Saturday, 20 July 2013

Review: Brave (2012)
Written 19/7/13

Pixar's progression over the past five or six years has been rather worrying. After producing hit after hit throughout the Noughties, culminating in the successive masterpieces of Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3. In 2011, however, the studio hit its first critical bomb with the horrid Cars 2, a blatant cash-grab movie which left me slightly shocked. Brave was the follow up to that and, while the studio is still nowhere near to reaching its former heights even in 2013, this folklorish tale of mother and daughter marks a change for Pixar in a number of different ways.
     Despite the dazzling beauty of their animation, the depth of their characterisation and the skill with which they meld messages for kids with those for adults, the studio's ingle biggest failing across its history has been the representation of women and minorities. Until Brave, the studio's films had all focussed on primarily male dyanmics - those of the father, the son, the... suspiciously male racing car. The fact that it took 17 years for a female protagonist is astounding, but Brave does not disappoint in the way it represents women, even if the rest of the plot is fundamentally lacklustre.
    Spoilers in this plot summary, so be careful. The story follows Scottish princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) in the early Medieval period, determined not to be driven by her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) into marrying one of the unattractive heirs of the other three Clans, believing that her life should be free. Going against her mother's wishes, she escapes the meeting of the Clans and meets an old witch (Julie Walters), who gives her a spell which inadvertantly turns her mother into a bear - dangerous in a land where the story of Merida's father fighting the bear Mor'du is legendary. The two are forced to reconcile their differences to save the day.
     Pixar is used to working with fundamentally non-human things, from stylised toys to Monsters. Different studios and animators tend to have their own signature styles when making Human beings, but Pixar have always mixed it up and so Brave has its own signature style. The humour feels slightly more Dreamworks (minus the pop cultural references) due to the antics of Merida's triplet brothers, and the plot feels similarly humdrum as well. As much as I think the characteriations in the film are well thought-through, it's hard to see mother/daughter reconciliation happening when the mother is in the form of a bear for half the god-damn film.
Bear with me for a second.
     As for the film's place in the world of feminist media... I don't know. A lot of the drama is about Merida fighting the traditional gender roles that are being forced upon her by her mother, so in that respect the film manages to pretty progressive. After about ten minutes though this opens up into a larger conflict about the nature of fate versus free will, stifling the film's civil message. It was nice to have women finally represented in Pixar's line-up after playing very minor roles in previous films as love interests, mothers or as device characters, but the film's setting still gave it a very male atmosphere and also meant that Merida and Elinor were still stuck in what is fundamentally an excessively patriarchal society.
     While certainly Brave in its pioneering representation of women in the studio's films, the film unfortunately offers very little in any other department to surprise the viewer. As a standard unthoughtful children's film it's perfectly fine - the skill of Pixar's animators is undenyable, with the film's gorgeous aesthetic and engrossing tone being its memorable aspect. But Pixar films tend to deliver in other departments as well, be they emotional or in the messages that they present. There's certainly a set of messages in Brave, but I think their story is too personal and not quite as identifiable as I think it wants to be, and that for me was the main reason that my praise wasn't as glowing.


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