The original working title of Pixar’s Brave, which hit theaters this weekend, was The Bear and the Bow. Losing that strong and memorable title for a buzz word is only the first hiccup and portends trouble to come in a pre-production schedule that was plagued by delays and disappointments. The most glaring and possibly damning of which was the outright firing of the screenwriter and first-for-Pixar woman director, Brenda Chapman.
Brave is a film I’ve been following for a long time. Even before the film was officially announced, I was following the rumor mills. I made a mental note of every bump in the road, every thinly-veiled, producer-ordered rewrite, every screen capture to leak into the public domain. This movie was to be Pixar’s first foray into the realm that Disney so handily dominates: the classic fairy tale, with a female protagonist, no less. This was an important film for Pixar. It was their attempt at showing the studio bigwigs that they can do what Disney has been doing for decades, and do it with critical and financial success, make a tent pole picture, create a new Disney princess. Even after all of the setbacks, unfortunate personnel issues, and studio interference, the movie managed to make it out of production limbo and on the big screen, and we were second in line at our local theater on release day to see it. It is, after all, still a Pixar film, and Pixar is still one of the most consistent movie studios on the planet. They release legitimately important entertainment, and their once-a-year output is a reason to celebrate cinema.
By now, I imagine that most people who would be interested in reading this blog have either already seen the film, or know enough about it to allow me to skip the minutia. In brief summary, though, Brave is a film about a strong heroine, a teenage girl named Merida, a Scottish lass and princess, who prefers the rugged outdoors and the thrill of the hunt to the prim and proper duties of female royalty foisted upon her by her seemingly overbearing mother. Her father, voiced by the incomparable Billy Connolly, the king of the Scots, is amused by her daughter’s fiery and rebellious nature, but her mother (Emma Thompson) wants to transform her into a leader, a woman whose mere presence commands respect. In short, she is training her to be a queen, like herself. That is your main character’s motivation, and the need to be an individual who makes her own decisions, drives her own fate, remains a constant theme throughout the film.
And… Some stuff happens, there’s conflict and the movie ends. Look, I really don’t want to spoil this film for anyone who hasn’t seen it. Yes, this is well-worn territory. If you’ve seen any Disney Princess film, especially those of more recent canon, you can probably write this movie in your head as it happens on the screen. I feel that part of movie going magic is knowing as little as possible about a film before actually seeing it. Knowing too much about the particulars of a film spoils it. It creates expectations. I’d rather not be the person to do that for you.
There will be few surprises in this plot, but the film isn’t about its intricate plot, it’s about effective storytelling, and Brave certainly continues to showcase the apparent fact that Pixar has perhaps the best writing stable in all of Hollywood. This is a tight story. No beat is wasted. Nothing is thrown away. And it’s compelling! This is no small feat, especially considering that aforementioned well-worn territory.
My verdict is that this is a good film. It works. The voice acting is impeccable, the scenery is lush, the editing is flawless and if I give you any expectation at all in this kind-of review, it should be that you should expect nothing less than a quality Pixar production. Production tribulations could not be more in the past. Brave is out, and it’s a must see for any fan of Disney or animation in general.
If you need any more reason to see this film, there are two pretty compelling supplements to tempt you from your money before the film. First, is the trailer for Wreck-It Ralph, a Disney Animation Studios film due out Thanksgiving weekend. It’s about a video game villain, in the vein of Donkey Kong (for the more video game savvy of you, he’s more akin to the monsters in the old arcade classic smash-em-up, Rampage), who one day decides to stop being a villain and living the same day over and over. He begins hopping from video game world to video game world, trying to become a hero. Obviously, chaos ensues, but this movie looks clever as Hell. This very well might be your Oscar winner this year, folks.
The second is Pixar’s most recent Oscar nominee for animated short, La Luna, which plays before the film. The story is very simple, so I won’t even tell you what it’s about. Any hint would ruin the story. It is magical, though. It’s a study in animated beauty. Your admission is worth it for these two things alone, and then you get a feature as a bonus. Who wouldn’t sign up for that?