June 26, 2012

To the Movies: Brave

Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Craig Purcell
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, and Robbie Coltrane
Review //  Showtimes

We've got it all wrong about fairy-tales, you know. They aren't all about romantic love. Prince and Princess living happily ever after is an exception, not a rule. And even the ones about romance are dark and grave and sad. No, most of fairy tales are about individual virtue, about how one's choices matter, and how one's fate and one's duty are entwined, and about how the relationships that matter are the ones we often take for granted. 

And this is where Brave, this year's animated feature from Disney/Pixar, really breaks ground. It offers us a true fairy tale--and a new one. Daring, rich, grave, deeply moving, and delightful.

Brave, was being hailed for offering the first female protagonist in Pixar's 13 film oeuvre. And then dismissed because it was a princess movie, like all the other Disney films.  But I wasn't disappointed. Not one bit. Jokingly the Slate reviewer, Dana Stevens, said (in his excellent review): "In order to satisfy expectations at this point, Brave would have to not only revolutionize the depiction of girls and women onscreen, but make its audience laugh as hard as we did in Toy Story and cry as hard as we did in Up." Well, it did all that for me.

(Don't worry: I give no spoliers, and I ask that commentators do the same.)

Let's get the technical stuff out of the way first: it is visually stunning. Pixar can create an entire world that looks completely real: landscape, rocks, trees, water, expressive eyes, fabrics, a tapestry and THE MOST INCREDIBLE HAIR. I purposely chose the still from the very first scene (above) because most of the stills from the film I've seen are too animated. Look at that grass and that hair: it is so real. The film is full of this awesomeness.

The story concerns the relationship between the Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and her daughter, the Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald)--and I'd be hard pressed to think of a richer expression of a mother-daughter relationship in film. Merida, like a typical feisty and passionate teenager, just wants "to be free!" and bristles under her mother's lessons on stately deportment and behavior. ("A princess does not put her weapons on the table.")

I don't want to get too much into the plot and destroy its delights, surprises, and twists. But suffice it to say that the time comes when Merida and Elinor must listen to each other, in order to save each other and reverse the spell that falls on them. (There's always a spell, you know. But it could also be avoided if we weren't such selfish idiots.)

There are some failings. The humor is a it too broad at times. And many of the secondary characters tend to be one dimensional: Merida's three mischievous brothers, the leaders of the three clans, and their eldest sons are all written without subtlety. We only complain about this because we know Pixar can do small characters well; each fish Nemo meets, or toy in Andy's box, or character in their brilliant shorts are distinctly drawn. Many have complained that there are no good male characters, but I think King Fergus (Billy Connolly) is beautifully drawn. He is, indeed, a little too bombastic to be taken seriously, but it is lovely to see his delight and pride in his daughter, and his obvious regard for his wife.

Brave is not perfect. But it is lovely and refreshing. It is a rich expression of the relationship between a mother and her daughter. And both women are individual, bold--fine role models for a world that greatly needs to remember what duty is, and how doing one's duty takes a special kind of bravery.

(By the way: there are some very intense and scary sequences in this. However, R took G to go see it for her 6th birthday, and G loved it. So maybe six is the cut off?)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! I've been wondering about this flick, and you're just about the only reviewer I trust :)