Thursday, June 28, 2012

Brave: The New Kid on the Pixar Block

When I first saw the teaser art and trailer for Brave I was excited.  1) It wasn’t a sequel 2) It looked beautiful and 3) It featured a female protagonist.  At our house we are all Pixar fans and we each have our favorite.  Mine is The Incredibles.  My husband, Ratatouille.  My daughter... all of them.  Pixar has set the bar high when it comes to great storytelling and beautiful, detailed animation and I think Brave fits in nicely.  I tried not to give too many details about Brave, but just in case, I will say there could be some minor spoilers here.

Brave is the story of Merida, a Scottish princess who wants to change her fate.  To keep peace amongst the four ruling clans, the eldest son from each must compete for her hand in marriage.  But Merida rebels against this notion and it creates tension amongst the clans.  Headstrong Merida does not realize what her actions could lead to and runs off, only to return with a spell that backfires on her and now she must fix this horrible mistake before the clans declare war.

When I started reading the reviews I read some comments that it's good but not as great as the rest.  I then began to think, “Isn’t that what they said about the others like, WALL-E and Up?”  I mean, there was a lot of people going ga-ga over the first few minutes of both WALL-E and Up but look at the rest of those minutes.  Who really talks much about the rest of WALL-E and Up?  It’s usually the nearly dialogue free beginning of WALL-E and Carl’s life story in Up that gets talked about.  We can all admit that those are great but we should also admit that the rest of those movies do fall a bit short in the middle and end.  But we still enjoy them and they are very unique in their own way.  So maybe Brave is not as great as the rest, but can we really say the others are the greatest of the greatest amongst the Pixar movies?  I don’t think so.  It doesn’t seem fair.  They are all still very good; each one telling a different kind of story and they each affect and speak to us differently.  So we can have our favorites but I just don’t like trying to rank them, or comparing them and I think Brave fits in nicely with the rest.  It could also just be a case of Brave is the new kid on the block and we need time to get to know this new Pixar movie, which makes sense.

Some of the other criticism I read was that this was a lot like a Disney movie which just made me think, “Oh, no!  How could it be like any of the movies we practically grew up watching and loving and still talk about?!  What a nightmare!”  But there was a bright spot I noticed: that this was a mother/daughter movie.  I read this in a couple of reviews and after that everything else just faded into the background.  A mother/daughter movie?!  When was the last time we had one of those?  So what is the first thing this movie shows us?  A mother playing hide and seek with her little girl.  I nearly lost it.  It was so sweet and hit so close to home.  I was seeing myself and my daughter up there.  And more importantly there was not a single DEAD MOTHER OR EVIL STEP MOTHER TO BE SEEN.   And the movie just grew into something more wonderful for me.

As the years go by our jobs as mothers, parents really, is to prepare our children to be responsible adults.  And sometimes our children don’t want to.  And that’s what I saw on screen.  Merida wanted to run free, to do whatever she wanted.  Her mother, Elinor, wanted her to be cautious, as all mothers do.  She also wanted her daughter to take her other lessons seriously.  But Merida's mother never said outright she couldn’t shoot a bow and arrow, or ride her horse anywhere.  She never said Merida could not have fun.  In fact, we see Merida and her mother having fun together and bonding in two flashbacks.  But Merida is a rebellious teenager and when the lines of communication break down and nobody is listening, there is trouble and that’s what happens here.  Merida wants to change her fate and she does this by getting a spell to change her mother’s mind.  And what happens?  The spell goes horribly wrong and Merida blames everyone but herself.  A typical teenager/young adult, right?  But she knows she has to fix it.  Fixing it includes listening, bonding together to work through this and ultimately admitting you made a horrible mistake.  And we get a mother and daughter meeting in the middle.  Elinor realizes that Merida needs more time and Merida knows that it’s time to take on more adult responsibility.  

I can see some of the Disney-ness when it came to a bear attack that was reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast.  We do have Merida making a deal with a witch, like The Little Mermaid.  But Ursula had a hidden agenda to get to King Tritan through Ariel.  The witch in Brave does not.  And at the end of The Little Mermaid, Ariel gets the guy, her dreams come true.  Ariel caused a lot of trouble and there were zero consequences for her.  She was rewarded.  What kind of lesson is that?  This did not happen in Brave.  We have resolution but in the end Merida doesn't exactly get what she wanted in the beginning.  She will get more time to mature but she realizes she has to grow up still.  She will have to be an adult whether she likes it or not but she can still be herself and make her own choices.

I can go on about how beautiful the animation is, the voice acting is wonderful, there are fun, colorful characters and great comedy.  But I think we’re at a point where that is what we expect from Pixar and they do not fall short there so I really don’t need to say much more.  I will say please check out this movie.  If you enjoyed movies with talking fish or talking toys, two robots falling in love or an older, retired gentleman flying off for adventure in a house lifted by thousands of balloons, you will enjoy Brave too.  It definitely makes a nice addition to the Pixar family.

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