Friday, 19 October 2012

Brave (2012)

It’s been a good while since I watched Brave and I found that I was unable to find anything to say about it. It didn’t really have much of an impact on me. The film wasn’t the worst film that Pixar has ever produced but it is in no way up there with the greatest. It’s difficult to discuss a Pixar film without looking back at their (mostly) great back catalogue of films. Much in the same way that people can’t open up to Woody Allen’s latest films without getting nostalgic about the Woody of the 70s and 80s. Of course, it’s not a great system but when you’re dealing with a film studio that brought us family favourites like Toy Story and Finding Nemo it’s hard to forget just how much potential they have. Up against some of these greats Brave just comes across as much less ambitious and suggests that Pixar are quickly running out of fresh ideas.

Brave is set in the luscious Highlands of Scotland where young princess Merida attempts to fight against the expectations put upon her so that she is free to romp around firing arrows and hunting bears. As heroines go, Merida is a major improvement on the old Disney princesses we grew up on. She knows her own mind and isn’t afraid of standing up to her mother and father. However, Merida is still a child and her independence can often descend into whiney and bratty behaviour. Of course, I can’t say that I don’t agree with her idea that riding through the forests and shooting arrows from her bow is much more appealing that marrying the son of a Scottish lord. I reckon if someone was forcing me to do the latter I would moan about it a little too.

In fact the first part of the story, which sees Merida take a stand against the law that demands she marry the winner of the Highland games, provides a strong foundation for a great story. However, the writers make the strange decision to change direction and turn this young woman’s fight to prove herself into a tale of accidental transformation. Merida is then forced to set out on a fantasy adventure with her mother in tow. The character who was given the least amount of build up and, after the unnecessary triplets, is the least interesting character in the film. Emma Thompson does as good a job voicing this lame and undeveloped character but it is difficult to care about the fate of a woman whose only role in the film is to be more annoying and whiney than her daughter.

This incredible decision turns what could have been an interesting update to the traditional fairytale into a simple family soap opera. What begins as a potentially clever, coming-of-age struggle descends into an obvious series of cliches. There is nothing clever about the second half of the script and the emotional impact is lost within the wave of boredom and deja vu that will be washing over most of the audience. Without wanting to sound too brutal, this part of the film left me absolutely cold. I lost interest in what was going on as it was so painfully clear how the story was going to progress and how the writers would try and inject humour. I stopped paying attention to the action and instead counted down the minutes until this dismal story was over.

A story that also ensures that Merida’s father is completely underused and becomes nothing more than an irritating bumbling fool. At least this explains the bizarre decision to ask Billy Connolly to voice him. Who better to lead a rowdy bunch of lumbering Scottish warriors than the rowdy, lumbering Scottish comedian? Of course, he does pick up the role fairly easily because it’s almost identical to the one he played in the disappointing Gulliver’s Travels. There is a direct link to the Scottish ogre of the Shrek films here but there is no sense of subtle humour here. Rather than have a sarcastic and cutting outcast we have a bumpkin whose manic behaviour just became tedious.

Although Brave does have its amusing moments, it never quite reaches the mark. The script doesn't really take off and we miss much of the subtle humour and witty one-liners that fill Pixar’s back catalogue. It is a film that finds itself sucked into its fictional traditions and flits between vaguely serious melodrama and over-the-top silliness. There is none of the refreshing self-awareness and simplicity that made previous offerings so entertaining and engaging. It has some great standout moments but the film ends up dragging on whilst offering very little to keep you intrigued. For a story set in the wilds of Scotland that promises archery, bears and battling Scottish clans, it ends up being a bafflingly dull affair.

Thankfully those Scottish highlands have been beautifully recreated and the visual imagery is as stunning as you would expect from such great animators. The textures of the backdrop are gorgeous and show just how far animated films have come since Pixar’s early days. Just take a look at Merida’s flowing ginger curls as she races through the trees on her adventure. In terms of animation, the studio is continuing to push themselves and showing that even this type of complex imagery is well within their reach. Had this film not been so incredibly beautiful to watch I am sure there is no way I would have reached the final credits. It is a massive shame that such a fantastic example of this studio's work is let down by a storyline and script that can't have seen much in the way of editing or rewrites. This artwork demanded sharper dialogue, a more thought out plot path and fully fleshed characters.

Brave is one of those disappointing Pixar films that had so much potential but just falls short by the end. The plot will unexpectedly changes direction whenever it can and get rid of inconvenient characters in the most ridiculous manner. Julie Walters turns up for a brief spell as a Macbeth style witch who offers Merida a glimmer of hope. Then poof! Gone. It isn’t wholly disappointing but it a film that doesn’t go anywhere. There is no real direction for the plot and we end up with a feeling that neither Merida, her family, or the audience are really any better off than they were before the opening credits began. Pixar have a reputation for producing great animated films that appeal to children and adults alike. I find it hard to believe either of these groups would have been satisfied with this production.

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