Though they may not have delivered a perfect movie, with Brave PIXAR have at the very least delivered a movie perfect for Sarah Palin’s proposed Mama Grizzlys. That may at first sound like something of a smart arse comment to those who have seen the film and something strongly out of left field for those who havn’t but I honestly believe it to be true. There has been something of a surge lately in strong female leads for little girls to look up too; princesses that aren’t passive petticoats whose only purpose is to be poisoned or perturbed but full fledged powerful protagonists of their own right. On paper Pixar’s Brave looked to be the latest in a line of these, but as always the prestigious studio set their sights a little higher and a little wider and took a shot at selling something much stranger and more subversive: a mother’s love.
See, all of these supposedly ‘feminist’ takes on the old fairytales still trod out the most damaging trope of them all; the evil stepmother. Look at Mirror, Mirror, Enchanted, Snow White and the Huntsman for obvious examples; you can have your good girl hero, but only if we get to balance the scales with a villainous depiction, the studios seem to be saying. There is more to female empowerment though than simply believing in yourself as equal to men, you also have to be able to see and support other women as equal to you; to empathize when you realize that they are people too. Who else but your mother could make this first evident to you? They are of course the original rolemodel for all young girls and hopefully the first empowered female that we all find in our lives. The importance and positive influence of the matriarchal model is, I guess, the main message at the core of Brave and given just how many father-son stories there are out there it’s bizzare to me that this maternal material is so utterly unique and yet it is unlike anything else that I have ever seen.
The Scottish setting of the film is similarly unique: the clan culture, wood carvings and circular castles of the ancient highlands make this spin on the familiar medieval tropes feel very fresh while on top of that introducing a brand new set of mythos all its own. To me it also evoked echoes of Macbeth, not in a literal sense but in spirit; the power struggle of the Thanes, the scheming in shadowy hallways and the rather tragic nature of this Scottish Film’s plot (in structure if not result, this is still a kids film) all bring to mind haunting memories of that Scottish play. Though I must say that visually it wasn’t very good, it was lacking the adverb for me, fine but not much more. What was shot – the red hair, the demon bear, the sprites, spirits and the eerie, teleporting henge of stones – was often stunning, but the way they shot it rarely raised it to that next special level. Computer animation allows complete control of composition and for once I don’t think Pixar were careful enough with their construction, perhaps because they’re no longer just Pixar.
Brave is very much indicative of the Disney Pixar merger to my mind; it is a brand new IP, and not just in name, but one that could easily fit in the famous Disney Princess mould. Similarly it seems torn between the powerful emotional ideas mentioned earlier and crass comedy; admittedly both are perfectly fine and theoretically both are Pixar traits but the execution here felt flawed and the cohesion forced. Though maybe this is just me looking for a conspiracy, for a scapegoat to blame my mere satisfaction upon. Regardless of the reason though the film ultimately feels uneven, that much is undeniable. It is inconsistent both tonally and narratatively: some moments will be too simple for adult audiences and others too complex for their children, it never quite manages to be everything for everyone like Pixar’s past efforts did. They fail to meet the partially unfair standard of perfection that they have set for themselves, Pariahs to their own past praise.
The primary place of blame seems to me to be the screenplay; the scene-by-scene scripting is fine but the overall story is just so scattershot. The stuff I spoke about earlier, the stuff I really liked, seems to be the central storyline but it is really only introduced midway through the movie and even then it never quite gets the film’s full attention. My colleague Filth felt that it was neccesary not to mention that stuff specifically in his review for the sake of spoilers, which is admirable, but if the premise is so hidden that it needs to be protected then that is a problem. Had the film focused on this single story and utilised the others as supports then I think it would have been so much stronger for it, instead we spend the whole time swinging our heads left and right from setting to setting wondering when the film is finally going to settle into one. None of which is to say that plots can’t be perplexing, P.T. Anderson is perhaps my favourite filmmaker and Prometheus rose out from under a similair issue for me only last week, but in this case the concept and construction do not handle the complexity well.
For a film so fascinated with the trappings of fate Brave seems to have fallen foe to its own. On the outside -literally, the film is bookended by these moments – it seems stuck in those stone-set story tropes and themes of the strong girl in the man’s world and the kid who just needs to be themself – a Disney/Dreamworks style feature for both better and worse – but deep inside there is something special, something that doesn’t fit the mould and that is what I wanted to see, but PIXAR were seemingly lead astray by the studio sent Will-‘o-the-Wisp’s. It’s a shame then that the filmmakers didn’t beleive in and stay true to themselves, that they weren’t a little more Brave. Perhaps the sequels and spin off DTV’s will do a little better.