Saturday, June 23, 2012

Movie Review: Brave

As I write this, Brave's at 74% Fresh, with almost all precincts reporting. The 2010 film, How to Train Your Dragon is at 98%. What the hell is wrong with people?

Okay, let's start with this: Brave isn't a perfect film, nor is it on par with most of Pixar's work. This isn't the next Incredibles, Toy Story 2, Up, or Finding Nemo. Those were damn near flawless creations, and this is not.

But it's good. Really good. Brave is better than How to Train Your Dragon, and it deserves a hell of lot better than a tepid 74%. And I can't help wondering if Brave is taking heat for what it is or for what it's not.

Let's get this out of the way. Brave is a comedy, not a drama with comedic elements (Up) or an action movie with humor (The Incredibles) or a love story (Wall-E). It's a comedy about female empowerment, a mother-daughter relationship, and balancing tradition with finding one's own way.

And it's a kid's movie. More specifically, it's a movie made for young girls. This doesn't mean your son isn't going to love it, too, but the movie was constructed to play into girls' interests. You know, the way every other CG movie that's ever been made has been made for boys or men.

Merida is a princess, but I wouldn't call this "a princess movie," nor would I call it a fairy tale. Sure, there are echoes of Sleeping Beauty here and there, but I suspect The Jungle Book was a larger influence. A central plot point involves Merida's parents wanting her to marry a suitor from one of the other clans, and the movie never so much as introduces a love interest (this is a good thing, incidentally).

Most of the thematic elements are less complex than we're used to from Pixar and you don't have to look deep. You don't have to, but you probably should: there are some other ideas the movie plays with that aren't aimed at kids. None are subversive or inappropriate, but this movie has more to say on gender than a girl shooting arrows. While the kids are distracted by the admittedly tedious speeches about finding one's destiny, you'd do well to pay attention to Merida's mother and the power she wields. The film's last (and really only) fight sequence explores this on a very primal level, delving into the concept of strength in a surprisingly subtle way. It'll go right over the kid's heads - and apparently the critics', too - but it's worth giving some thought to what's going on there.

The movie's driven more by its jokes than anything else, so it's a good thing the humor's solid. Well, most of it is: there are a few cringe-inducing sequences with Merida's mother in denial of her... unfortunate situation. But other than that, the gags are entertaining. Yeah, it's mainly slapstick, but it's good slapstick.

So, what's with the relatively low rating? Are critics punishing Brave for being about mothers and daughters instead of fathers and sons? I wish I could dismiss this as paranoid, but I think there's a case to be made that in deviating from what critics are used to, Pixar may have lost some of them. Others may be irritated that Brave's a comedy and not the darker adventure the trailers hinted at. And I suspect a few have expectations for Pixar movies that are just too high to realistically be appeased.

Like I said before, this isn't a perfect movie. But it is a great animated comedy for boys and (especially) girls. And also for adults who can sit back and accept it for what it is. Yeah, I want another Incredibles, too. I want a badass female-driven action fantasy. And this is something different. That doesn't mean it's bad.

In fact, one of the movie's strengths lies in the fact it breaks Pixar's model. I love Pixar's work as much as anyone, but let's face it: the company's movies have started to feel eerily similar. This is mold breaking; it has a different voice and a different feel. That alone is reason to celebrate.

Don't listen to anyone claiming this is another critical failure on the heels of Cars 2: it's not. It's a great little animated movie with good jokes and a new point of view. Yeah, the messages are cliche and the movie skews young, but that's the case with ninety percent of animated movies that get made, including the overrated How to Train Your Dragon.

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