON TOP, ANYTHING YOU CAN DO, WE CAN DO BETTER. Girls want to be 1) the boss 2) action heroes 3) Rock stars. Look, I get that up until the 60's, females were getting the shit end of the stick in terms of career options. But, I feel like the NOW crowd seems to be pushing an agenda that says "we don't want equality, we want to trade places" and the kids getting screwed now are boys.

So, I am predisposed to not have any interest in this. I am probably over-reacting here so sorry for my rant

K said...

T Jed: The 120 lb girl who kicks the 200 lb thug's butt gurrl power movie thing really annoys me as well. I didn't get that vib from Brave.

When the giant bear attacks, it's a given that the women and children head for safety while the men stand fast to possibly die. Merida's use of a projectile weapon is the only way a small women could realistically compete in the martial arts with men - so I give that a pass.

Yes, this is a movie aimed at little girls, but quite a few PIXAR movies are aimed at little boys, if not quite so solidly. I don't have a problem with that if I can also appreciate the art and story.

K said...

Big Mo: I thought Lion King was popular because it is the only movie in the last 30 years to address the effects of illegal immigration and a wimpy self centered political class. :)

Patriot said...

T-Jed......You took the words right out of my mouth!! I'd also add the critical......

"Hey, you kids get off my lawn!"


AndrewPrice said...

Sorry, I'm late folks, it's been a busy morning. Excellent article tryanmax!

I haven't seen this one and I was actually turned off by all the chatter about it being a feminist film... seen enough of those to last me. But I'm now hearing from a lot of conservatives that it wasn't that at all. So I will definitely give it a chance when I come across it.

K said... the thing about the princess not needing a husband is a trope to me.

Yes, any woman oriented movie made today is going to make that point and it was unsurprising or even boring. The surprising part was the movie turns out to be about a girl and her mother working out their issues. Not exactly one of Joseph Campbell's big selling myth archetypes. In a Chapman interview she actually says that's what it's about and it's based on her own mother - daughter experience.

Chapman was removed from the production before the end - something not exceptional in the animation biz - but I'd love to see what her original vision was and if the bows to male sensibilities was in the original or added to tone down the gender politics.

AndrewPrice said...

By the way, as an interesting aside, I've read articles from feminists who HATE this movie with a passion, though their complaints seem rather confused and incomprehensible. As near as I can tell, they are upset that there are men in the film at all.

tryanmax said...

rlaWTX, you're right, the father in Brave isn't an idiot, but he is a clown. I probably wouldn't care so much except that there are zero serious male characters at all in this film (unless you count the demon bear). That may actually be a first for Disney.

Getting mixed signals on UP, now. What a conundrum.

tryanmax said...

Jason, maybe that's why this film left me so deflated. A tagline like that makes you think something really fantastic is going to happen, and instead we got a cross between The Little Mermaid and Brother Bear. (In an earlier draft of this article, I actually cited every Disney movie this one reminded me of. I think I had about 20.) I thought we'd get something that delved into Pictish/Gaelic mythology, but no.

tryanmax said...

BIG MO, I agree that since the CGI boom of the late '90s, there haven't been as many gems in animated features. I suspect that, because they've become cheaper to produce, they're going to be a bit more like every other genre of film, with a handful of classics amid a bunch of dreck. I wonder if the more painstaking process of traditional animation just causes the producers to mull over the product more? There are still plenty of awful traditionally animated films, but as a percentage, I think it is much lower.

The Lion King is a truly excellent piece of cinema. Thank goodness it isn't CGI! LOL

tryanmax said...

Anon., Maybe the way you put it is a bit misogynistic, but I know what you're saying. Focusing on something other than a good narrative is what ruins any film. When studios try to go PC, they end up building a story around some politically prescient idea and, more often than not, if falls flat b/c of it.

tryanmax said...

Jed, you can be forgiven for being confused, I know I was at first, but at present Disney has it's own CGI animation studio in addition to being the sole distributor for PIXAR films. So while Tangled was Disney, it was not PIXAR.

I don't know if this film was so terrible from the "let's replace the boys with girls" angle. More than anything, it just fell terribly flat and, as I stated to K above, the "grrl power" stuff is just a trope to my generation, so nobody my age is impressed that Merida can shoot a bow and arrow, ride a horse, or climb a cliff. Girls are supposed to be able to do those things according to the way my gen was raised.

tryanmax said...

K, I agree, this movie doesn't fall flat for me because of any political agenda so much as it's just very restrainted. RE: Lion King LOL! I guess I never took that perspective before!

tryanmax said...

Patriot, this place is getting mighty curmudgeonly today! ;-)

tryanmax said...

K, I do feel bad for Chapman. She had the project basically tugged away from her and then got pilloried when it was less than exceptional. Though I somehow expect the whole film would have been oversold regardless.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, it's not feminist. It's just not very good, either. I think that feminists just hate the way the world is, so nothing will ever satisfy them. You make a female too tough, then she's just acting like a man. You make her to soft and she's fulfilling stereotypical roles. There's no winning it.

T-Rav said...

If you believe Freud, there is one thing that would satisfy a feminist.

T-Rav's Sister said...

WHAT DID YOU SAY?!?! (wham)

tryanmax said...

I... don't think that requires a response.

Jocelyn said...

I saw Brave for the first time a couple weeks ago, and I really didn't care for it. I really, really, enjoyed Merida's hair. Honestly, I probably missed parts of the movie because I was so focused on her crazy hair everywhere. I've never been to Scotland, and the mom turning into a bear didn't sit right with me. I don't know much about Scotland, but I don't think there are many bears in folklore, or in their history.

And I agree with your analysis that you don't wonder about anything, because you know exactly whats going to happen, I think that was a turn off for me as well. I may have to watch it a few more times, but I really just enjoyed the animation.

tryanmax said...

Jocelyn, the animation was excellent, no doubt about it. But is sounds like you experienced it overall exactly as I did.

T-Rav said...

(tweet tweet tweet)....Where am I? What was I saying? Oh right, we were talking about Brave. Well, I've never seen it, but I did see the previews, which annoyed me to no end. Based on the impressions I got, and what your review said, I feel like this was the decision-making process at Pixar: "So what should our next movie be about?" "Well, people like looking at pretty stuff in the background, so maybe we could set it in an epic-looking place like ancient Scotland. And everyone's into girls and archery these days, so maybe we could make the heroine an independent-minded princess who's great with a bow and arrow. Also, bear attacks. Let's throw in bear attacks." That's really what I think went on when they decided to make this movie.

BevfromNYC said...

Personally, I found "Brave" refreshing and fun (loved the baby bears, who wouldn't?). Understand, I grew up with the typical Fairytale/Disney "damsel in distress slash handsome prince will save you" scenario. Cinderalla, Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty et al. - all saved by that handsome Prince who has to fight some incredible beast, witch, troll, whatever to save the victim princess usually the victim of a an evil stepmother figure or witchslashold ugly hooknosed crone. It always ended with the Princess marrying the "Handsome Prince" in the end and living happily ever after. For a different take see "Into the Woods", an original musical by Stephen Sondheim. It's basically about how "happily ever after isn't so happy" when reality sets in. Great music/lyrics/book.

So it was nice to see a girl who has to solve her own problems from her own mistakes with a very realistic view of mother/daughter conflict.

And remember, this is for CHILDREN so the outcome of the main conflict really shouldn't be unpredictable! Not that you should feed children drivel either. You should see these kinds of movies through the eyes of child and not an adult...

See "UP", you'll love it.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I loved UP. I thought that was some of the best storytelling I've seen in a long time, and the fact it's in a cartoon is really amazing. The opening alone is heartbreaking.

tryanmax said...

Bev, there's probably a generational thing at play. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I've always been exposed to "girl power" and have regarded the "damsel in distress" stuff as relics--not that I didn't see them as a kid.

Actually, it's kinda funny that Disney suffers such a misogynistic reputation. I'm looking at their list of animated films, and of 52 titles, only three really fit that mold: Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. You could maybe include Robin Hood, but really, Maid Marian gives as good as she gets in that one.

By the time Disney arrived at The Little Mermaid in 1989, they were actively reshaping gender roles in the cartoons, and not much later you get Pocahontas and Mulan.

And as far as marrying the prince at the end goes, I've never understood why that's so wrong. No action movie is over until the hero gets the girl, so why shouldn't the heroine get the guy? I guess b/c women and men aren't geese and ganders.

Commander Max said...

That opening ruined the entire movie for me and my wife. All I could hear was sobbing the whole time, I felt no better. She said afterward, "all I could think of was life without you".

I would consider Up one of the worst films I've seen. You can't get past that opening, especially when you can relate to the main characters.

BevfromNYC said...

No action movie is over until the hero gets the girl, so why shouldn't the heroine get the guy?

Tryanmax - That is a very interesting question! Maybe it's a power thing. In the end of the "hero always gets the girl" the "girl" is to be the submissive one. Think Kate in "Taming of the Shrew". Men don't like being the submissive end of the "hero gets the _____". Really, you don't and I don't blame you. So, the role of a heroine like this girl has to end with a learned lesson in life and not a castle with a handsome prince and a baby on the way.

Again, I was raised in the Disney-fied and Hollywood, no, an actual world (quite frankly) where a woman's role was to raise the children and keep the house, and have a hot meal on the table when the hubby came home from a long day at the office. Now, don't get me wrong, I had very few women in my immediate life who did this. My mother worked, my aunt owned her own business etc. But, I straddled that societal idea of gender roles from pre-50's thru to now. The role of a girl "in my day" who went to college, was to ultimately get her MRS. degree. Heck, Barbie and I are the same age! No matter how many "careers" Barbie had, she always was supposed to end up with Ken in the end and live happily ever in a giant plastic house with a photo of a backyard with a swimming pool. Well, you get the idea. I did not prescribe to ANY OF THIS, so to many of my peers I was a rebel. And plastic houses are very hard to heat and cool!

So to see a "fairytale" where the ultimate goal is to learn to think before you act and not, "but in the end, a man will come along and save you and protect you" is refreshing.

Mr_Severus_Snape said...

Tryanmax, I disagree, I loved Brave! I was this close to not watching it, just based on the horrid trailer and Pixar's last movie (Cars 2). But my brother left his two kids with me, so to kill time, I brought them out to see Brave. I was pleasantly surprised on how good it was! The picture was just simply amazing (The Scottish landscapes, endless details and Merida's hair, nuff said.)!

Based on the trailer, I thought it was going to be some schmaltzy "girl power" tripe. Thank God it wasn't. Yes, there was some feminist points in the beginning, but in the end Merida realized that she was wrong and that her mother just wanted what's best for her. Very good Mother-Daughter story, devoid of modern cliches (e.g. A heartless, control freak, and/or superficial mother, the Kids being wiser and smarter than the adults, anti-family, and all that other crap.).

I didn't think the father was an idiot or a buffoon at all. Yes, he was goofy (whose father isn't? lol), but above it all, he really loved his family and will risk his life to protect them. Very pro-family and pro-personal responsibility, I admire it for that, because it's rare in movies, these days. Not perfect by any means, but I found it to be very enjoyable.

tryanmax said...

That puts a different spin on it. Me, I'm only as old as Pac Man. If you think plastic houses are hard to heat and cool, you should try it with pixel-mazes.

Mr_Severus_Snape said...

Commander Max, You didn't like Up? It's probably in the top 30 of my favorite films. That opening montage was just magic. I usually don't cry at movie scene, but damn, I just couldn't help myself! :'(

-- "BIG MO, I agree that since the CGI boom of the late '90s, there haven't been as many gems in animated features. I suspect that, because they've become cheaper to produce, they're going to be a bit more like every other genre of film, with a handful of classics amid a bunch of dreck. I wonder if the more painstaking process of traditional animation just causes the producers to mull over the product more? There are still plenty of awful traditionally animated films, but as a percentage, I think it is much lower."

tyranMax, I think there was a good number of animated feature gems after the 90s. Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, The Iron Giant, Up, Toy Story 3, Monster's Inc, and Finding Nemo were all great movies, IMO. There's also a lot of other very enjoyable ones, just saw The Secret World of Arrietty and Winnie The Pooh (the newest one) are both very good. The only animated duds I remember are Cars 2, Treasure Planet, Atlantis and the crappy Disney direct-to-dvd movies.

tryanmax said...

Severus, I don't have any issue with any of the stuff you named, and I agree that it was very pro-family. But at the same time, it was just very, very bland. The good parts just weren't enough to carry it, IMO.

And perhaps I was misleading in my intro, I wasn't trying to say this was a "girl power" movie. The reason I talked about a "free spirit princess" is because that is not a new concept anymore and, frankly, it's getting a little tired. That is what I was trying to say.

And for the record, a buffoon is not an idiot, just a silly, amusing person. I don't think there was anything wrong with having such a father in this particular movie, but it still contributes to the litany of tropes that this film is comprised of.

tryanmax said...

Severus, you missed the point of what I was saying. Most of the movies you listed are traditionally animated, not CGI. CGI is what has flooded the market with animation. It used to be there'd only be one or two animated features in a given year. Now there are at least twice as many in theaters at any given time. Before the 90s, almost every animated feature was a "must see" event. Since then, they are just a part of the movie landscape with a lot of "wait for DVD" releases.

Mr_Severus_Snape said...

No, I get you, tryanmax. I was just saying how surprised that it wasn't a overly-feminist movie. At least Merida isn't beating men three times her size, with just her bare hands. lol

I agree this "free spirit female" devise is really played out, but what I liked about this movie showed that it can be quite dangerous being one, if one is reckless.

-- "And for the record, a buffoon is not an idiot, just a silly, amusing person."

WHAT?!?! Public school failed me... :'(

T-Rav said...

I only saw Up a couple months ago, but I liked it, which I wasn't sure if I would or not. It was fun and endearing without being campy at any point. That's partly why Brave seems so disappointing by contrast; I think we've come to expect more out of Pixar by now.

Mr_Severus_Snape said...

-- "Severus, you missed the point of what I was saying.'

I stand corrected, again. Yes, I remember animated features being a "must-see" event for everyone, back then. Yeah, After the release and success of Toy Story, the movie market are been over-saturated with animation to point it's no longer that special. I almost forgot the countless Shrek and Ice Age movies. I hate both series! lol

Mr_Severus_Snape said...

-- "That's partly why Brave seems so disappointing by contrast; I think we've come to expect more out of Pixar by now."

Well, it was bound to happen, a studio can't always make awesome movies. I was hugely disapointed with Car 2. I like Brave, though. Their next two movies, also looks quite lackluster. A Monster's Inc prequel and a Planes spin-off of Cars.

tryanmax said...

This may be a late clarification, but I don't mean to blanket pan the movie. In fact, much of what I dislike--the lack of any stakes--could easily be fixed. A few examples:

1. In the opening scene, where Merida's is attacked by Mor'du, a single shot making explicit that the bear attacked Fergus would help alot. Nothing gory, something as simple as the bear toppling Fergus would do.

2. The jump cut to the film's "present" has Fergus immediately joking and laughing before we learn his leg was lost. That should be reversed. Reveal the leg first and then give something to make us wonder whether Fergus lost his spirit along with his leg--a look, a gesture--before ultimately pulling it back with the same high-spirited man we were introduced to.

3. Climbing the cliff/waterfall--this one is so simple it's stupid--before she goes, have someone say something about not climbing the cliffs or you'll fall and die. Even better, move the line about how "only the ancient kings were brave enough" to climb the falls to before she does it.

4. The wisps--instead of them marking a path for Merida, have them play a little cat-and-mouse with her, have her look over her shoulder as if she's worried about getting lost, little things like that can add a sense of trepidation.

5. The witch's message should have been revealed to the audience before it was revealed to Merida so we could know just how crucial it was and worry for awhile about her getting it.

Those are just a few simple alterations that could have really upped the stakes on this movie. It doesn't really take much, it's only a matter of creating discrepancy b/w the characters' knowledge of things and the audience's.

rlaWTX said...

I'm between Bev and tryanmax age-wise. Most of the "modern" Disney movies came out after I was in college (checking imdb to verify - excuse me). Ok, at the end of High School and after. So from those old ones (for which I had the books!!) and every non-Grimm fairy tale, I still have that "happily ever after married to the prince/princess" idea as normal. Even The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Shrek did that. I have not seen Pocahontas or Mulan.
Also, as a daughter who had a somewhat goofy, and often embarrassing, father who I still adored - I saw Merida's dad as "her version" of how she saw her father: loud, supportive, weird, loving, silly, strong, pushy, capable (very similar to how I saw my dad as a kid).
As a daughter of a strong, pushy, opinionated, loving, concerned mother, I could also relate to that relationship as well.
Maybe this is more of a "girl" movie that I originally thought (no offense, Mr. Snape)

Mr_Severus_Snape said...

-- "Maybe this is more of a "girl" movie that I originally thought (no offense, Mr. Snape)"

Yes, it is most definitely of a "girl" movie, I didn't say it wasn't. I also love my share of "chick flicks" (I actually enjoyed "The Notebook" and Cameron's "Titanic"... Don't judge me! lol). I just saying I was glad it wasn't overtly feminist.

Anonymous said...

tryanmax -

Sorry I'm late!

If you haven't already, see UP, but bring tissues. On the plus side, you shouldn't need them after the first ten minutes, but you might use up the whole box so buy in bulk!

I haven't seen Brave yet - I can honestly take it or leave it, but I'm sure I'll get to it one day.

Andrew mentioned chatter and I think it's important to filter that stuff out when viewing a movie, listening to a song, etc. Andrew and I have talked at length about the industry of deconstructionists: Slate, Salon... websites with articles like, "How Brave is like the Obama administration!" and other such BS.

(That was just an example!)

And yeah, animated movies are much more ubiquitous nowadays and, as a result, slightly less special. I fear we're heading in that direction with superhero flicks.

K said...

tyranmax: I agree with one and four.

Three, not so much. It's a big cliche with gurrl power flicks for exposition on some dangerous exploit before the girl does it.
The way BRAVE brought it into the story served a double purpose in the same scene. It pointed out Merida'a bravery while simultaineously showing her father's approval and her mother's ambivalent attitude toward her daughter's adventures in a few lines in one scene.

As for 5, wouldn't that have have spoiled the surprise of what was going to happen to her mother?

Kit said...

I enjoyed the movie. Was it up to other Pixar stuff? No.
But it was fun.

And the songs were good.
Like this one: LINK

tryanmax said...

Scott, better late than never. A whole box of tissues for the first ten minutes of UP? I dunno. I'm a big softie. I might have to buy out the store!

tryanmax said...

K, fair enough. The only problem I have with not revealing how dangerous the climb was is that fantasy movies in general and cartoons especially play by a different set of rules. Without exposition on it, I had no way of knowing that Merida didn't climb that cliff every day. And it's much harder to be impressed retroactively.

#5 wouldn't necessarily spoil anything. The witch could have said that the spell will be permanent in two days without revealing how to reverse it or what it even did. In fact, it would have fit with Merida's character if she just took the cake and ran off without listening to how to reverse it. (Why would I want to reverse it?) From there, everything plays almost the same.

tryanmax said...

Kit, that is a good song, but in the context of the movie, it honestly left no impression on me. I'm not sure what went wrong there.

tryanmax said...

K, after watching the video Kit linked to, I think the problem with the cliff is that it just looked too easy. They could have saved the reveal with the "ancient kings" line if they had just made the climb look perilous.

K said...

tryanmax: I watched the movie in 3d from the 10th row of the widest screen west of the Mississippi and to me, anyway, that cliff looked pretty danged steep. :-)

And the first 10 minutes of "UP" spoiled the entire movie for me. The rest of the movie was like an anti-climax to the real movie - which had a bummer of an ending. The problem with an animation company having several classic movies in succession is that they tend to overreach. UP! I think, was overreach on their part.

= Fantasia, Hunchback of Notre Dame

Anthony said...

I thought Brave was below mediocre and a sign that who made the movie forgot or didn't know how to make a kid's movie.

My admittedly sensitive seven year old daughter who has never had any problems watching the sorts of animated movies the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks and even Burton offer up had nightmares for a long time about the bear chasing her through a mountain of bones.

I didn't anticipate the nightmares (my kids love The Corpse Bride and the Nightmare Before Christmas) but when I saw that scene I got the sense that whoever did it was bored with kids movies and wanted to see how intense one could make a horror sequence without blood or gore. Mission accomplished Pixar!

Also, the movie was just rambling and pointless. They played up Merida's skill with a bow, but the bow was completely useless against the big bad and a nonfactor in the resolution of the movie.

Coming out the theater, my sensitive 7 year old was saying she never wanted to see it again, my much tougher 11 year old daughter just thought it didn't go anywhere and stated it was 'like Mulan, but not as good'.

I agree that despite Eddie Murphy, Mulan walked all over Brave in that the skills the girl had were actually useful and the film stayed focused on Mulan where Brave spent a lot of time on Merida's relationship with her mother as well, comedy bits with her brothers and horror bits with an evil bear who seemed like it was a late addition to the script (this family stuff is boring, let's spice it up!).

This year alone Madagascar 3, The Secret World of Arriety and Wreck-it Ralph were vastly superior kids' movies.

tryanmax said...

K, I watched it home, but that notwithstanding, the problem isn't the appearance of the cliff, but the apparent ease with which Merida climbed it. Like I said, my first impression was this is something she does every time she runs off in a huff, just like the archery targets in the forest. Finding out afterward that what she did was impressive on a mythic scale doesn't enhance the feat, it diminishes the myth.

What this conversation (with everyone) has made me realize is that Brave is an alright story, it's just not told very well. You could keep all the events the same but shuffle the information around a tiny bit and end up with a much better movie.

tryanmax said...

Anthony, what your 11 yr old said really puts a cap on it and sorta vindicates my impression. If an 11 yr old thinks a movie is meandering, then it must be! LOL

As to the bear in the bone yard, I recall that scene because it reminded me of a similar scene from The Lion King. (Now I wish I would have kept that list of other Disney movies this one reminded me of.) I'm actually surprised it scared your daughter so much, but frankly, there's no telling what will set a kid off.

I remember when I was in kindergarten, my class went on a field trip to see a stage version of Where the Wild Things Are (long before the film version). All the other kids apparently loved it, but I ended up bawling on the teacher's lap through the whole thing.

BIG MO said...

I talked about this post with my bride last night, and she said gave an insightful reason why The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and others before the start of the current glut were so successful: You essentially had one shot to see it in the theater, and if you missed it, you had to wait a year or more for the video release. I remember waiting three years (or was it four?) before Return of the Jedi finally came to VHS. Nowadays, it’s no big deal if you don’t see something on the big screen. Just wait a couple of months or so and get it on demand, through Redbox or whatever. Or forget the hassle and cost of theaters entirely and just see them later in the comfort of your own home.

tryanmax said...

MO, that's true, but I think there was something more to the films of the "Disney Renaissance" (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King). Those four films restored the Disney legacy after over a decade of slump where they were still producing and releasing animated features regularly.

And just to underscore the point, The Rescuers Down Under was released right between Mermaid and Beauty and it only took in a fifth of Mermaid's take and just one tenth of Beauty's! For further perspective, Lion King more than doubled Beauty's take.

Now, those are just box office numbers, but those films all remain incredibly popular and well known while later films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Tarzan are largely overlooked. The fairytale angle helps, but how do you explain Lion King? (Incidentally, Lion King remains the 2nd highest grossing animated feature ever, after Toy Story 3.) I think there was something objectively better about the Renaissance films.

tryanmax said...

MO, check this out. There's a graph showing the plunge in theater-to-DVD wait times. It took place from 199 until 2007. Buffs like me consider Tarzan to be the end of the Disney Renaissance and that came out in 1999. So there is validation for what your wife pointed out along with room for the case that the early Renaissance pictures were indeed special.

K said...

Announced today: Brave nominated for feature animation oscar.

Of course, Aardman's "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" was also nominated so you know it's a very limited field.

tryanmax said...

In terms of technical achievement, I think Brave is Oscar-worthy. But as you say, considering the field, it's probably a shoo-in.

Actually, just there being five films to nominate is something of note. This is only the fourth time since the award was created that the nominations slots are all filled.

BIG MO said...

tryanmax - right. I didn't mean to imply that there wasn't more to those films. They definitely were special, with each better than the previous one. And thanks for the link. It's good emperical evidence.

Koshcat said...

I haven't seen it but my 8 y/o daughter got it for Christmas. She loves it and my 4 y/o son likes it too. This was probably the audiance they were after.

tryanmax said...

OT: But it's my article, so I give myself a pass.

I'm watching the Critics' Choice awards and I must say, I never truly appreciated the need for good writers on awards shows...until now. Zzzzzzzz.

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