Disney & Pixar Release Brave, Confirm Princesses Are Contrived

29 06 2012

Admittedly, I’ve never seen Cars or last year’s lackluster sequel *pauses for gasps* but it seems tradition demands that we equate a pretty good Pixar film with HOLY FUCKING SHIT THIS MOVIE IS HITLER. Let’s be honest here. No hot streak is without an inevitable end. Then again, this is its thirteenth feature release… *pauses for Lamashtu to devour souls*

Centuries ago, in an age when “women’s rights” were as advanced as domesticated cat labor reform, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) offer up their only daughter, Merida (Kelly Macdonald), for an arranged marriage with a suitor from one of three neighboring clans. Unfortunately, the obstinate princess pwns all three n00bs in an archery contest, claiming some mumbo jumbo about having a say in who she marries. I think. To be honest, I had a hard time hearing over my own laughter. Queen Elinor, in all her overbearingness, will hear none of this hogwash about independence and free thought, and so Merida runs away where she encounters a witch (Julie Walters) who agrees to grant her a single spell. Naturally, Merida wishes that her mother would change, a decision that obviously comes back to royally bite her in the arse. And now, an overwrought montage with song.


It’s tough to get into any real discussion of this without revealing exactly how Merida’s mother changes, so yeah, spoilers n’ junk now: Queen Elinor turns into a bear. Like an actual bear, which is possibly a physical manifestation of her internal temperament, but also possibly a sign I’m over analyzing this thing. As weird a twist as it is, I appreciated Brenda Chapman’s story here because it reveals what was deceptively marketed as a sprawling adventure story to be a very intimate one: girl wants to be a boy, mom wants girl to stay a girl. At its core, Brave focuses on this mother-daughter relationship, a definite win for the ladies but a bummer for any boyfriends who just wanted to see The Avengers one more time.

Brave certainly hits all the expected beats, but that’s the problem: it feels obligated to be something it isn’t. Fault my love-hate relationship with Disney, but I’m tempted to blame the Mouse House for this color-by-numbers arc, even if Chapman and co-directors Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell used a Deluxe 120 Crayon pack to do so. It’s tough to hate the visuals in this as they definitely set a benchmark for Pixar animation standards. Especially the hair. Oh God, the hair! The choice of three directors over the riskier option of maybe just one resulted in contributions getting shuffled throughout production. So feel free to make a clever analogy about too many chefs in the pantry or however that expression goes.

I haven’t mentioned the importance of Brave‘s presumed antagonist, the ursine mammoth Mor’du, precisely because he just isn’t all that important to the story. He is, however, instrumental in showing where the film goes wrong. Mor’du — probably Gaelic for “gimmick” — interrupts a birthday celebration before the main title card even hits, taking King Fergus’ right leg as well as the audience by surprise. Then, he just kind of disappears for an hour. So when he rears his big ugly head again in the third act, it’s hard to tell if Mor’du is a vital piece of the story or a furred proxy for “Chekhov’s gun.” The quality of thought in each element is scatter-shot, and more often than not, the story trips over itself by explaining more than it needs to. Rather than showing, Brave tells, quite literally in the case of its denouement, which amounts to the dialogue equivalent of ‘I’ve developed as a character because I’ve developed as a character.’ The emphasis on spelling things out so blatantly feels ironic for the same studio that did such wonders with the dialogue lite Wall-E, but now I’m just making cheap shots here.

Since it’s worth looking back at Pixar Studios’ tome of past accomplishments (and since all Pixar reviews require romanticizing), Brave is more A Bug’s Life than The Incredibles, but there’s nothing wrong with that, unless you’re one of those ant racists or something. It’s disappointing that so much effort was put into amazing visuals at the cost of a story that amounts to a Brother Bear/Mulan cross-promotion, but a few hiccups were bound to happen eventually.

Along with the slack-jawed croonings of Randy Newman, one of the original Toy Story’s strengths was its fully-fleshed out world, both within and outside of Andy’s room. Was Mr. Spell an integral peg in strengthening Woody and Buzz’s cherished friendship? No, but you can bet your behind he was important in that plastic corrosion awareness meeting. Mr. Spell felt appropriate while simultaneously fitting into the larger ‘toy world’ Lasseter & Co. had crafted. Merida’s three ginger brothers, as cute and gingery as they are, remain nothing more than that. They’re a series of prat falls, visual gags on pale toddler ass.

I guess all I’m saying is thank you, Mr. Spell.

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