Mania Review: Brave -

Mania Grade: B-

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  • Starring the Voices of: Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connelly, Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd and Julie Walters
  • Written by: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell, Irene Mecchi
  • Directed by: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell
  • Studio: Pixar
  • Rating: PG
  • Run Time: 100 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Brave

The sun sets on Pixar?

By Rob Vaux     June 21, 2012

 The bar can be a tricky thing. Set it too low and your accomplishments don’t mean anything. Set it too high and people expect the moon from you every time. So it is with Pixar, whose extraordinary run encompasses some of the greatest films of the past decade. Brave, unfortunately, pays a steep price for its association. Had another studio released it, we might have been much kinder towards it. But perfection is a harsh mistress and as a film from the studio that practically embodies the term, Brave can’t help but suffer.

In the storyline, at least. Animation-wise, it stands with their very best. The landscapes and settings of ancient Scotland are stunning in their detail, while the characters themselves contain as much heart and visual personality as any of Pixar’s previous creations. It’s particularly apparent in the film’s heroine, Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald), whose wild red hair and fierce expression make up for a lot of what the script lacks.

Ah yes, the script. Pixar’s vaunted magic bullet, developed with care and attention to set the rest of Hollywood to shame. And had the rest of Hollywood developed it, it might have passed muster. It’s a rather rambling affair, concerning the loving but strained relationship between Merida and her mother Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson).  She wants the girl to get married to one of three feckless young lords, while Merida prefers running wild in the hills and forests near their home. The conflict reaches a head after an archery contest, and Merida decides she needs a little magic to change her mother’s mind. That proves to be a disastrous mistake.

The shaggy dog aspect of the story comes as a surprise, especially considering Brave’s tight running time. The mother-daughter conflict arrives amid a host of other ideas, including a witch, a cursed bear, Merida’s three mischievous brothers ,and her father the king (voiced by Billy Connelly),  who lost his leg to the bear and has parlayed the injury into an endless series of party stories. They all match this world perfectly, but they never cohere into a focused narrative. We just meander towards a twist at about the halfway point, which dramatically shifts gears and never links the two sides of the film. Directors Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews keep everything from falling apart, but it’s a near thing sometimes… far closer than we would expect from a film of this pedigree.

The heroine evinces similar problems. MacDonald is in fine form and Merida’s visual profile promises great things, but the story simply fails to deliver on them. At the end of the day, she’s another rebellious teen with a wild streak – a fiery redhead straight from the Hollywood Playbook of Convenient Stereotypes – and Brave’s muddled arc for her covers far too much cliché for comfort. As has been noted, this represents the first Pixar film featuring a female figure as the main protagonist. She deserves more than a few one-word character traits to tell us who she is.

Similarly, the film’s use of Scottish humor displays a surprisingly obvious quality that rapidly diminishes its laugh factor. A few deft touches (such as naming a clan “MacGuffin”) battle uphill against lazier jokes about thick brogues and the indigestibility of haggis: gags any third-rate screenwriter could have rattled off. A fair share of them work; just not enough to wow us the way we’ve come to expect.  

None of this makes Brave a failure, and had it come from another animation house, I might be inclined towards greater charity. The visuals do wonders and the story contains enough cohesion to get us through the beginning, the middle and the end. It’s worth a look for the design if nothing else. But – until last summer at least – Pixar never “got us through” anything, and Brave’s comparatively pedestrian nature constitutes a hearty disappointment. Frankly, I’m not comfortable living in a world where Madagascar 3 eats its lunch, but here we are. The studio’s four efforts before Cars 2 were arguably the best quartet of any films anywhere from the last half decade. With Cars 2 genuinely failing and now Brave only fitfully making up the difference, we need to ask ourselves if the bloom is really coming off the Pixar rose.


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MrEt 6/22/2012 5:29:11 AM

A B minus it may be but I think I'll still be happy when I walk out of the theater tonight.

ElBaz13 6/22/2012 5:42:02 AM

I wonder if Pixar has lost its mojo while Walt Disney Animation Studios have stepped up?

Look at the last two CG animated films by Walt Disney Studios. Bolt and Tangled. They surpass the last two Pixar films, Cars 2 and Brave. I wonder if the moment Pixar merged with Disney a few years ago, a lot of the talent went from one studio to another?

I will still go see this. My girls are pumped. Because they are girls, they had zero interest in Cars 2 last year so at least now, we get to see a Pixar film together.

Wiseguy 6/22/2012 6:02:25 AM

The more you get up to bat the more your average will come down, it's just a matter of fact. You can't keep batting 1.000. Pixar's worse would still beat most other studios best.

I also think some critics sometimes compare films, especially Pixar who set the bar extremely high. So in general when you see a Pixar film you can't help in your mind but to try to decide if it's as good as The Invincibles or Toy Story instead of just basing on the film at hand, at least that's what I think

Hobbs 6/22/2012 6:12:13 AM

Can't comment on it till I see it with my daughter.  Problem with Pixars popularity is that adults start thinking these movies are for them, not the kids.  It was tracking well on Rotten t's last time I checked but then again so was Prometheus and we all know what a mess that movie was.

Bryzarro 6/22/2012 6:14:31 AM

 Incredibles Wise.  But I see your point.  I don't have much interest but with a wife and kid I was told last night I am going to be seeing this on Saturday.  I hope it surprises me as much as Madacascar 3 did.  

Wiseguy 6/22/2012 6:21:17 AM

Thanks Bryzarro, brain fart on my part

ElBaz13 6/22/2012 6:25:30 AM

To reiterate my point. Look at the awesome Wreck It Ralph trailer. This movie feels like a Pixar film.

But you are right Wise, a "bad" Pixar movie is still better than a lot more movies out there. I loved all Pixar movies except the Cars (and they weren't so bad) so I'm sure I will like this.

iceknight52 6/22/2012 6:36:53 AM

I too will be taking my daughters 8 and 6 to this film over the weekend. Say what you want about Disney but I'm glad to see that they have developed such strong female roles in their worlds that young girls can look up to. Too much crap out their to influence them toward a much poorer self image. Just nice to see that the princesses and fairies all seem to be strong and independent women. This is one parent that can thank Disney for that and pray it helps a little toward keeping them off the pole in later years. ;)

monkeyfoot 6/22/2012 6:42:15 AM

Wise is right on the money IMHO.

I will still end up seeing this in the theatre. I like the subject (unlike the Cars movie) and the animation just awes me. I can never have big complaints about a movie studio and moviemaking process like Pixar's that is so filmmaker friendly first then pleasing the bizness-heads of the studio second.

Hobbs, what do you mean we all know what a mess Prometheus turned out to be? It is a hotly debated web topic. You either like it alot or you hated it. I'm on the liking side. Yes, there are some complaints but any movie that tries to be challenging and ambituous in a summer flick, made by a true craftsman, does none of the typical things you'd expect from another film in a franchise, is alright in my book. I'm not saying its in the same league but I imagine the same type of talk went on when 2001 came out.

Hobbs 6/22/2012 7:17:40 AM

Monkey, problem with Prometheus is in the script, not the director.  Though I have to take exception to you comparing this to 2001, that is a huge insult to a classic.  I could take apart the Prometheus script where I can't do that with 2001.  As I had said in a previous post, sometimes Ridley Scott suffers from a bad script that not even he can fix with his magic.

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