Friday, June 15, 2012

Review: Bravo for Brave!

Anton Ego with a copy of The Art of Mars Needs Moms
The Wisdom of Pixar is honored by this special guest review of the Pixar film Brave by renowned critic Anton Ego. Although known primarily as a food critic, Ego has recently added a career as a film connoisseur.

Pixar. You, no doubt, have heard the name before? If not, please leave. Now that the educated among us remain, I may begin offering a little perspective. Fresh, clear, well-reasoned perspective on Pixar's latest film Brave.

It is no secret that I take filmmaking seriously and, no, I don't think anyone can do it, at least not well. Pixar is often the exception, despite their apparent slump among many critics as a result of their previous film Cars 2, which in the eyes of some downgraded the animation studio's five-star rating to four. But that is another story.

Fortunately for us, Pixar is not closing, is not experiencing financial trouble, has not announced Cars 3, and is not yet condemned to the tourist trade. Instead, it's come back with a rousing tale of courage, family, and adventure.

Brave is a story of a princess named Merida, but without all the requisite singing that usually accompanies such animated fairytales. Mothers and daughters, in particular, will appreciate the emphasis on the relationship between Merida and her mother, Queen Elinor, as well as the boldness of Merida--a strong leading female character.

Tension between Merida and Elinor offers insights familiar to parents. They want the best for their children and, at times, take matters too far when it comes to over planning the lives of their children. For their part, as they mature children often are at odds with their parents, wanting instead to become their own person.

Comic relief is found most often among Merida's young brothers--triplets eager to cause mischief, abscond with pilfered treats, and capable of assisting the princess as needed. Alas, the whittling witch is another story. Although she is played mostly for laughs, I found her character unconvincing, while her bird companion did little to add to her scene. And yet, I'm an old, curmudgeonly man, so I must point out that young children in the audience seemed delighted with the elderly woman and the bird. They probably delight in Mater, too.

Pixar at its best is known for crafting stories and characters that we care about. The brilliant Up comes to mind as an example, as does Finding Nemo. But shaping a story that seamlessly weaves into its tapestry moments of great emotion is far easier said than done. Brave, I'm afraid, appears to struggle if not stumble at times with such moments. For me, at any rate, a climactic scene meant to offer the peak of emotional connection with viewers fell somewhat flat. Dare I say, it seemed a bit forced?

As far as the technical accomplishments of Brave are concerned, they are, in a word, brilliant. Forest scenes, especially, are so convincing you will almost believe you are in the film, among the woods. From the remarkable animation of the wisps, to the smallest details of the character costumes, to the frightening Mor'du, Brave is a fine looking film.

One last point. Is Brave too scary for young children? That is not for me to decide. Much depends on the temperament of the child. I will say that Brave is no scarier than the dragon in Disney's 1959 film Sleeping Beauty or even aspects of 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Mor'du the bear is, to be sure, an intimidating sight to behold, but that is his purpose! How can anyone tell tales of good and evil without elements of fear? At any rate, Mor'du's "scary" scenes pass relatively quickly and, in the end, all is resolved well.

In closing, I don't "like" films, I love them. If I don't love them, I don't waste my time on them, and neither should you. Brave is far from being a waste of your time. It is beautiful to gaze upon, a musical delight to the ears, and offers enough story to keep Pixar "in the game" as the saying goes. Overall, Bravo for Brave!

Until next time, Pixar: You provide the film, I'll provide the perspective.

Anton Ego

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