Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Brave - What Works and What Doesn't

There are a lot of mixed reviews going around on the internet about Brave. Some people love it, praising the film for its strong female protagonist, something that’s new for Pixar. Others dislike it, saying that it’s not what they expected, and that it’s on par with “disappointing” Pixar efforts like Cars and Cars 2. Brave has had buzz around it since it was released that Pixar has hired on a female director for their new film The Bear and the Bow. Things happened behind scenes, and though we don’t know all, it’s clear that the female director was replaced when she could no longer closely work with the film; and that one of the changes was that the film was supposed to be for the majority in snow. Behind the scenes flukes aside, in my humble opinion Brave turned out well, but it also turned out to be a very different Pixar film.

What Brave did right:

For the first time in Pixar history (over a decade of fantastic film making), the company has produced a film with a female protagonist. This is exciting news, as I remember a few years ago when Up came out, the only complaint being whispered among the masses was “yet another Pixar film where the male gets to go out on the grand adventure.” In Brave, not only 1, but 2 females are able to go on an adventure, discover themselves, and fight for what they think is right. Regardless of how far these two females travel from home, their adventure is large none-the-less, and they grow to understand another along the way (no so different from the two males in Up!).
I really enjoyed seeing a female being the fighter in this film. No, it’s not the first of its kind (uhm, Mulan, much?), but it sure is nice to see that Pixar doesn’t have to always let the male have all the fun. Hopefully, they continue this pattern, rather than retreating back to their comfort zone.
What also was a refreshing change of course was that the female lead wasn’t interested in a boy. In fact, much like the trailer revealed, she was getting men thrown at her, and she was refusing them! I’m not trying to say that love is irrelevant, but romantic love has been explored multiple times in every female-oriented animated film. It was nice, for a change, to see the love between a mother and daughter explored.
However, though Brave did a lot of things right, there were a few things that didn’t gel well throughout the story for me.

What Brave did wrong:

I’m not saying that Brave is a bad film at all, on the contrary it seems that I’m one of the very few people who went skeptical going into it, and came out all smiles. Though the film was pleasant, funny, and well done all around, there was one thing that struck me as odd throughout the whole movie, which were its blatant parallels to other Disney Princess movies.
There may be some spoilers, so be cautious reading ahead.
The first parallel that came to mind immediately was when Merida fond the witch’s house, and begged her for a spell to change her fate. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel wanders off to the sea witch and begs her for a spell to be human. Or how about a fairy Godmother that grants Cinderella’s one wish to go to the ball, and change her fate forever? Though the witch in Brave is not as evil and intimidating as Ariel’s and not as willing as Cinderella’s, Merida still is asking for a spell from a witch, so she can disobey her parents’ wishes, and not marry the suitors they have chosen for her.
And what would be a spell without a curfew? Ariel had "X" amount of days to get the prince to fall in love with her before she was turned back into a mermaid and her voice was Ursula’s forever. Cinderella only had her fancy clothes until midnight. Why, even the Beast in Beauty and the Beast could only reverse his spell as long as the rose had its petals. So of course Merida’s spell had some time-limit to reverse.
Then there’s the big parallel to Beauty and the Beast in the end. [Very big spoilers ahead]. When the second sun rises, and Merida’s mother has yet to be turned back to a human from a bear, Merida hugs her mother and cries. Then just before the sun touches her beautiful red hair, she whispers “I love you,” and poof! The mother is now human again!
Let’s jump back to twenty years ago when an unfinished Beauty and the Beast was shown to a crowd at a New York film festival. Not yet in color, Belle leans over her dying Beast as the last rose petal threatens to drop from its stem. She cries, giving up, and whispers “I love you.” Then, a pause.The petal drops. Is he dead? And just like magic, sparks starts falling from the sky and poof! Beast is now human again! Standing ovation, what a spectacular ending!
Can you tell me those endings aren’t one in the same? Tears had been unwillingly spilling down my face until I heard those words Merida whispered. Utter disappointment washed over me and immediately the tears stopped. I had seen this ending before.

[Spoilers gone, you may read again!]. So this is where Brave went wrong. Though it was well written, fascinating, and an overall heart-warming tale about mother-daughter relationships, it was not original in structure. It’s disappointing that this film parallels so many classic Disney Princess movies so closely, but it’s a formula that’s known to work. And it’s not like Pixar isn’t privy to using well-known formulas, it’s just that this one is too well known.

So if you liked Brave, but there’s something that felt slightly off, and you just can’t quite pin down what it was, this could possibly be it. I know everyone has their opinions, so maybe yours is different than mine. All I know is that this aspect of Brave kept it from being 100% fresh for me.

Brave: 3.5/5