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Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: BRAVE

Can Pixar beat Disney, its parent company and corporate partner, at its own game? That is, could Pixar create en emotional fairy tale with a moral core that will survive beyond its current generation? That was probably the question in every creative and executive working for Pixar during the production of Brave. The answer is not simple; Brave is a lovely film, with endearing characters. And like most of Pixar’s it is at its core strength is being a well-told story, but it is also missing a certain oomph for a Pixar film.

Even in its sequels Pixar has made the effort to push over known territory and tell a story a different way.  Meanwhile Brave steps into the familiar territory of the spunky princess; something Pixar’s partner Disney has long dominated. As a consequence Brave could be mostly compared to the first Cars, Pixar’s other genre film. Cars was essentially a hot-shot rookie sports story, and Pixar is essentially a spunky princess fairytale. Like Cars, Brave feels smaller in scale than Pixar’s previous like Wall:E, which used the vastness space as its canvas, or Up, where we enjoyed a lovely balloon ride across Conan Doyle’s South America. 

But even while treading into genre Pixar delivers; Brave has all the elements a fairytale needs; there is a spunky heroine, a kingdom, a witch, a curse, a Queen, and cute sidekicks for comic relief. Here we have Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a fiery redhead tomboy who is the best archer in the land. King Fergus (Billy Connolly), her father, has encouraged her rebellious attitude, while her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), would much rather have Merida stick to her studies to become a proper lady. When the time comes for Merida to choose a suitor, all the great clans of Scotland send their first born to compete for her hand. Plucky Merida would much rather grow old alone than mary any of the looses who showed up. So she makes an ill advice wish to change her fate and... oh surprise... the wish just doesn’t go quite like she planned it. 

The story’s biggest strength is Merida herself. First of all there is that hair... oh that fiery ball of red tangle. Secondly, beyond being the ordinary plucky princess like Rapunzel in Tangled, Merida also somewhat selfish and self absorbed. There is much greater depth in a character when we have to learn to like them. And thirdly, unlike most Disney heroes who have to confront an exterior evil, Merida’s darkness lies inside her. Unlike the “kiss of true love” that cures most fairytale curses here Merida is actually required to examine her life, and her relationship with her family to lift the curse. The moral of this story is not just for the audience’s sake but for the characters’ sake as well. 

Brave’s weakness is not really in the execution but on the limits of its own genre- and perhaps Pixar’s relationship with Disney. The fairytale is traditionally conservative; in them the protagonist usually takes a choice that defies their assigned role in society and as a consequence brings doom to said society- in this case Merida refuses to marry and people start changing into bears. Traditionally order is restored when everyone accepts their role in society. But in the 21st century we want our spunky feminist heroine to stay spunky but can a lesson really be learned if one gets away with everything in the end. I’m not saying Merida isn’t put through some trials, but she won’t live with the consequences of her choices for eternity. 

So yes, it is familiar territory, but a refreshing take on it. After all this is a fairytale we haven’t quite heard before because it is not a re-hash, re-imagining, retelling or remake of a Brother’s Grimm or Christian Andersen fairytale. Just how many Snow Whites did we get this summer? 

Could Pixar create en emotional fairy tale with a moral core that will survive beyond its current generation, and in essence beat Disney at its own game? Well, something tells me we won't see as many rehashes of Princess Merida of Brave ever as we had for Snow White this year. Its good but not ever lasting good. 

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