Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Brave": Emotional, Surprising and Just Plain Beautiful

Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
and Steve Purcell
Written by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Irene Mecchi and Steve Purcell
Produced by Katherine Sarafian
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Studio: Pixar Animation Studios

Well, here we are! Every summer, we get our Pixar fix, and this summer's big Pixar event is Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews' Brave. Of course, prior to its release, a lot of folks were probably wondering, "Will this be a Pixar masterpiece? Or will it indicate that the great studio has lost its touch?" Fortunately Brave is the former, but why? Simple enough. It's a very well-made film that hits all the right notes, showcasing Pixar's ability to combine comedy and drama while also telling a good story with characters that you care about, and on top of that, giving audiences something beautiful to look at and listen to.

Princess Merida (wonderfully voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is quite possibly one of the most immediately likable leads in a Pixar film, let alone any film. She's spunky, energetic and free-thinking. We've seen that in some rebellious Disney heroines of the past (Ariel and Mulan come to mind), but the story is compelling and that these similarities are just... Well.. Similarities. Nothing wrong with that, because Merida is a fantastic character. Her design is also great, especially her hair, which defines her attitude, along with her rather quirky mannerisms. What really elevates the film (aside from the intriguing and sometimes unpredictable story) is the relationship between Merida and her very proper mother Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson). Both represent two sides, Queen Elinor doesn't like to venture out and essentially be ordinary, whereas Merida is all about adventure and doing what she wants to do, regardless of traditions. The relationship between the two is the film's emotional core, and one that isn't a far cry from the core of Finding Nemo.

The story is about the importance of family, as the marketing alone has pushed, but it's never in your face or preachy. It's a fantastic message, and one that aims for the heart and pulls at the strings like the other great Pixar films. With that, you're immediately hooked. When Merida and her mother have a rather heated argument in the film's first act, the emotion is there. It's right there on the surface, and yes, this film is a tearjerker. It's not shy of Pixar's way of making audiences cry, which is for the better. Brave's other main theme is challenging tradition. As said before, Queen Elinor is essentially someone who sticks with status quo. At the same time, we see how staying the course hasn't really done much good for her or the kingdom, but we're also shown how Merida's rebellious nature could possibly backfire, which sets up the climactic third act.

Most of the criticism this film has been getting was directed towards the second and third acts, when things start to take an unusual turn in terms of the storytelling. Not unusual in a bad way, just something completely unexpected. I was a bit surprised at first at how they handled Queen Elinor turning into bear. I was a bit put off at first, but then once we started getting back into the whole emotional core of the story, these slight problems were washed away with grace. After these scenes, Brave essentially becomes what it is: A mother-daughter bonding tale where both of their ways of thinking change. Then the film starts getting dark, and it never pulls punches. The scene where Merida encounters the demonic bear Mor'du is pretty intense, and it's sure to upset some children (because Pixar does not make films for a specific target audience). What happens in the third act is fairly pulse-pounding on both an emotional level. This film didn't get the PG rating for nothing.

Speaking of the rating, the writers lace the comical side of the story with some humor that's more on the rude side while also going for broad slapstick with the three lords (Lord Macintosh, Lord MacGuffin and Lord Dingwall, voiced by Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd and Robbie Coltrane respectively) and King Fergus (voiced by a hilarious Billy Connoly). However, it's funnier than something in say... One of the DreamWorks films or whatever. Never forced, and always funny, the humor is a treat. The audience howled with laughter throughout. Some of the jokes pretty much show why this film got a PG rating, aside from the darker content that is usually in Pixar's films. At the same time, it's very witty and it never stoops down and resorts to being cheap. Best of all, the triplets, Hamish, Hubert and Harris, are hilarious. Silent (which is good) and sneaky, they steal the show. When they become bear cubs (not much of a spoiler since the trailers showed these scenes), it was actually very funny and clever. I was afraid that would be a scene that was shoe-horned into the film for laughs. Fortunately, it wasn't.

Of course, every Pixar film has some form of drama in it. Here, like the other Pixar tearjerkers, Brave fills its first act with the mother-daughter relationship with scenes that already have you getting misty eyed. It's all beautifully done and well-told, so it definitely strikes the emotional chords. This makes the second act, despite some flimsy pacing, soar. The third act had me in tears, I'll admit it. In addition to having tearjerker moments, the film is not afraid to be dark. Pixar's films have had their fair share of dark and sometimes intense moments, some of the more recent efforts come to mind like Toy Story 3's masterful and intense incinerator scene. Some moments in Brave equal that intensity, while adding an action film flair to them.

So with a story that's filled to the brim of heart, comedy, drama and the occasional intense moments, what else is there to admire? The characters, of course. Aside from Merida and Queen Elinor, you got Merida's hilarious father, King Fergus. The three lords are also a hoot, along with the triplets. The supporting cast is just as interesting, and don't forget to look for John Ratzenberger's cameo in the film. Last but not least, the witch (voiced by Julie Walters), who is a very giddy and off-the-wall character. I won't say more, but she is pretty funny. It's too bad she's not in it that much.

To say the animation looks great is unnecessary because this is a Pixar film, but I will say, they captured the Scottish highlands very well. It's beautiful, breathtaking and it ultimately compliments the emotional story. The character designs? Wonderful. Very caricatured, while also feeling realistic, which Pixar had mastered in Ratatouille and Up. This film experiments with even more abstract and often wacky character designs, and as a result, the film has a unique visual appeal.

In total, Brave is pretty much why Pixar films leave you satisfied. The audience loved it, and one of the folks I went with said something along the lines of "I'm starting to like animation better than regular movies." Now that says a lot. I am not sure why a lot of the critics weren't too crazy about it, as I felt it was just as good as the other Pixar films. Sure it has some unexpected moments, but it's not enough to ruin the story completely. It has what every good Pixar film has.

One last thing: The title. To me, The Bear and the Bow was a much better title. Sure, Merida is brave enough to go up against status quo and traditions, sure she is brave enough to undo what she done against all odds (even in the face of death), but I personally feel that The Bear and the Bow is a much more suitable title because it really says a lot about the characters, the mother-daughter relationship and it's also enigmatic in a way. Oh well, it's another short and sweet title.

A+. It's a different film from Pixar but one that succeeds. It tows the fine line between being a crowd-pleasing fun time at the movies and a thoughtful, heartfelt experience. Also, keep your eyes peeled for Pixar in-jokes. I caught the Pizza Planet Truck, but no A113 or anything else.

Pixar Short: Enrico Casarosa's La Luna, a quiet and pretty short film. Not much to say about this one, but it's got the laughs while also being a charmer. The animation is lovely to look at, almost resembling something painterly in a way.

Trailer Recap

Saw this in 2D, and we happened to get some pretty good trailers.

The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure - Some awkward kids' only film with Muppet wannabes. Apparently it's from the creators of the Teletubbies... That is all. Moving on! - Opens ummm... I don't know and I don't care!

Despicable Me 2 - Same teaser with the Minions singing "Barbara Ann". Got lots of laughs. - Opens July 3rd, 2013

Ice Age: Continental Drift - A fun trailer, but little else. Forced jokes and all. This is sure to explode overseas so Blue Sky Studios will be happy. This one got some laughs. - Opens July 13th

Hotel Transylvania - Got some laughs. This looks fun, as I said when this trailer was posted. - Opens September 28th

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Haven't seen a trailer for this since I saw The Adventure of Tintin back in January. Looks good, despite the controversy over the decision to shoot it in 48fps. - Opens December 14th

Wreck-It Ralph - Didn't get much laughs, as the jokes probably went over most folks' heads. I enjoyed every second of it of course (can't you tell?). - Opens November 2nd

Finding Nemo 3D - Messy trailer, but the film is fantastic, so... - Opens September 14th

Monsters University - This one got laughs. This was the "Pony Made the Dean's List" version of the teaser. - Opens June 21st, 2013

So that ends the review for Pixar's newest film. Next up? I want to say Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, since I need to see it. Otherwise, my next review will probably be The Amazing Spider-Man.

No comments:

Post a Comment