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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Movie Review: BRAVE


"If you had a chance to change your fate, would you?"
-- Princess Merida

Brave is a 2012 animated film directed by Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews that serves as the thirteenth feature film for animation studio Pixar. The film tells a story set in feudal Scotland that centers around a young princess named Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald). As a child, her father Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly) gave her a bow and arrow as a gift, and it helped to instill a sense of adventure in her spirit. As she grows older, however, Merida's mother Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson) tries to craft her into a lady worthy of being married off to one of the neighboring clans' first-born sons. Merida does not take kindly to this particular tradition, wanting only to be the master of her own fate. After a failed attempt at choosing her eligible suitor, Merida strikes out into the wilderness on her own, searching for the path that will lead her to a life of freedom from her overbearing mother. What Merida finds in those woods, however, may lead to a darkness unlike anything she could have ever imagined.

As with most of the people I know personally, I always eagerly await the next big Pixar production, and my anticipation for Brave was no different. I first saw the teaser trailer for the film sometime last year, and I was immediately blown away by the visual aspect of the film. Add the fact that Pixar was finally delving into the story of a female protagonist for the first time in its feature film history. It looked as though Pixar was going to rebound from its critical failure in Cars 2 (which I liked, if you may recall). Everything seemed set up for Brave to be an astounding success.

Then the initial reviews started to pour in. As of this moment, the film currently holds a seventy-three percent approval rating on, which is still considered a very good film. However, when you compare that to the rest of the Pixar canon, it seems a tad bit off-putting. I mean, the Toy Story films have received either perfect or near-perfect scores on the same website, and even some of the lesser Pixar ventures have fared better than that. Still, there's a many critics who have yet to see Brave, so maybe that's just the early viewers being a little too tough on the film. I mean, that makes sense, right? This particular critic says: Maybe.

Brave definitely offers quite a few things to enjoy. The first thing you're going to notice is just how beautifully-crafted the animators managed to make the visuals. In some ways, it's the most beautifully-animated Pixar film - and perhaps animated film overall - to date, and for that, it should be applauded. The work done with Merida, from her lifelike facial expressions to her wild curly hair, is utterly fantastic, and she may be the most realistic animated human character ever crafted. In addition, we're seeing quite a few beautiful locales that are so well-created that we may as well be seeing animated characters placed onto real-life camera shots. While I still think some of the visuals from 2008's WALL-E manage to take the cake, there's quite a bit to say about the work done here. Kudos, Pixar animators.

We're also getting a very strong vocal cast to bring forth these interesting characters. The meat of the character development belongs both to Merida and Elinor, and I personally thought that Macdonald and Thompson brought the best pieces to the film. The rest of the cast - which is mostly male, with one or two women popping up now and then - and they're all portrayed in an almost caricature-like fashion. So is it a coincidence that the Merida and Elinor are also the most realistic-looking and best-animated? I think not. It's a subtle hint to the viewer that we should be taking these women seriously while we can laugh at the men as they bumble about trying to bash each other's heads in. Still, the vocal work for the men proves entertaining. I'm a big fan of Billy Connolly's, and I thought he did well with his character. Also be on the listen for the likes of Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson and the ever-present John Ratzenberger.

We also get a rather splendid musical score to accentuate the film. Patrick Doyle does well with crafting a score that's both adventurous and whimsical, and it fits the film to a tee. Interspersed with the orchestral segments are a number of songs that seemed, at least to me, a tad bit off-putting, but they still manage to capture and maintain the spirit of the film. Here's a snippet of the score for your listening pleasure:

And yet, despite all of this goodness, Brave does have a bit of a downfall, and it's not really where you'd expect it to happen. While Pixar has always been at the forefront of crafting beautifully-animated treats for their audiences, they've also been able to augment these visuals with astounding screenplays that manage to captivate and move their audiences towards whatever emotions they deem fit. Therein lies the problem with Brave. It almost feels as though we have an incomplete screenplay that doesn't necessarily punch home its message. While the story manages to be a good one, it definitely falls into predictability and rote rhetoric, and that's not something that audiences want to see, nor do they expect it from a studio like Pixar. It just didn't feel like the writers managed to figure out that one last emotional punch, and instead, we're left feeling almost a little bit empty. But it's empty in a good way, I suppose. There are still quite a few laughs to be had, and the story is easy to follow. Maybe we're all just so inundated with Pixar's brilliance that it's difficult to understand that the filmmakers are only human and we're going to hit a rocky patch eventually. It's just sad to see that it happened with a film that had so much promise.

All that being said, Brave was a solid film and definitely a step up from last year's Cars 2. Did it fail to meet everyone's expectations? Perhaps, but it's still head-and-shoulders over most animated fare being released out there nowadays. It's fantastic that Pixar finally took the leap and created a female-centric film, but I just think that they could've done Merida a little more justice than they did. If you're looking for a fanciful animated film like this that manages to impress on nearly every level, I strongly suggest taking a look at 2009's The Secret of Kells, which managed to blow me away. But Brave is still a great film that's worthy of your attention. Just don't expect it to leave a lasting mark in the way that Toy Story, WALL-E or Up did.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
Should You See It? Yes

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