2012-06-22

Brave – Pixar’s Latest Is Disappointingly Average

by Yo Snyder

So it would seem that the law of averages have finally caught up with
Pixar. After turning out one fantastic hit after another, it would seem
the venerable studio is slumping a bit. They reached an apex with the
incredible Toy Story 3; a threequel that was not only good, but
arguably one of the best in the series, and that almost never happens
with part threes. Then they had their merchandise-driven but mostly
enjoyable Cars 2; an odd sequel considering that Cars
isn’t exactly their most beloved movie. So everyone had high hopes for
the studio as they left sequels behind and embarked on a new original
tale called Brave. There was certainly a lot of reason to be excited; some of their best films are quirky originals like Up and Wall-E. Unfortunately, Brave doesn’t reach those lofty heights. Heck, I didn’t even enjoy it as much as Cars 2.
In fact, it’s a disappointingly average princess tale with
disappointingly average characters filled with disappointingly average
humor. As I said, the law of averages must be catching up with Pixar
because Brave is strictly average, and I just have come to expect more from this studio.

Now, it’s not like Pixar has completely lost touch with their art. Indeed, visually speaking, Brave
is incredibly sumptuous. The rolling green hills of Scotland with its
forests and fields, moors and lochs, castles and ruins is all very
visually evocative. It’s a gorgeous movie to look at. Then there’s
Merida’s unruly mop of red, curly hair. If you thought what Tangled
did with CG animated hair was impressive, well Pixar one ups that quite
spectacularly here. It’s truly a technical marvel to see what they can
do. Brave is also quite gorgeous in it’s sound design. The music
is haunting and emotional, and the few songs used in the movie help
capture the old-world, Scottish feel the film is trying to establish. Brave
is a scrumptious treat for the eyes and ears, which makes it that much
more crushing that the the story and characters aren’t equally well
rendered.

The biggest problem is Brave‘s story is such a standard, by
the numbers princess fairy tale that there aren’t any surprises. You
pretty much know when each beat of the story is going to happen and how
it will happen. The emotional climax isn’t all that emotional because
it’s so incredibly predictable, which highlights the other problem of
this movie (one which I never thought would be a problem in a Pixar
film); the characters. These aren’t the deeply drawn, well-rounded
characters that typically draw audiences in during a Pixar feature.
They’re all pretty stock, standard fairy tale types. Merida’s the
rebellious daughter with a free spirit who doesn’t want to get married,
and the one of the biggest problems for me in this movie is she doesn’t
really grow much beyond that. She more or less gets to have her way in
the end. Perhaps she’s learned some lessons about humility and what, but
there isn’t much that shows me that. Merida’s mother, while fortunately
not the wicked step-mother cliche, is still a standard over-bearing mom
who doesn’t listen and because of that can’t figure out how to connect
with her daughter. She could have been interesting, but she’s painted
with pretty broad strokes at the beginning and spends most of the rest
of the time as a bear (yeah, you heard that right). The dad is clueless
but kind-hearted and caring buffoon, and everyone else are merely
caricatures designed to get some laughs (and they do generate a few).
Combine all of that with a rather predictable story and what you end up
with is merely average.

It’s a shame too, because there are hints at what could have been a
pretty good story in here. The film talks a lot about altering one’s
fate, which I figured meant would make it some sort of It’s a Wonderful Life type tale, or something like A Christmas Carol, which with fairy tale trappings and set in ancient Scotland could have been pretty interesting. But no, it’s really more like Freaky Friday,
unfortunately.  The whole concept of whether or not we choose our fate
or it’s determined for us isn’t explored with nearly as much depth or
originality as it could have considering the setting and the fact that
it is a fairy tale.

Still, the movie raises a good question about fate and whether or not
it can be changed. I’ve always found it rather interesting that some
say they don’t believe in God because they can’t accept the fact that he
would doom some to the fate of hell. “I just can’t believe in a God who
would send people to hell,” goes the argument. It’s a fair point, and
quite frankly, I agree; I wouldn’t want to believe in a God like that
either. The interesting thing, however, is that God didn’t seal fates,
he actually freed them so we could have a choice. Without God our fate
was predetermined, whether we liked it or not. Well, God didn’t like
that, so he sent his son Jesus to create another option through his
death and resurrection. Now, thanks to that sacrifice, we do have a
choice; we can change our fate. The Bible clearly states that hell was
never intended for humanity, but only for the rebellious angels who
followed Lucifer. However, they weren’t going down alone, and were
determined to drag humanity into hell with them. God stepped into
history as Jesus Christ and changed that fate, and so now we all have a
choice. God doesn’t send people to hell; they choose it when they refuse
the alternative option God provides through Jesus Christ. And you know
what, all of this makes for a far more interesting story than what takes
place in Brave.

From the opening short La Luna to the closing credits, there’s just something missing from Brave, something that just doesn’t click. 
Maybe cranking out a new movie every year is starting to take it’s toll,
or maybe working on so many sequels is draining away original
creativity (the studio has several more in the pipeline). They certainly
had an intriguing setting and rich folklore to work with, and even the
core concept of “if you could change your fate, would you” presents some
great material to work with. Yet somehow, it all came out merely
average, and with a bit more risque humor than usual as well (a few more
butt jokes than usual for Pixar, and even some boob jokes thrown in as
well). It’s hard for me to say, but I think this is the first time I’ve
ever, including the mostly disappointing Cars 2, told people to wait until a Pixar movie hits the dollar theater. Yet, that’s just the case with Brave;
it’s so average as to be hard to justify paying full price for it. It’s
gorgeous to look at with some beautiful music, and it does have some
entertaining moments, but as a whole it’s just no where near Pixar’s
best.

Score: 4 of 7