Remember when the Pixar brand name meant a must-see viewing experience? When it meant you were going to see an unforgettable, breathtaking film with bold, innovative storytelling, and unique, compelling characters? Apparently that all ended sometime in 2010. I suppose it was only a matter of time before the creative talent got complacent and subconsciously rest on their laurels; for the past two years, Pixar has failed to clear the incredibly high bar that was established by their earlier films. Don’t get me wrong, “Brave” is a fine film. But of you go in with great expectations, like I did, then you might leave feeling a bit disappointed.
It is a shame that a movie dedicated to one of its co-founders, the legendary Steve Jobs, turned out to be so unoriginal, uninspired, uncharismatic, and not taking any risks – all the qualities that Jobs did not possess. Let’s begin with the cast. For the most part, they are unremarkable. Even worse, there is little to no character growth or development. Sure the story is about a mother and daughter bonding, but beyond those, no one else gets a chance to develop character growth, or better still, even have any sort of character or personality. The three little brothers are completely interchangeable. I’m not asking them to be Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, but heck, even Huey, Dewey, and Louie, were distinguishable and had their own personalities. Speaking of color pallet swaps, the three rival clans do not differentiate from one another. There is no reason to remember the clans’ names – I feel like Ed’s father in Cowboy Bebop trying to remember his assistant’s name. They are so trivial, I had to look up these names. (For all you non-Disnoids, the triplets are Triplets, Harris, Hubert, and Hamish, and the clan names are Macintosh, MacGuffin, and Dingwall.) The suitors for Merida have just one memorable trait – they all suck at archery. Maybe they are vapid, stupid, and have the intelligence and personalities of a bag or rocks. Or they could be brilliant, charming and worthy of Merida’s affections. We’ll never know – they never get a chance. In fact the only character in this film I cared about because he had a personality, was the crow – and he’s only in the film for one scene!*
As far as having a female protagonist… well it’s about time! Besides, Hayao Miyazaki had been casting female leads in action movies for nearly 28 years. (Speaking of which, I will feature a Miyazaki film in my next “Anime for Beginners” series in the near future.) And I have no qualms with Merida. She is a fine heroine who more than holds her own when compared with the other Disney princesses. Pixar has had a bevy of strong, independent female characters in supporting or co-starring roles. So I just don’t give any bonus points to Pixar for finally placing one as the main character.
Back to Miyazaki references – the wise woman/wood-carver/witch reminded me of Yubaba and Zeniba – the twin witches of “Spirited Away.” Don’t believe me, see for yourself.
Before you think I’m all negative, let me tell you what went right for this movie. The animation, is top-notch, and Pixar is still the top dog in the Digital Animation industry. It is a visual masterpiece. The voice acting was also superb. I shouldn’t give kudos for actually casting Scottish people for a film that supposed to be set in Scotland. But if you have a hard time understanding the Scottish dialect, rest assured that it is authentic. (I wonder how the foreign markets will try to dub this.) The musical score was outstanding. And I really enjoyed how the movie was storyboarded. In other words, all of the technical aspects were grade “A” quality. It comes down to characters and plot. Those used to be the two pillars to Pixar’s strength. They seem to be their new Achilles heel. Why do I get the feeling Disney asked Pixar to produce an old Studio Ghibli feature instead of an old Pixar feature? My Grade: (a reluctant, red-headed) B-.
* The crow comes back in the post-credits scene. So it’s technically 2 scenes. The coda is why he steals the movie for me.
- Movie Review: ‘Brave’ (pinkisthenewblog.com)