Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Movie Review: Brave

Title: Brave
Director: Mark Andrews
Year Released: 2012
Running Time: 93 minutes
Classification: PG
Genre: Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Comedy, Kids and Family, Animation

From the trailer, I thought Brave was about how a princess avoids marriage by defeating an evil bear, or something. What the movie is actually about is how Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) “changes” her mother via witchcraft so that her mother doesn't push for her to get married. The film in essence is about this mother-daughter relationship. This adds a original spin to the usual “hero's quest” story, and provides a refreshing change from the usual romantic focus in princess stories.

I am perhaps showing my age here, but I found it problematic that I sided with Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) pretty much from the get-go. I did not find Merida to be very likeable, at least at the beginning, and indeed thought her rather selfish for being so resentful of her (privileged) life. However, I doubt many others will have this same problem. I had expected a bit more historical realism and I realise that I was wrong to do so.
Brave is a children's movie after all, and it will of course result in a happy ending in line with modern values. I suppose it's meant to be a celebration of ~girl power~ and ~independence~, but for me this message didn't carry any real weight: Merida's life isn't exactly horrible to begin with and her problems are mainly self-inflicted. On the flip side, the mother-daughter opposition allows for both characters to grow during the course of the film, and this was one of the film's strengths. The heroine is brave and all, but her journey, like her mother's, is ultimately one of learning to compromise. I suppose “Taking Responsibility” or “Humility” just aren't nearly so catchy as “Brave”.

Though it's an interesting enough story, I didn't particularly like the way it was told. As soon as I got a sense of what the film was about, the narrative structure became so obvious that I was often just waiting for things to happen – things like the “What Have I Done?” moment and the Bonding Activity Montage. While being predictable is not of itself a bad thing, I felt in this case there was a lack of wonder to make up for it. There was a sense of rigidity to the plot, a sense of “this is what has to happen next” rather than “oh no, that event has caused this other thing to happen”. I suppose I'm making it out to be worse that in it is, but frankly I'd expected better storytelling from Pixar.

Still, it's a fairly funny film, with many physical gags that both kids and adults would enjoy. In this instance, the trailer does a fairly good job of showing the flavour of humour that's in the film more generally. It also looks fantastic. Everything, from Merida's hair to the forests to the fabric of the queen's dress to the snowy landscapes, looks great. The Celtic music also added to the feel of Ye Olde Scotland, and there is a charming, cheerful atmosphere to the whole film. Further, it was also pleasant to hear Scottish accents all around (rather than just for a couple of old people – you know how it is when there's an animated film involving an ethnic group... *cough*
Mulan, Gargoyles, Avatar: The Last Airbender *cough*).

Enjoyable as it was, however, I didn't like this movie as much as I hoped I would. There's a lot of charm in the window dressing, but the business-like plot drags things down somewhat, and the characters so compelling so as to negate this. It's not Pixar's best, but it's still pleasant and fun.

Remember to take my review with a grain of salt as I am clearly not the film's intended audience. I believe that kids will find much to enjoy this film, as they are highly unlikely to be as cynical and genre savvy as I am. Though... if your kids are like me, then, well, good luck with that. 

NOTE: If you're watching this in the cinema, be sure to get there in time. The short film
La Luna is shown before this one, and it's just the most adorable thing ever. I enjoyed it much more than Brave itself.

Alex's Rating: 3/5

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