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What Brave did right and what it could have done better

Posted by nightphoenix on June 29, 2012 in Input, Screen |

Like many, I went to see Brave this last weekend. It was an enjoyable movie, although I don’t think we will be taking our six-year-old. This is the child who decided that Arrietty was too scary; thus, I don’t see him coping well with the bear scenes. Some of those scared me a bit.

Warning: Spoilers

I’m going to paraphrase what I thought was the most spot-on review of the movie that I read: “Brave was a good Disney movie, but it wasn’t quite Pixar.”

Of course I never go go the movies anymore as a mere observer…I almost always have my writer’s cap on to some extent. And there were a lot of things that Brave did well. The key: I cared about the main characters. I noticed myself caring about the main characters (despite being able to predict pretty well what was going to happen) about halfway through and tried to analyze why, because this is where so many movies and books fall down. However one may feel about Disney and Disney characters, this is one thing that they have always done right. You care.

The comedic elements were perfect, although I wish they hadn’t given so many of them away in the trailers…Pixar is usually better about keeping those under wraps :( This is another area in which Disney excels…they know how to set up visual humor.

This may have also been (I’d have to check) the first time Disney has introduced a witch character that wasn’t downright evil. And her character was particularly interesting when laid out on a good-bad paradigm. The other characters, it was immediately obvious where they fell. Merida= protagonist. Mother= antagonist. Father= sidekick. Bear= villain. Triplets= comic relief. But although technically the witch did give Merida the means to screw things up, she wasn’t doing it because she liked causing chaos, or because of a grudge, or to teach a lesson…all the normal reasons Disney witches do their witchy things. She was absentminded. She simply forgot the critical piece of information, instead of holding it back out of spite.

Given the bad rap of most Disney witches, I call this an improvement.

However, I think what made this movie a good Disney flick but not quite a Pixar flick was that Pixar movies always have a certain…uniqueness, to them. The underlying themes are familiar, but the way in which the story unfolds is always two or three degrees separated from anything you’ve seen, and it never unfolds in quite the way you expect. The resolution is rarely exactly what you expect it to be. You knew Remy would overcome Anton Ego’s prejudice, but then that wasn’t the end. You knew Carl would get his house to the falls, but then that wasn’t the end. And so on.

Brave, on the other hand, sacrifices uniqueness for archetypes. And that’s something I expect of Disney: the reason their characters are so easy to care about is because they are crafted to resonate with something inside of us. But unfortunately, this makes them a bit less like actual people and more like symbols. We’ve all seen the spirited female, the overbearing mother, the good-natured but clueless father, and the buffoonish Scottish warrior personality. And there’s very little that’s been added to these characters to make them unique beyond their stereotypical beginnings.

The plot, also, was a tad too predictable for a Pixar movie, IMO. There was never a moment where I was genuinely unsure of what was about to happen next. Sitting there and accurately predicting everyone’s next move is like eating a single potato chip…enjoyable for a brief moment, but ultimately unsatisfying for the long haul. I mean, the moment they introduced the witch character, I knew exactly what kind of story this was, where it was going, and how it was going to end. The girl was going to use a spell on her mother, which would have unexpected results; she would then have to find a way to reverse the spell while simultaneously coming to the realization that she needs her mom.

The ending, especially, was disappointing in that I knew there was no way they were going to allow Merida’s mother to remain a bear. Knowing this, I was completely cut off from the actual emotional tension of the scene. I even found myself thinking, while I was watching, “You don’t need to agonize yet! You have to wait until the sun actually touches her! That’s how these kind of spells work!” Yes, I was touched by the thematic emotions that were happening, ie, Merida realizing how much she loves her mother. But the scene itself? Knowing how it was going to end killed it.

Plus…and I realize this may be something of a personal thing…I tend not to like stories where all the characters are essentially the same people as they were when the story began. At the beginning, Merida is a free spirit riding through the forest on her horse and shooting arrows. At the end…she’s a free spirit riding through the forest on her horse and shooting arrows…oh and she likes her mom a little better. Mom has loosened up, but there’s a sense that this isn’t something new for her; it’s something she used to be, and has rediscovered.

And all the other characters? It’s almost like the story never happened. There are surface differences, but there’s not that sense that they’ve become different people.

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