I loved La Luna.
That’s a weird thing to preface a review about Pixar’s latest feature, Brave, but the short that preceded the film was far better than the film itself. Not that Brave is that bad: it’s just that Pixar has already set the bar so high that at some point, they’re bound to produce something that doesn’t reach it. For me, Brave is the first of their stories that doesn't quite make it.
Brave is the story of Merida, a teenage Scottish princess, who is at odds with her mother the queen. Instead of sewing, cooking, and doing courtly things as her mother instructs her to, Merida wants to ride her Clydesdale, shoot arrows, and fight bears. Eventually, she finds out that as princess, she’s expected to do her duty, to accept her “fate” to be married off to the eldest son of one of the other Scottish clans.
Of course, she’d rather not.
While I applaud the fact that this is the first female Pixar protagonist, and a relatively good role model for kids, I just couldn’t get into the movie as easily as their previous offerings. Even the lesser Pixar films, like Cars or A Bug’s Life, are fun romps, but Brave doesn’t really feel like it has a strong concept at its core. It feels as if I’ve seen this movie before.
I totally expected to like the movie when I saw the teasers. I was thinking that Pixar was going to do a PG version of Braveheart, complete with claymores, face paint and kilts. Finding out that it was more Katherine Heigl then Mel Gibson… well, that killed my geekgasm dead.
It doesn’t help that the story feels a lot like another Disney movie, Brother Bear. That film came out back in 2003 and it was about a Native American who kills a bear, and then is magically changed into a bear himself in order to teach him that revenge is bad. In Brave, however, Merida gets pissed at her mom who is then magically changed into a bear in order for them to learn that arguing is bad. See what I mean?
I have to wonder where that amazing story process that occurs before any Pixar movie gets the green light went and why no one flagged the similarities before they moved forward. I also wonder if it’s the reason that Brenda Chapman (The Prince of Egypt) left as director and let Mark Andrews (second unit director of John Carter) take over.
I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.
Maybe it’s like how Adventure Time appeals to guys of a certain age or how boys “get” Toy Story more than girls: maybe you need to be a girl who’s gone through this stuff to really appreciate the movie. Or maybe it’s like Roger Ebert says, maybe I was just expecting another “Pixar groundbreaker”.
Of course, that said, Pixar still does a stellar job on the technical aspects of the movie. The backgrounds are amazing, the simulations are insanely unnoticeable (Merida’s hair and the water running over rocks are big “wow” moments for me), and the animation puts most other CGI companies to shame. Dreamworks? Pft. Sony Pictures Animation? Sh’yeah right. Warner Bros. Animation? Monkeys out of my butt.
Let me be clear: this is a good movie. While the film does feel like a compromise between the in-your-face creativity that Pixar’s always exhibited and Disney’s formulaic recipe for merchandising gold, it still does entertain. Even their clunkers still make people happy. That’s more than can be said of the other companies (ahem! Shark’s Tale!).
People at Pixar may poop just like the rest of us, but when they do, they poop rainbows.