Walking into Brave, I was ready to change 2012’s moniker from “Summer of Hype” to “Summer of Disappointment”. The Avengers was a big letdown despite months – years, really – of endlessly oppressive advertising. Prometheus was even worse. What was supposed to be the return of intelligent, thoughtful big-budget science-fiction was an idiotic trainwreck. (Oh yes, I’ll get to Prometheus eventually. Maybe one day when I’m feeling particularly surly I’ll talk about that piece of crap.) Amongst all these hugely hyped blockbusters, I almost forgot about Brave, the new Pixar film. After the godawful mess that was Cars 2, I was less optimistic than ever about Pixar’s future.
So I can’t call Brave a disappointment, because I wasn’t that excited for it to begin with. This stems mainly from the awful ads and trailers which gave little information about the plot. From the trailers, I gathered that it was about a Scottish princess who wanted to be free or something. And there was something about a bear, I guess. The trailers were confusing and boring, and worst of all they played up the stupid slapstick, which brought on Cars 2 flashbacks. There was nothing in this movie that looked at all appealing.
But I saw it. I saw it because it’s Pixar. Because even lesser Pixar is better than most other films (besides Cars 2, but that’s the last time I’ll mention that movie). Well, Brave is certainly lesser Pixar. But it didn’t really bother me despite its obvious flaws. I mean, Pixar isn’t really doing anything wrong with Brave. In fact, on any other scale, Brave is pretty damn great. The visuals are, as always, stunning, the score by Patrick Doyle is quite good, the dialogue is mostly good. But Pixar always excels in those areas. Things like that always appear to come easy to Pixar. What people really look for in a Pixar movie is depth of storytelling and character, and that’s where Brave falls short of expectations.
It feels like two movies smashed together. In one, a brash, independent princess must defy tradition and prove that she doesn’t need to be married to be worthwhile. This film brings contemporary sensibilities to a familiar tale, twisting it to create an honest message about empowerment . This sort of thinking is a staple of Pixar filmmaking. In another, completely different movie, a brash, independent princess clashes with her traditional, conservative mother, but in doing so she curses her mother, and the two must reconcile to break it. This other film contains heartfelt messages about the importance of family and trust, and the heartwarming conclusion will probably leave tears in your eyes (and your heart). So what’s the problem with combining those two? Beneath the surface, they seem to add up to a classic Pixar film.
Well, maybe that’s the problem. Combining the two seems to be a pretty good idea beneath the surface, but if you look at those two plot descriptions, they have nothing to do with each other. They simply don’t belong in the same movie. I could see one being a sequel to the other, but mashing them into one movie comes across as confusing and muddled. Now, combining the two actually might work, but the film spends far too much time on one to justify including the other, leaving both sections feeling incomplete. Actually, maybe “mashed” isn’t the right word. One film seems to be stacked right on top of the other, like a Lego brick, as if Brave is just a collection of two brief films about these characters, rather than a feature.
And all of this leaves no room for the characters. It seems that Merida and her mother have arcs, but we never really take the time to see them progress. There’s a scene where they try to catch fish which hints at development, but by the end of the film they seem to have completely changed without any impetus for that change. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, for such a lightweight movie, Brave feels really rushed. And while we’re on the subject of character arcs, for a movie called Brave, being brave doesn’t factor into the plot at all. Merida doesn’t learn to be brave, she doesn’t teach anyone else to be brave. She doesn’t lose her bravery and have to regain it, she’s brave at the beginning and she’s brave at the end. This is more a case of a terrible title. The film was originally called The Bear and the Bow. They should have stuck with that title, it relates more to the plot and it gives off that whole fairy tale vibe.
But despite all this, I didn’t hate Brave. Is it lesser Pixar? Actually, that’s not the word I’d use. It’s lighter Pixar. It maintains the greatness of one of their films on the surface, but there’s not a whole lot going on underneath. I think Brave will be forgotten pretty quickly, especially considering the history that it has to live up to. If it followed Toy Story 3, I’d say that Monsters University looked like a clever spoof/deconstruction of college movie tropes. Following Brave and Cars 2, I can’t help but see it as just a cliche college movie using familiar characters for a cash grab. Like I said last year, it makes me sad to talk so cynically about Pixar. But that’s the shape of things right now.