Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Brave – plus La Luna

Brave doesn’t deserve the harsh appraisals I read before going to see it. It may not have the biggest emotional impacts of all Pixar’s films, but it tells its simple, old-fashioned story well, it looks striking and it does have a good pay-off. It’s not the best Pixar film ever, but it’s far from the worst – I’d rate it with The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo – better than Ratatouille, A Bug’s Life and the Cars films. Which is a long way from the suggestion that this is part of Pixar’s big downfall – and Cars 2 really wasn’t as bad as is being made out.

Before I say any more about the main feature, though, something must be said about the short film preceding it in the usual Pixar fashion – usually something entertaining but throwaway like the magic show of Presto (with Wall-E) or the silly but somewhat iconic For the Birds (with Monsters, Inc.). This time it was La Luna, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it is absolutely my favourite thing that Pixar have ever done. Yes, over and above all the Toy Story films, above the superb opening of Up, above anything in Brave. I really, really liked it. I liked the simple but highly inventive imagery, the funny characters with what I now realise is a real rarity in Pixar – an incredibly cute child character – and I loved the workers in their olden-days costumes with their generalised European-ish voices. It fully deserved its Oscar nomination last year, and I could have very happily watched a whole feature-length film version..or just the short over and over for the length of Brave. I quite earnestly liked it that much. Enrico Casarosa, you make me more optimistic about The Good Dinosaur.

Anyway, in the wake of Cars 2 has come Brave, one of the few Pixar films – alongside Brad Bird’s films and Up – to have a predominantly human cast. The next Pixar release was to be Newt, but it got scrapped for similarities to Rio. Pixar’s films have a history of coming out coincidentally very close to films that are similar – Antz and A Bug’s Life caused a lot of tension and Dreamworks rushed their film out first, Finding Nemo was quickly followed by Shark Tale and Flushed Away ended up changing its title from Ratopolis to avoid confusion with Ratatouille, despite coming out six months earlier. So it’s understandable that they’d want to avoid yet another clash – and Brave sounds better anyway.

The story of the strong-willed tomboy princess of a vaguely feudal Scottish clan refusing to conform to expectations, causing a rift with her family that reaches a peak with a magical spell, which happily hadn’t been spoiled for me going into the film, despite having at some point long ago heard its working title. It’s a great way of both having a typical Pixar emotional arc and also seeming like a classic story from the period. Though Princess Merida is a good, strong protagonist whose hair makes her instantly recognisable and whose laughter is infectious, probably the main problem with the film is that this just makes her a bit bland. She learns to value those around her, which we’ve seen as the lesson learned too many times before, and it just never feels like she will be in any real danger, or won’t get what she’s hoping for – until the magical contrivance, which really makes the film in every other way, there’s never any real crisis for her, so when it comes it feels just a little artificial – which is enough to tip the balance of the film away from perfection.

The film also just doesn’t look quite as nice as Pixar’s films can. This is not because the backgrounds and textures are anything less than the very cutting edge – but that’s the least we expect from Pixar. The trouble is the character designs just look a bit…well, Dreamworks. And I never really warmed to them, as I did the Incredibles. Pixar is so good at making you care for funny toys, insects, strange little robots…but don’t quite pull it off with stroppy teenagers.

There’s also a little too much plot contrivance. The will-o’-the-wisps weren’t really needed in their first and last appearances, but in the middle one pushed the plot on in a very artificial way. The rival clans are placated a little too easily. And ultimately, it seems like the whole thing could have been resolved with a good sit down and a talk – but then, that’s rather the lesson to be learned by the two stubborn main characters.

With great voice acting, a strong cultural idea of Scotland and lovely modern music with a thin flavouring of traditional Scottish instrumentation, there’s much to admire about this film. It has a brilliant study of animal movement, and a lot of big laughs. It lacks a little spark, true, but that doesn’t stop it being an outstanding film…

Brave post-Oscars note: I have to say I don’t think this deserved its win over any of its competitors – but arguably it is the most Academy-friendly of the films. Wreck-it Ralph is too lowbrow for their pretensions, Frankenweenie and Pirates! too quirky and knowing, and Paranorman too lacking in feel-good schmaltz. Not a deserving winner, but an unsurprising one. 


  1. I would have preferred the plot to go forward as an adventure, say to Stornoway to meet the witch, and the mother and Merida resolve their differences along the way, with the clans following them. I thought that was what was gonna happen, and when it didn't I felt like they wasted the movie a bit. I liked it overall, but it was a little cliche, and, with my friend spoiling the spell for me (by telling me it had been spoilt for her) I knew exactly how easily it was going to be resolved.

  2. Mmm, something on a grander scale probably would have made it more enjoyable. That said, I liked how keeping it contained made the family the focus. 

  3.  I agree that Brave wasn't a bad movie at all, it just...wasn't among the "greats" of Pixars films. I think one of the things that caused people to be disappointed wast the fact that the original (and rather vague) trailer made it seem like it was going to be this really big, action-packed, epic fantasy adventure. But it turned out that the plot was actually a small one. Not bad, just not epic and "big" like people were expecting. Brave seemed more like a good Dreamworks film than a Pixar one to me. What I most enjoyed in it was the animation of the bears and it had some good emotional and funny moments between Merida and her mother. What I didn't like about it was that, besides Merida and her parents, the rest of the characters were just uninteresting and one-dimensional. I really didn't like the scene in the beginning when the clans started fighting with each other - it just started feeling like silly Dreamworks slapsticks at that point. Overall, I thought Brave was a good movie and better than a few other Pixar films, it just wasn't fantastic.

    And wow, I didn't know you liked La Luna so much. I thought it was cute and creative...but better than Toy Story 3 and Wall-E? I dunno about that XD

  4. Perhaps that was why I wasn't disappointed - I had never expected the sprawling epic adventure story from it. I guess that's a fair assumption based on the setting, but I didn't expect it. 

    I liked the silly clans, but you're right that they seemed like Dreamworks slapstick. There was room to do more with them, even alongside what they had. Perhaps the battle against the bear could have been made more extensive. 

    I'd definitely rather rewatch La Luna than either Toy Story 3 or Wall-E, both of which had flaws La Luna didn't - though of course it's really not comparing like for like and they have a depth and level of personification a short film without real dialogue cannot. I didn't say I think it's the BEST thing Pixar have done in an objective sense - only that it's my personal favourite. :)