This movie is complicated.
It’s been complicated from the beginning, of course. Anyone who keeps up with the antics of Disney, Pixar, or the animation world as a whole has been hearing about this movie for years. Really, even if you’re not obsessively media savvy, there’s a good chance you’ve probably been hearing about it a lot, at least within the last few months. The hype surrounding the film was not exactly unparalleled, but definitely aggressive. Disney, in typical Disney fashion, made damn sure you knew about this movie, whether you were interested or not. I have yet to find a person, in any demographic, who doesn’t know what Brave is.
To say that the film had a lot to live up to is a bit of an understatement. For all their brilliance, Pixar is well known for being something of a “boys club”, using almost exclusively male protagonists, characters, directors, and writers. Brave was designed from the very beginning to break this mold. Its original director, Brenda Chapman, was set up to be the studio’s first female director, and its protagonist, Merida, their first female protagonist. It was also the studio’s first epic fairy tale, a genre that is surprisingly difficult to get right. It was an ambitious project straight from the onset, but if any studio deserves the trust of the movie-going public, it would have to be Pixar. After all, this is a studio that managed to produce compelling stories with settings spanning from a little boy’s bedroom to deep space in the distant future. Surely they could produce a truly brilliant epic fantasy story with a strong, female protagonist that would move us in that typical Pixar fashion.
What followed, however, was a series of production problems in which Brenda Chapman was replaced by Mark Andrews, and the story and tone underwent a significant amount of revision. Although Brenda Chapman is still credited with ultimately creating the story, the final film has four different screenwriters, and unlike in most Pixar films, it definitely shows.
Make no mistake, Brave is an extremely good movie. It is beautifully animated, with unique, interesting character designs and outrageously gorgeous cinematography. Its sweeping, Celtic score adds a rich, mystical flavor rarely seen in typical children’s films, and is well worth just listening to on its own. It’s story, though inherently flawed, has a lot of fun, intriguing moments, and a genuinely surprising twist to it. A special mention should go out to the animators who worked on Merida’s hair, which successfully managed to be a character unto itself without being overly distracting.
Unfortunately, and I do say this with a significant degree of sadness, it is ultimately in its story that the film starts to fall apart. This is clearly a story told by many different people who can’t seem to agree on what kind of story it is they want to be telling. Is it a story about responsibility? Is it about freedom? Is it, as the tagline implies, about fate? Is it about the role of women in pre-medieval Celtic society? Is it about archery? Bears? Magic? Witches? Politics, even?
We may never know. The film touches on all of these subjects, but unfortunately fails to develop any of them. There are a million different things happening here, interesting characters and intriguing and imaginative story ideas, but despite the film’s truly commendable efforts, they remain nothing more than just that, ideas. There is potential practically dripping from every frame of this film, and almost none of it gets realized. It’s as if the writers simply never moved past the brainstorming process, and rather than narrowing down their ideas, they just threw all of them into one story, and tried to make it coherent.
For a studio like Pixar, which has managed to produce some of the greatest, most solidly told stories in the whole of the family film genre, these problems are disappointing. As a fan of theirs from the beginning, particularly of their writing, it is distressing. But mainly, as a female animation fan who has, for so very long, been lying in wait for Pixar to tell one of their brilliant, moving stories about a person of my own gender, it is frustratingly depressing to have it finally be given to me, and have it be anything less than great.
That being said, parents should take their kids to see this movie. Given the choice between this, and Madagascar 3, this is decidedly the stronger film. While it’s true that it is in no way everything the world ever wanted it to be, it is still a damn good movie. Somewhere, hidden inside the millions of jumbled, underdeveloped elements at work, is the film that I desperately wanted to see, and as disappointing as it is to not see it fully realized, it is, in a way, nice to see the hints.
- Nelly Nickerson
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Julie Walters, Billy Connolly, and Emma Thompson.
Directors: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Producer: Katherine Sarafian
Screenplay: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, and Irene Mecchi