Sunday, July 1, 2012

Brave - Early Thoughts

The new movie from Disney and Pixar is out.  It’s the thirteenth movie release for the Pixar company, but with so much good quality from the studio already does it hold up as well as many of its predecessors?  Let’s see.  This review does have full spoilers.

First off the look of this film is breathtaking.  The landscape is detailed and there was wonderful use of lighting in the sunrise and sunset scenes.  There was also some great use of computer animation with Merida’s hair.  That’s something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a traditional 2D animated movie, least the animators be driven insane by the level of detail required to animate every strand of hair like that.  The movements of Elinor after she is transformed into a bear are very true to life and great to watch.   The music here is really nice and I like the use of Gaelic singing.    

Plot wise I like the mother daughter relationship and that it’s the focus of the family.  Often in princess movies, when we actually do have two parents such as Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, the mother is basically there to do nothing and it’s the king and the princess who are at odds.  Here Elinor really is a strong character in her own right.  We see how she takes control when the clan leaders get into arguments.  How they look to her to make decisions and respect her authority.  She’s not just there to sit at the side of the king and be a pretty figurehead.  The problem is that that is all Merida sees her as.  She sees the prim and proper ways she is supposed to do things and none of the strength that it takes to do it. Also I like that we got some flashbacks of Merida and her mother when she was little, so we see that Elinor really does love her daughter, just as she says in the cross-cutting conversation, which I love, she just isn’t really listening to Merida and so Merida just gets the message that her mother doesn’t care about her as a person, just as the role she plays in the kingdom.  What I like best of all I think about this is that there was growth from both sides.  Unlike Ariel and her father or Jasmine and her father, where only the parent had to grow and learn to let their child go to live their own life, here both child and parent had to change.  They both need to learn to listen and appreciate the other.  I would have liked to have seen a little bit more development of this rather than just the fishing scene, so Elinor’s response of wanting to brake tradition to let her daughter choose for love would seem to come a bit less out of no-where, but overall the whole mother daughter struggle is great in its execution. 

I like the Merida and the prince in the legend are connected by their fates of being the first born children.  Being the first born girl traps Merida in the place of being basically a dowry to appease the other tribes.  She is a prize to be won, as another Disney princess put it.  While the prince in the legend saw his right as the first born taken away from him.  As the oldest he should be the one to get the kingdom not to have to share it with his brothers.  It was nice to actually see him die in the film too.  I thought he was going to be transformed back somehow for the happy ending so that was actually a good surprise.    
Despite all the good things there are elements that I didn't care for in this film.  I don’t like the triplet brothers at all.  Yes, they help get Merida and her mother out of the castle, but other than that they really didn’t serve a purpose other than comic relief that I frankly would have liked to have seen less of in the film.  The only really fun gag I thought was when they tied their father’s leg to the table.  And why did they have to go for low brow butt gags in here?  Guys, your film is riding on the strengths of the characters you don’t need to undermine that with stupid humour for the trailer.

Like I said in my Avengers review I again have the problem of some of the action being so close up that I can’t tell what exactly is going on.  Which since I keep seeing it in so many movies is probably a product of wanting a certain look for the 3D; if that is not the case please feel free to correct me.  If it is though it just makes me even more impatient for the 3D fad to hurry up and die so filmmakers will stop doing stuff that serves no other purpose, but to look good in 3D. 

For the theme of the film I initially didn’t get it right after leaving the theatre because I thought that, from the title of the film, this would have something to do with going on a quest and being brave against an outside force, which is often the case in these stories.  With this film though there’s the nice message about being brave in what is often the hardest way: self-reflection.  Of being able to think about your actions, view things from other people’s perspective, and to put aside pride and be able to admit that yes you were wrong and take responsibility for your actions.  In the beginning Merida is more concerned about her own feelings and wants to do her own thing no matter the cost to anyone else, and she won’t take responsibility for the curse on her mother.  She wanted the witch to give her a spell, she went through with the plan, and she cared more about her mother changing her mind than about her mother’s well-being.  By the end though Merida sees that she was wrong, both in her words and in her actions towards her mother, and is remorseful.

One other thing I would like to comment on is the short La Luna that played before the film.  I really love that Pixar is bringing back the idea of the short cartoon.  I know it doesn’t quite work as well as it used to as the entire format of watching films has changed in the last century that the medium has been around, but I’ve always enjoyed them.  Whether they’re Disney shorts or the Warner Brother shorts they are a ton of fun to see and it’s great that at least one film company thinks so too.  So I love the idea of shorts in general, but I also really enjoyed this short because it was an interesting idea of the men cleaning the stars off the moon to create a new phase; and because it ties in thematically with the feature presentation.  Both were about family, one about a daughter and mother and one about a kid, his dad, and his grandfather.  The glowing effect of the stars was gorgeous and I really liked the credits too where they looked like kids drawing made in pencil crayon as it kind of is like a bedtime a parent might tell their kid about why the moon looks different at night sometimes.

All together is it as great as some of the other films by Pixar, no, but it’s still a very solid movie and I think surpasses some early efforts by Pixar, including Cars and its sequel.   It looks great, it sounds great.  Its theme is interesting and told well with the relationship of Merida and Elinor that works on the whole.  I would highly recommend seeing it. 

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