BRAVE Probably Isn’t the Movie You Think It Is (And That’s… Kind Of a Good Thing?)
This is the first of what will be several – potentially even many articles on Pixar’s latest animated movie. But with everything I want to write about I have to start at square one, which is of course the review. It took 24 solid hours of gestation to come to terms with my opinions on this movie, a movie I desperately needed to be great, and first and foremost I can let you know it’s excellent. Sort of.
My license plate says “PIXAR”. I’ve been a Pixar fan since I methodically paused my VHS of Toy Story over and over to recreate my own props for my re-enactment of Andy’s playtime. Pixar is why I love animation, it is the highest standard of the medium, and it is responsible for what animation is today. But after Cars 2, a movie which I will never forgive for how bad it is, I’ve come to terms with the fact that not everything Pixar will make, or even has made, is pure gold. Brave, as much as I’d have hoped it might be, is not pure gold.
Ranked, I’d say Brave is better than Up. But that being said, Up isn’t as good as you think it is and neither Brave nor Up are Pixar at its best. Brave is very easy to scrutinize. Brave is that movie you love and will sincerely defend, but not before coming to terms with some pretty big problems and accepting that this movie’s tumultuous production really shows in the final product.
But Brave is excellent. Here’s why.
1. Brave is an amazing mother/daughter movie. This is a movie that moms will watch with one perspective and daughters will watch with another and cross over at the end. This is also a movie daughters will view differently when they become mothers and I suspect Brave to become an important family classic. I think this movie is very important because, honestly, how many great mother/daughter movies can you think of?
I mean seriously. How many? I’m sure there are some. I’m sure there are plenty of good ones. But there is no quintessential watch-with-your-daughter movie like Brave. For every father that watched The Lion King with their son, and maybe even had it shape their relationship, there will be a mother who watches Brave with their daughter and has it shape theirs.
2. It’s a pretty great story. A lot of people will be surprised by the turn the movie takes after the first act. It’s not entirely unpredictable and it’s not even really shocking. It’s just not the movie you think you’re going to see and it’s not even the story the movie sets out to tell in the first thirty minutes. But for the story it does tell, it’s a good one. It’s an important one. This movie is about communication and comfortable middle-grounds. In some ways Merida, our heroine, is a re-imagining of Ariel from The Little Mermaid. (In fact the movies are identical for the first third of the movie.) But Merida is a more modern heroine who doesn’t suffer from single-parent syndrome and isn’t looking for love (yet). In the end, Merida and her mother come to conclusions that in hindsight Ariel and her father probably should have. It’s a healthier movie for kids to watch, and maybe even parents.
3. It’s beautiful. Pixar movies always look beautiful. Even Cars 2 looked amazing, so I don’t even feel like I need to say this. The technology is incredible and the landscapes are probably the best we’ve ever seen in CG. Merida’s hair is breathtaking (Sorry, Rapunzel) and the enormous cast of humans are all pleasant to observe. You know that one scene from How to Train Your Dragon when Hiccup is first looking for Toothless in the forest that was in all the trailers? That one wide-shot where he’s walking through the trees, the light shining through the canopy, and you really get a feel for the scope of the world? That’s all of Brave.
There’s more. In fact I can say so many positive things about Brave. There are certain sequences, like the Witch’s hut, that are incredible and instantly iconic. The characters are likable and well characterized, even if they’re not the best Pixar has produced. The use of slow-motion is fantastic and will stand-out even to people who don’t understand how impressive slow-motion animation is. I don’t think many people will come away from Brave having not really enjoyed it.
I will say, though: The score leaves something to be desired. It’s nice and atmospheric. It’s certainly not bad. But there is no theme that really grabs you. Of all the complaints I can make, this seems like the fairest of them all.
There’s so much to say about this movie, good and bad, which I will discuss at length in a series of more focused articles. But you should, and maybe even need, to go see this movie. Especially if you’re a mother, or a daughter, which statistically speaking you are bound to be. Pixar’s best? No. But splendid. Truly and wonderfully splendid.
And in case anybody was wondering, Merida’s hair is made of 1,500 individually designed curls and waves that all react fluidly to stimulus. You will never see another CG movie without photoreal hair. Gone are the days of short, unmoving hair-dos. That hurdle has been jumped.