Bravery For Andrews Doesn’t Lead To Better Things
Every time Pixar releases a film, animation fans euphorically rejoice, as they know John Lasseter and the gang would never steer us wrong. Well, that was until our beloved production studio dropped Cars with a resounding thud that echoed with the sound of toy store cash registers world wide ringing with glee. But following up with a string of four undeniable masterpieces in a row (Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3), fan faith was restored and cranked to an all time high, that is, until Lasseter and friends went for another low class cash grab with Cars 2. As some critics predicting the end of an era as the best and brightest of Pixar’s creative team move on to bigger (but not better) projects (Brad Bird with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and Andrew Stanton with John Carter), things are looking a bit shaky, and it doesn’t help that Pixar’s latest eye popping production is Mark Andrew’s Brave, a throwback to the classic Disney princess that treads ever too familiar territory to conjure that incredible sense of awe that has become synonymous with most of the company’s oeuvre.
Let’s get this straight right now. Brave is indeed a gorgeous, fun, and heartwarming film that promotes girl power and highlights the courage to accept responsibility, but the troubled production feels anything, but wondrous. The picture had been in development for six years prior to its release, and went through two directors (Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell) before Andrews was called upon to wrap things up, and after all that, the resulting film is still a by-the-numbers princess tale that’s only twist is its feminist backbone and Scottish setting. The film’s young, gnarly haired leading lady is Princess Merida (voiced by a perfectly cast Kelly Macdonald), a red headed archery master who’s time honored destiny is to wed a nobleman from a neighboring kingdom as a pledge of peace between tribes, but despite legends of warning and an overbearing mother, her infatuation with her bow and independent spirit lead her to youthful revolt. Unfortunately for her queenly mother, Merida’s act of rejection involves the usual witch in the woods and a spell that changes her majesty into a bumbling, but genteel bear – the very animal that her battle hungry husband lost his leg to years before. From here, it’s not hard to see where things are headed.
Though the pic lacks the creative depth of most of its Pixar brethren, it certainly benefits from the casting power that the brand can yield, and spry dialog that plays much stronger than the story itself. Macdonald brings to Merida her authentic Scottish accent while giving her a virtuous efficacy tinged with just the right amount of naivety to fit the bill. As Merida’s mother, Queen Elinor, Emma Thompson is the stern authoritarian, wisely ruling the kingdom in place of her man-child king, who, voiced by a bubbly Billy Connolly, can’t resist a story, or a fight, say nothing of being a responsible parent. What’s most important is the reconstruction of Merida and Elinor’s relationship, even as communication breaks down in the wake of the queen’s transformation. The writing team made sure to provide genuine stakes in the dangers of wild animals and the mistaken killing of Elinor, giving us a legitimate reason to root for Merida’s wholehearted apology that has the power to change everyone’s fate, and when it happens (you knew it was bound to), expect those familiar warm fuzzies to be set in motion.
Layered atop those tried and true princess mechanics are some of the most advanced computer generated animations ever created. The authentic, yet fantastic Scottish countryside is detailed down to the textures in minute moss formations and rich forest overgrowth. Merida’s flowing tangle of red curls look incredibly natural in motion, blowing in the wind while she rides recklessly on horseback, but try as they might to dress up Brave‘s conventional story with delicious visuals in hopes of balancing its faults, the film remains a substandard Pixar production that lacks the inventive creativity that we’ve all come to love and expect.