And all the displeased feminists cried: Do a female protagonist, Pixar! Do a female protagonist! As Merida learns, be careful what you wish for…
Brave is so non-Pixar that I cannot give it a normal Pixar review (Unique Premise, Adventure, Climax, Pixar Moment, Conclusion). I also made this exception to Cars 2, but for reasons I hope are more obvious. Considering how much I had to bash Cars 2, I really didn’t look forward to writing this review.
Brave’s closest equivalent of Disney’s is The Lion King, despite being a princess movie. The writing barely makes sense. You have this princess who doesn’t want to marry anyone, but is forced to by tradition. As explained by Queen Elinor, the princess must marry one of the three kingdom’s sons, as determined through some sort of a contest. Otherwise, the entire Brave world will erupt into war. Okay, well, this sucks for either Princess Merida or Queen Elinor, because both can’t possibly have their happy end… WHAT! THE KINGDOMS ARE JUST OKAY WITH CHANGING THIS TRADITION!?! Is this really your ending Pixar? If this is the ending you had in mind, then that means it is the kings ruling the kingdoms who need an epiphany! Not Merida and Elinor. The mother daughter relationship simply has no place within the plot you have constructed!!!
Sigh… the kings have their “epiphany” at around the 70 minute mark, persuaded by Merida’s words (very lazy storytelling, I know). I guess the mother daughter relationship is tangentially related since Merida’s speech suggests she has accepted her mother’s point of view, and her mother urging Merida to change her speech midway through indicates she has accepted Merida’s point of view. But then the movie keeps going. Why? Oh right, her mom is still a bear! Even though the entire internal conflict is resolved within 70 minutes, we still need to slog through 20 more minutes resolving a physical conflict. A simple question should arise: what was the purpose of having Elinor turn into a bear? So they can spend a couple of hours fishing together? I mean, I just don’t get it. Why couldn’t Merida and Elinor re-mend their bonds as HUMANS. Are humans simply incapable of this? Do you really need to turn your mom into a bear to see her point of view? Did they just want to copy the Disney formula and have a witch in their story?
Really, the answers to these questions doesn’t change the fact that the plot is painfully split into three, discrete fragments. Brave is about fixing tradition, fixing a mother daughter relationship, and fixing a spell. They just happen all at the same time to trick the audience into thinking this is one cohesive story. Brave should have pick any one of these three stories and rolled with it. I’ll spend the next part of this review talking about the story I personally cared for: the mother daughter relationship.
To write this review without contrasting Brave to the Disney princess movies is difficult since it is precisely this relationship which most princess movies omit. For whatever reason, it is usually the dad who manages to stick around, Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine being prime examples.
This is what makes Brave unique. It refuses to become a story about finding romantic love. The best parts of Brave is when it focuses on familial love.
In the film’s most touching moment, Merida and bear-turned-Elinor just goof around for a couple of minutes in the shallow parts of a creek. While Phil Collins singing pop rock songs in the foreground of Tarzan only invoked feelings of lament over the end of the Disney renaissance style, I was much more welcoming of Julie Fowlis, a true gaelic folk singer, who infuses Brave with a real sense of culture. Fowlis provides some of Pixar’s best songs with Touch the Sky, which functions very much like a typical “I want” song of the Disney princess movies, and Into the Open Air, which undoubtedly lend itself to the moving interaction between Merida and Elinor.
While were on the topic of authenticity, I absolutely love how all the characters have true Scottish accents. I’m sick and tired of protagonists having American accents whereas all the villains/henchmen have authentic accents based on the setting. Or worse, accents just for the hell of it (what’s with all the accents in The Lion King?). I say you should distribute American accents to all your main characters (including villains) and give setting-based accents to both henchmen and side-characters (like Beauty and the Beast) if you want atmosphere. Or even better, you can do what Brave does.
Now, there is one last thing I have to talk about before I can explain what makes Brave better than The Lion King, and that is Merida. Brave was released June 22nd, 2012. June is LGBT Pride Month. The release date is not quite as provocative as something like June 28th when the stonewall riots took place, but provocative nonetheless. If the Pixar theory can be legitimized by the studio’s attention to detail, then I think Merida represents the LGBT crowd. She is animation’s first lesbian, asexual, or bisexual protagonist.
This is quite the claim, I know, and while I could exhaust the rest of this movie review defending my case, I’m going to link my audience (sorry for all the links guys, trying to keep this review as short as possible) to a relevant article that I basically agree with, if you are interested. Probably more fun is watching the movie again with this lens, and seeing for yourself whether or not you agree with this claim. In the end, I am speculating. But that’s all Pixar needed to do. To quote the article, “it just needed to make us ask.”
There are many parallels one may draw between The Lion King and Brave. The African savanna and the Scottish Highlands are wonderful backdrops, conferring a more mature tone to the story which is unfortunately at odds with the almost nonsensical plotting. Both try to weave in mystical elements, like Mufusa 2.0 (Cloud version) and the wisps, but rather, these occurrences seem to come at times when the writers threw up their hands and didn’t know how else to progress the story.
On a technical level, both films represent some of the studio’s best work. As many critics raved, Merida’s orange mane indeed has a life of its own, resisting any societal tradition which may bind her.
More important, however, are the differences. And Brave has a distinct advantage over The Lion King: it has heart. In a sentiment I will echo in my concluding Pixar post, I think that’s what ultimately makes Pixar stand out for me. There hasn’t been a single film…
There hasn’t been two films of Pixar’s with no heart. Even something as bland as Cars and A Bug’s Life still made me care. I cared about Merida’s relationship with her mother. I cared about Merida obtaining her freedom. I cared about a studio trying to sneak in a lesbian protagonist. And for that, I’d say Brave is pretty… courageous.
Final Grade: C (77%)—There is a difference between bravery and folly. Brave has both in equal doses.