Brave—movie review

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
June 22, 2012 1:05 AM
13 Comments
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©2012 Disney/Pixar.
If you have kids, you’ll want to take them to Brave, and they’ll almost certainly have a good time. If you’re an animation buff, you may have quibbles with the film, which looks great but isn’t up to Pixar’s high standards in terms of story. That’s the problem with creating so many innovative and memorable movies: when you do something that’s “merely” pretty good, it feels like a letdown.

Storytelling has always been the studio’s strong suit, quite apart from its groundbreaking digital animation and production design, which get the lion’s share of attention. But Brave, which was writer-director Brenda Chapman’s attempt to make a modern-thinking princess tale, feels a bit formulaic. (The project was taken away from her at some point; Mark Andrews assumed the role of director and helped revise the screenplay.)

The heroine is Merida, a bold young Scottish princess with free-flowing, flaming red hair (and voiced by Kelly Macdonald). She rejects feminine stereotyping and the ministrations of her mother (Emma Thompson), who tries to prepare her for a conventional life as queen. She’d rather spend her time hunting in the forest with a bow and arrow. When her frustrations with her mother reach a boiling point, she does something impulsive that she comes to regret. That’s a story point I’d rather not spoil, but it’s at this juncture that Brave skids off the beaten path and becomes downright strange.

©2012 Disney/Pixar.
I’ll give it points for originality, but that story twist is so bizarre that it knocked me for a loop. The movie tries to make up for this detour with a heart-tugging, emotional finale, but the buildup to that moment has been undermined, so it doesn’t have the impact it should.

That’s the grownup in me talking; kids may not, and should not, care about “story development.” But even if they leave the theater smiling, I wonder if they’ll take Brave to their hearts as they have other Pixar (and Disney) movies.

Needless to say, Brave looks terrific. The Pixar production team has created medieval Scotland, layer by layer, and designed a colorful cast of characters to populate the foreground as well. At one time they wouldn’t have been able to animate a character with hair like Merida’s; now, it’s one more challenge they have met and conquered.

I root for Pixar every time out and want to love their movies. My disappointment with Brave doesn’t mean it won’t please its intended audience. I wish it success so that Pixar can continue experimenting and exploring. 

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13 Comments

  • marsha | July 5, 2012 11:06 AMReply

    I agree with you that this is not the best Pixar film out there. Nevertheless, it was still entertaining and cute. One thing that never disappoints me about Pixar films is that they always leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling and my kids with a good life message. We decided to see this one in theaters for the 3D, but usually we watch them at home as part of our weekly Pixar Night. Every Thursday, my family sits down together to enjoy an array of movie snacks while watching one of the Pixar classics. They are amongst the many titles available to be mailed to me on the Blockbuster@Home service that I get through my Dish account. Between my job at Dish and maintaining a household, I don’t get a lot of time to spend lounging with my kids, so these nights mean a lot. It’s perfect because Pixar movies are something we can all watch and enjoy. Did you hear they are coming out with a Monster’s Inc. 2? I can’t wait!

  • catie | July 2, 2012 6:58 PMReply

    I can't wait to see this movie! I love pixar movies.

    http://thecelebritycafe.com/feature/2012/06/top-7-pixar-films

  • J-Law | June 24, 2012 10:52 PMReply

    I couldn't agree more. Gone are the days when movies were "plussed" into exceptionalism. This movie was a HUGE letdown to me. I was expecting more from Pixar with such an environment and cultural richness to work with. VOICE CASTING – I love Kelly, she was perfect. I also love Emma Thompson, but she isn't Scottish, and neither was her accent half the time. THEME - There was so much more they could have done with the whole Scottish culture. We could have had many more sweeping landscapes and vistas. Instead we get the feeling that they live in a tiny little forgotten corner of the kingdom, with three tiny clans. MUSIC – this had to be the worst for me. Instead of taking advantage of some really excellent Scottish music, we get a Hollywood imitation… using way too many violins no less. STORY – The story was absolutely weak… and boring… and lacking any real redeeming quality. Sure her mom changed, but Merida barely changed at all. She pretty much got what she wanted. Yay. It also felt disjointed and messy, like someone came in in the middle of it and threw everything out and started over. I left wondering if Pete Docter looked at it and said, “Yeah, that’s good. It’s ready. Send it out.” Or did he say, “Well, there’s no time left to do anything else. Send it.” LOVE INTEREST - I’m really beginning to wonder why we can NEVER have a love story in a Pixar movie. I get the whole thing about women’s lib and choosing your own destiny and everything, but why does that always mean not choosing love at all in a Pixar? I fear it’s because they’ve known from the beginning that culturally, we’re headed towards wholesale approval of “alternate lifestyles”, and Pixar is either not showing any choice at all or waiting until it’s more approved of before hitting us with Toy Story 5 where Buzz and Woody discover their suppressed feelings for each other. END TITLES – celtic designs are so interesting and different, I would have really loved to have seen something interesting done with these… e.g. celtic designs drawn in the manner of the opening titles to Casino Royale, fading to smoke, or softening into the design of Merida’s hair. Instead it was just regular end titles, with a feeble attempt at some sort of celtic font. Are end titles important? No, but it’s just an example of areas that could have been plussed and weren’t.

    The only thing I really appreciated was that we finally get a decent mother figure. Most Disney/Pixars have no mother at all. Think about it.

  • mike schlesinger | June 25, 2012 2:54 PM

    Thank for the clarification. Your point is well-taken, but it's not realistic for a mainstream animated feature to be scored with one or two instruments. Look at it this way: Better a full orchestra than another crummy synthesizer score. As for formatting: Apparently this program does not recognize paragraph breaks, so it all ends up as one giant graph. Oy.

  • J-Law | June 25, 2012 8:38 AM

    @Mike Schlesinger - thanks for the opportunity to clarify my comments re: the music. I didn't realize I hadn't been clear enough in my original comment. I wanted to comment having just come back from the movie and was very tired. Yes, you are correct, Doyle was born in Scotland, but music is not categorized based on the birthplace of the composer. The music was most definitely inspired or influenced by Scottish music, but it wasn't traditional/authentic/typical Scottish music. Scottish music is usually played using one or two FIDDLEs, not the 35 violins of the London Symphony. Now whether Doyle decided it needed to sound more mainstream Hollywood or the execs are to blame, we don't know, but if anyone wants to check out what authentic Scottish music sounds like, I'll just pick one band, "Battlefield Band". Find them on Youtube to compare the difference. Again, my complaint with the movie was that it had the potential to be this wonderfully rich cultural experience, and it ended up being a weak imitation. I'm also sorry about the weird formatting of my first post. I don't know if I did that or what, but I wonder if this one will look better.

  • mike schlesinger | June 25, 2012 2:42 AM

    You're entitled to your own opinion, of course, but not your own facts. That "Hollywood imitation" score was in fact composed by the incomparable Patrick Doyle, who was born in Uddingston, Scotland.

  • pjs_boston | June 24, 2012 6:06 AMReply

    I agree with all of your points of praise for Brave. However, I totally disagree with you in your criticism of the plot twist.MI was genuinely surprised by the unexpected turn the film took. It was a wonderful subversion of the spell/curse fairly tale that the screenwriters used to very good effect in the service of character development. Instead of bizarre, I found it surprising and, in the end, a fitting addition to the fairy tale tradition.

    Another aspect of the film that I found compelling was the absence of any villains. Even the witch seemed a good natured sort, reluct to fulfill Merida's ill considered wish to "change her mother". The source of drama in the film was, as is often the case in real life, miscommunication and misunderstanding rather than nefarious evil.

    Based upon the reviews I've read, some critics seem to take issue with the message of the film more so than anything else. Brave is a film that in the beginning seems to extoll the virtues of personal empowerment. In the end it's really about having the courage to accept responsibility for one's mistakes. It is a lovely story about the healing power of contrition, forgiveness, and understanding in human relationships.

    In our post-modern progressive culture, the message of the film seems to be a turn-off to some. This is a shame, because the message of Brave is timeless and valuable to young and old people alike.

  • Keith Payne | June 23, 2012 10:09 PMReply

    Hi Leonard, I have enjoyed your commentaries on a DVD or two. But, I would like to point out some errors and ommittments that you have made so that you can better comment on the movies if asked in the future. I have written you before, and have not received an answer. I did learn a lot for you for my book. But, I have things that I have learned through vast research and FRAME BY FRAME detective work. I have watched most of the Ford type westerns over a hundred times each including about 30 times more if they have commentaries. If I remember correctly, Peter had more of the errors and you the ommisions that were important for a commentary. Anyway, I would love to help you with them unless you have just completely tired of the classic westerns. If so,I understand, but please, at least email me, so I will know not to put your name into the many western blogs and organizations I am a part of. Really DID enjoy your hmmmm, think Hondo was the one I am thinking of. You did a great job just didn't have a great research assistant, LOL. Let me know and Have a Good One, KP 62 year old WOMAN named Keith. Writing two books...one about the western stuntmen and character actors(using Ward Bond, and friends as story tellers......including Duke,of course). Boy will people be furious when they find out why he never won any Academy Awards and Duke only won one. Politics. And Duke and Ward were on the RIGHT side. But those folks were the ones who MADE our heroes, and most times they weren't even listed under uncrediteds! I will fix that! Thanks and have a super night, KP

  • sleepingbeauty | June 23, 2012 3:05 PMReply

    I loved this film and so did my 21 yo son! The humor had both of us laughing and the animation is stunning. I am going to see it again this weekend.

  • Murfthesurf | June 22, 2012 10:03 PMReply

    I loved this movie. The voice casting was perfect. Yes, the hair was great, but the animation of the bears was exceptional. (I do not want to give away too much.) The thing I love about Pixar is that, while you know it's animation, it becomes second thought because the characters are so well written and formed. I always rate a film that kids will go see by the amount of noise in the theater. The more noise, the less the picture. Well, at the showing I saw, the only sounds came from the screen. Brave is one of the best films out so far. Go see it.

  • mike schlesinger | June 22, 2012 5:43 PMReply

    See, I loved the idea of taking the traditional Disney princess tale and standing it on its ear. Well, this old dude loved it completely. The twist you speak of is a bit of a jolt at first, but at least it's an original one, and once it settles in, it sets, IMHO, a new standard for animation of that particular sort of character. I also like the fact that the film's sentiment arises naturally out of the situation, rather than being crammed down our throats as it was in, say, WALL-E. And yes, Merida's hair is practically a character itself. The one thing that did take me by surprise was how little the 3-D was exploited, but that may have been the result of my having to sit closer to the screen than I'd have preferred. But I'll be going back--especially since I learned there's a cookie after the closing credits that I missed.

  • ralch | June 22, 2012 12:56 PMReply

    Bizarre is gooooooood. Bizarre is your frieeeeeeeeeeend...

  • Jim Reinecke | June 22, 2012 3:39 PM

    Would that be your only "frieeeeeeeeeeend", Ralch? (As my father used to say, Leonard, "They're not all locked up".)

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