Something seems wrong at Pixar. Or at least something changed. The miracle studio that lined up crowd-pleasers and critical darlings and box office smashes like clockwork for well over a decade seems to be in a bit of a creative crisis. Their films are still insanely profitable but the quality seems to have dipped considerably with their last two films. I have not seen “Cars 2” primarily because no one had anything good to say about it, so I didn’t want to tarnish this image of Pixar perfection I had in my head.
But their latest film “Brave” had an intriguing premise and even though it didn’t receive glowing reviews like the studio’s usual outings it still seemed decent enough. I kind of hoped maybe it’s a different kind of Pixar film that some people just didn’t get, but it wasn’t. In fact when story is concerned it’s their most “formulaic” film as it follows a very simple and familiar narrative. But that’s not the main problem of the film - the problem is the riddle.
In my opinion the core flaw of this film is that it relies on the old plot gimmick of having the solution to the central problem of our main character be hidden in a cryptic riddle. It is a familiar and quite harmless plot device that was used in many other films, a riddle that the character must spend the majority of the film trying to solve in order to obtain whatever she seeks or needs. This plot device itself is not the problem of “Brave” though; the problem is the fact that the solution to this “riddle” is obvious the minute it is uttered. That is, to everyone but the characters on the screen. For me this caused a disconnection from the film’s story and the characters because the film turned in to a waiting game for those characters to catch up with me. I simply wasn’t invested in what they were doing anymore. And this was also the first time that I felt like a Pixar movie treated me as a dummy (which is a regular occurrence with animated films from other studios).
So now we have to spend the rest of the film watching these characters stumble from one wrong solution to the next until they finally realize what the audience has known all along. And since this is a Disney movie we already know from the get go that it will all end well, and when you add to that the knowledge of HOW it just makes the film unnecessarily obtuse and even a bit of a chore to watch. But worst of all this completely deflates the ending that is supposed to be cathartic and instead makes it look like it’s just trying way too hard.
It was heartbreaking for me to watch this because Pixar films are usually so well crafted on the storytelling front that you could never predict with certainty which turn the story will take next. And “Brave” is the exact opposite, making it feel like it doesn’t belong in the great studio’s repertoire.
However this does not mean that this is a flat out bad film. The first half of “Brave” still works quite well, and the film has a great and colorful design and a great sense of humor. Then there’s the wonderful voice cast and the animation which may be Pixar’s best to date. The film just looks spectacular and there is a wholesome theme about mothers and daughters at the heart of it. But as a whole “Brave” is just disappointing and well below of what we’re used to get from Pixar. I hope that it’s not a sign of things to come.
Kelly Macdonald - Merida
Billy Connolly - Fergus
Emma Thompson - Elinor
Julie Walters - The Witch
Brave on IMDb