Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Brave (Release Date: 6-22-2012)
Much has been made of Pixar finally turning to a female protagonist, but the path that our carrot-topped hero trots down is more than a bit familiar. Merida (Kelly McDonald) is not only a Scottish Princess, but also trouble-making free spirit. When her mother (Emma Thompson) decides that it’s time for her daughter to marry, Merida takes actions into her own hands, first embarrassing her suitors, then becoming mixed up with scorcery that quickly spirals out of control. If this description of a young, wily female struggling against both her mother and the cultural concerns that she represents sounds familiar, wait till you see the rest.
The, ‘Pixar Touch,’ is woefully lacking here, just about every aspect of the production starved for their normative ingenuity. Switching up the protagonist’s gender doesn’t really do anything when you’re essentially importing her from Tangled, Princess and the Frog, Aladdin, and any other princess cartoon you can recall. Her concerns are so commonplace, so unclouded by either complication or nuance (and, in some areas, even basic intelligence), that advertising this as a progressive move from the animators is just plain insulting. Fine, you added a lady to your collection; why did you add her?
And since when have Luxo Jr. and friends become so eager to outsource? Brave is directed by Mark Edwards and Brenda Chapman, only the second and third directors to be added to the Pixar stable since Brad Bird debuted with 2004’s The Incredibles (Toy Story 3’s Lee Ulrich is the other newbie). Their freshness (See: Inexperience) shows in nearly every frame, neglecting to gloss over their messier passages, instead letting their lack of attention to detail permeate the whole production. Perhaps even more disheartening, the standard Pixar Short that takes place in front of Brave isn’t even an in-house production: It’s last year’s Best Animated Short Nominee, La Luna, which is built in the likeness of a Pixar short, but looks and behaves nothing like one.
Look, I know I’m being hard, and Brave certainly isn’t the horrid kiddie fare that a lot of studios dump out mindlessly. It’s positively stunning to look at, the vast plains, textured animals, and, yes, that unruly maine of red hair, all causing jaws to drop. But this is a group of people who set an impossibly high bar for themselves, one that Brave comes no where close to clearing. In 2010, we were surprised to see Dreamworks finally give Pixar a run for their money with the wonderful How to Train Your Dragon. Last year, we lamented that Cars 2 seemed more like a cash-grab than a heartfelt artistic endeavor. And now this. I’m not ready to call them dead just yet, but consider this: once their next offering, Monsters University, is released, it will represent three sequels in their last four entries, with their one original movie wholly failing to live up to its billing. Brave is the most ironically named movie of 2012, a chicken, a dud, and the surest, saddest sign yet that these guys might have finally lost it.