Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Worthy Protagonist In A Remarkably Stale Movie, Brave Is Real Mixed Bag!

The Good: Protagonist, Animation, Voice acting
The Bad: Very stale plot
The Basics: Disney-Pixar’s new fairy tale film, Brave adds a worthy new Disney princess to the pantheon . . . in a movie unfortunately hampered by its own plot.

2012 seems to be a good year for fairy tale lovers. With the success of ABC’s Once Upon A Time and the films Mirror Mirror (reviewed here!) and Snow White And The Huntsman, it seemed like as good a time as any for Disney to release a fairy tale film. Brave it that attempt and, unfortunately, setting it in Scotland does not make it feel any fresher than the last several Disney films. The problem with trying to tell a fairy tale story these days is that the basic plot structure of the fairy tale/hero journey is very much old news. Fairy tales are made fresh less by style and more by originality – like focusing on the villains perspective or upending the traditional lesson one is supposed to learn from the fairy tale.

Alas, with Brave, viewers are not treated to anything quite so smart or original. Instead, Brave tells the story of a defiant young woman (who is very easy to like and empathize with and stands out well compared to earlier, milquetoast Disney Princesses) and her overbearing (pun intended) mother. Eager to live her own life and make her own choices, the young woman rebels (isn’t that largely what happened in Tangled?!), gets into mischief and learns a Very Valuable Lesson. The fundamental problem with Brave is that it relies upon a supernatural conceit when it is doing quite well on its own, without one.

Merida is the young princess in the Scottish kingdom of DunBroch. Young, willful, and trained in riding and archery, she gets along quite well with her father, but not her mother. Queen Elinor wants Merida to follow a more traditional path and behave like a “proper lady.” That includes being married a young man from a neighboring kingdom in order to ensure peace and the defense of DunBroch. Elinor hosts a contest for the neighboring clans to compete for Merida’s hand in marriage. Finding both the practice and the three suitors distasteful, Merida enters the contest herself and wins.

Feeling slighted, the three neighboring clans prepare to lay waste to DunBroch and Merida runs away. Running to the local witch, she wishes her mother would change and, as these things have a habit of doing, the spell manifests in a problematic way. With her mother and siblings transformed into bears, DunBroch is vulnerable to attack. Merida must find a way to break the spell and restore her family, a journey that is perilous, but predictable.

The problem with Brave is not in the characters or the voice acting, it is in the dependence upon the supernatural contrivance. I understand the youth of the protagonist leads her to make the wrong wish – what she truly wants is to be free, not to change others or herself – but the reliance upon the spell-gone-wrong aspect takes what starts as a funny, but grounded, story and turns it on its ear. From the moment Merida encounters the Wise Woman (who is, admittedly, hilarious), Brave becomes a remarkably typical Disney hero quest.

What Brave has going for it, though, is the voice acting. With a cast that includes Kelley Macdonald, Kevin McKidd, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, and Billy Connolly, Brave certainly ranks high with Scottish street cred. Even Emma Thompson, who voices Queen Elinor, does an amazing job at never letting the accent slip.

In typical Disney-Pixar fashion, the animation in Brave is nothing short of amazing. Merida’s wild red hair is perfectly rendered and seeing it on the big screen is enough to be impressed with all that computer animators can do these days! As an animated movie, the physics of the Brave world – as well as some of the body types – are more surreal at times than truly realistic, but the rendering of things like hair and fabrics is exceptional and the directors of Brave have a lot to be praised for in that regard.

But the story . . . will mother and daughter learn a valuable lesson? Duh, yes. Will most of the status quo be restored by the end of the film? Absolutely. Is the seemingly short film padded by physical gags and humor pertaining to bodily functions and kilt-related humor? Unfortunately. But the substance that Brave has is substantial and well-rendered, making it almost possible to overlook the rest.

For other Disney animated films, please visit my reviews of:
Toy Story 3
A Christmas Carol
The Princess And The Frog
The Incredibles
Lilo & Stitch
Monsters, Inc.
The Lion King
The Little Mermaid
Lady And The Tramp
The Sword In The Stone
Sleeping Beauty


For other film reviews, be sure to visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the movies I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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