Directed by: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell
Written by: Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi, Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell
Starring: Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Kelly Macdonald
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 100 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In Scotland, King Fergus of Clan DunBroch presents his young daughter Merida with a bow for her birthday. Just after Merida encounters some will-o’-the wisps, Mor’du, a giant demon bear, attacks the family. Merida escapes along with her mother Queen Elinor while Fergus fights off the bear at the cost of his left leg. Years later, Elinor has given birth to identical triplet boys and Merida has become a free-spirited teenager. Her mother informs her she is to be betrothed to the first-born son of one of the heads of her father’s allied clans, and that her failure to marry could harm the Kingdom. When Merida declares she is also eligible to compete for her own hand in the Highland Games, Merida and Elinor fall out. After damaging the family tapestry, Merida flees into the woods. There, the will-o’-the-wisp she met as a child lead her to a witch who offers to help change Merida’s mother’s mind…..
If you’re someone who has read quite a lot of my attempts at reviews, you’re know that I have no shame in going against the grain; the Christopher Nolan Batman films being a good example [vastly overrated]. And so it goes for much of Pixar, the computer animation studio that was a darling of film critics for a long time even though fine work was coming out of rival outfits like Dreamworks and Blue Sky which was usually ignored or dismissed. Toy Story 3 was praised to the skies but I couldn’t see any more than a [still pretty good] rehash of the first two movies in the series. Cars 2 received the worst notices a Pixar film has ever had, but I saw a thrilling and clever action movie that was never dull for a minute. Then again, Cars wasn’t too liked either, so maybe critics have something against cars with eyes? The general opinion of Brave seems to be that it’s a considerable step up from Cars 2 if not quite in Pixar’s top league [their masterpieces to me are Up and Ratatouille]. All I can say in answer to that is, did all these reviewers see a different film to me?
Now Brave is certainly not a poor film, but is a considerably messy one and, worse for a studio whose work often has considerable originality, a highly derivative one too. It was originally planned in 2008 with the title The Bear And The Bow and there seems to have been considerable creative arguments. Sadly, this shows in the final film. The main aim seems to have been to make a more conventionally ‘Disney’ film replete with slight twists of many of the elements you expect from a ‘classic’ Disney fairytale-based picture, but much of the story just comes across as a cross between Mulan and Brother Bear in Scotland. Brave never really escapes the feeling of déjà vu except in a few scattered scenes [the highly atmospheric scenes involving the will-o’-the-wisps, for example]. Even many of its gags are second-hand; the splitting of an arrow by another, for example, nothing new to anyone who is familiar with a certain archer from Sherwood Forest. And how many heroines have we seen struggling with corsets?
The first third of Brave is nonetheless highly entertaining with some good laughs and some well written scenes, though I can’t get out of my head the idea that Merida is a spoilt little brat. Of course she is yet another of these tough, independent heroines who is as tough as the boys and rebels against convention, but this film seems to take the concept to almost dislikeable extremes, unlike, say, Katniss from The Hunger Games [which seems to have, perhaps indirectly, influenced this film], whom you like right from the offset. Still, there are some great sequences like a meeting to present Merida’s suitors which turns into a brawl. Later on, there is a fabulous set piece which combines excitement and comedy brilliantly, a chase around a castle involving a bear which is full of great gags and, though long, never runs out of steam. By then though, the plot has got somewhat confused, and it gets worse with poor concepts, lack of dramatic focus and just, it seems, laziness. For example, the possibly villainous Witch in the story just disappears, and surely they could have thought up a better way to save the kingdom than repairing a tapestry?
No, the story doesn’t really work except when it focuses on the mother/ daughter relationship, which is the emotional heart of the film and allows for some moments which are quite touching. Character-wise the film is actually dominated by Billy Connelly, in a role which really allows him to enjoy himself, as Merida’s father Fergus. He has many great little moments and a few laugh out loud ones, though overall the humour has a tendency to degenerate into slapstick violence. Nothing wrong with that, but I missed the gentler humour of earlier Pixar films, though scenes involving three small kids turned into bears will stay in my mind and make me chuckle for some time. At times Brave is, well, brave enough to delve into somewhat darker waters than Pixar usually do and I almost wanted the whole film to have the feel of the will-o’-the wisp and ‘serious’ bear scenes. In a film which seems to promise lots of action but doesn’t really deliver on that promise, there is some vivid bear action, sometimes involving two bears, which may scare some young kiddies but bothered me more because I couldn’t always see what was going on.
Yes, the trend for cutting ridiculously fast has hit the animated movie [it’ll be shakycam next], and I am so glad I didn’t see this in that pointless gimmick called 3D [something I rarely bother doing now]. Elsewhere, Brave is a technical triumph and even a marvel. Pixar re-wrote their software for the first time in 25 years for this film and it shows in the simply astounding detail [you even see some backgrounds out of focus!]. 3D or not, I felt I could reach out and touch Merida’s gorgeous red hair, and the water, which until relatively recently was something that was a bit of a problem for animation [ at least in terms of realistic water], looks simply astounding. Nor have you probably ever seen Scotland as beautifully evoked as this. The score by Patrick Doyle, which employs a variety of old Scottish musical instruments, is very good and even the songs both sound appropriate to the film and add to it. Not every technical aspect works well though; Merida using the same expression over and over again becomes tiresome, and what’s with all the men looking so ugly and all the women looking so pretty?
This review has been more negative than positive, and yet Brave is not bad, it’s just misguided and muddled. Great work has obviously been put into it and it certainly isn’t unenjoyable. The story is told at a decent [fast, but not too fast] pace and it’s never boring. There’s no getting away from it though that it’s a disappointment and feels like remixed Disney; there’s even somebody saying “follow your heart”. By the end, it’s heroine has failed to learn anything, and neither will much of the audience from a film which exists in the world of Celtic mythology but seems content to skirt around the edges of it. The Lorax was better than this….by quite a bit.