Tuesday, June 26, 2012

JIMBO GOES TO THE MOVIES: "Brave" Review

Has Pixar rebounded from the underwhelming “Cars 2,” or does “Brave” officially make it two disappointments in a row from the House Buzz and Woody built ?


I can summarize the movie “Brave” for you in just one word: “bears.”

Lots of bears, actually. There probably hasn’t been this much per capita screen time for bears since “Grizzly Man,” only this one doesn’t have the added pleasure of watching some hippie nutso get eaten by a Kodiak at the very end.

There was a movie from 2003 - ironically, also released by Disney - called “Brother Bear.” It sucked. And if you’ve seen that movie, you’ve pretty much already seen “Brave.” Granted, the movies aren’t completely alike, but there’s enough commonalities between the two that you would get the gist of either film from watching just one of them.

I guess the first question anybody would ask going into a review of “Brave” is whether or not it’s better than the company’s last movie. Well, while “Brave” is mildly better than the absolute disaster that was “Cars 2,” it’s still one of Pixar’s most underwhelming offerings to date, and most definitely a far cry from their previous outstanding works, such as “Wall-E” and “Toy Story 3.”

Where to begin with this one? For starters, it’s much more of a “classical” Disney film than a Pixar release, having more in common with something like “The Princess and the Frog” than it does “Ratatouille” or “Up.” While the animation is nice, and the voice acting is mostly decent, the story in this one is very lacking and devoid of the nuance you’ve come to expect from the company’s films. For the most part, the characters are pretty flat and underdeveloped, with most of the cast serving as one-dimensional background noise. I really didn’t develop an emotional attachment to any of the characters in the flick, nor did I find a single figure in the film to be relatable, or even sympathetic. As far as characterizations go, this may very well be Pixar’s blandest, most generic picture to date.

When I say “Brave” is a basic premise for a film, I mean it. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a teenage princess, against her mother’s wishes, wants to break from tradition and be an independent woman. They bicker and argue while a bunch of inconsequential stuff happens in the background, before coming to accept the merits of each others wishes. Not exactly pioneering territory, is it?

Well, “Brave” does manage to turn that old chestnut into something of a new-ish idea: by transforming the mother figure into, quite literally, an unbearable presence.


So, yeah, as I was saying at the beginning of this review, bears. Lots and lots of bears. Half the goddamn cast of the movie turns into bears, Had Pixar been more forthright with the movie’s marketing, they probably should’ve just called the whole movie “A Shit Load of Bears and A Redheaded Chick.” It would have made more excited about the movie, anyway.

The main character, Merida, is your basic annoying teen stereotype, barring two exceptions: she’s pretty good at archery, and oh yeah, she’s a princess. Her family is royalty in some Scottish enclave, and the central plotline of the movie involves a series of rivaling clans battle for her hand in marriage. While her mother wants her to just go along with it, she decides to be all independent and whatnot by running away from home and striking up a deal with a hag in the woods for a quick-fix that “changes her mother.” Well, she changes all right…into a bruin with some decisively human-like tendencies. But of course, Merida only has two days to find a way to reverse the curse, or else her mom is going to be a bear for ALL OF ETERNITY. Making matters a little more problematic is that back home, all of the clans are still pummeling the hell out of each other, and apparently, everybody in Scotland has a major, major anti-bear bias. Now, I’m not saying that there’s any sort of unconscious, allegorical material going on here, but you might want to take note that there are zero black people to be found in the movie.

I guess you could say that the movie is basically what would happen if you merged “Braveheart,” “Terms of Endearment” and “The Country Bears” into a single narrative, but that makes “Brave” sound like a far more interesting picture than it really is. The dialogue in the film is especially grating, to the point that virtually every scene between Merida and her mother sounds something like this:

Merida: “Why won’t you let me life my OWN LIFE, MOM!”

Mother: “Because you have a sacred duty that you MUST UPHOLD!”

Merida: “But I DON’T WANT TO UPHOLD any secret duties, I WANT TO LIVE MY OWN DESTINY!”

Mother: “But this IS YOUR destiny, Merida! You must fulfill your duties!”

Merida: “But I don’t WANT TO!”

Mother: “BUT YOU MUST!

Merida: “BUT I DON’T WANNA!”

I’m not joking, folks, that’s pretty much every exchange the two characters have in the movie. It’s an annoying thematic that doesn’t even really go away even AFTER Merida’s mom turns into a grizzly, as the two keep sniping at each other over things like how to get back into the castle and how to fish for salmon.

The primary “villain” of the film is the absolute weakest I’ve ever seen in a Disney flick, a figure so underdeveloped that I guess the company threw him into the movie at the very least minute because the suits wanted some kind of clear-cut antagonist in the picture. His screen time is limited - which is probably for the best - but it’s still such a superfluous element of the film that I couldn’t help but find it distracting from the rest of the flick.

The biggest slight I have against the film, however, is the amount of crude humor in the flick. Believe it or not, there’s some pretty cheeky material in “Brave,” and by “cheeky,” I mean multiple jokes about men’s bare asses. There’s even a scene in which a toddler hops face first into the cleavage of a milk maid - really, the sort of cheap humor that you’d expect to find in something like “Monsters vs. Aliens” or “Megamind” as opposed to a freakin’ PIXAR release.

SPOILER: They turn into bears. Everything in this movie turns into a bear. If you watch it, your popcorn will probably turn into a bear. 

Clearly, “Brave” is a polarizing movie - like seemingly every other mainstream release to hit theaters so far this summer - with some viewers considering it one of the company’s best, and others deeming it one of Pixar’s least inspired offerings yet. While there are some good things to say about “Brave,” I’m definitely leaning  more towards the “it sorta’ sucked” camp, especially when compared to Pixar’s finer releases - or hell, even something like “Despicable Me” or “How to Train Your Dragon,” for that matter.

At this point, Pixar is beginning to remind me more and more of the recently retired MMA fighter Fedor Emelianenko. For a good decade, he was considered the industry’s absolute best, but following one failed performance, he quickly tail-spun into utter mediocrity. If “Cars 2” was Pixar’s equivalent of Fedor’s first major loss (which many people, at the time, considered a “fluke”), then Brave is most definitely comparable to Emelianenko’s follow-up fight - a disastrous performance which proved that the former “pound for pound best” was clearly past his prime.

And if the Fedor/Pixar analogy holds true…let’s just say “Monsters University” is going to be all sorts of painful to experience.

MY SCORE: C

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