If we learned anything from the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games it’s that cliché can be cool. Played big with energy and a few twists you can breathe life into deflated tropes and make the old and tired into something new and enjoyable.
And the surprise that comes from defying initial expectations only adds to the fun. For a fleeting moment I genuinely believed Bond was going to bed the Queen.
So as a Scottish person going to see Brave I was hesitant. I knew I was going to see jokes about kilts, jokes about haggis, jokes about drunken, small-minded xenophobes. (They didn’t quite do that last part but they tick all the Celtic clichés otherwise.)
All that tartan tat dominates the first third of the film. It’s not offensive but they lack energy and fail to twist the predictable punchlines. Yes, when the fat man lifts up his kilt it’s funny. That’s always funny. That’s just biology. But it’s no funnier than the previous million kilt gags. It’s fine, if unimaginative. Which for a Pixar film is a damning comment.
The first act runs on autopilot like it was made using Microsoft Office’s Run Animated Film Wizard. All the essentials in setting up plot and character are there but very little is engaging.
WALL-E‘s breakthrough was the realistic framing and positioning of the camera as if held and operated by someone in the world filming two little robots fall in love. Brave instead opts for the unnatural, digitised camera movements set permanently to List Slightly Up And To The Right Just Because. Another default setting in the Run Animated Film Wizard is Make Dramatic Landscapes Boring Somehow.
I don’t want to blame the constant detachment squarely on the directors. Only because Steve Purcell is co-director. He made Sam & Max. I’m biased. So biased. Can’t criticise… But maybe… It’s… Poor direction.
Now Brave is a fairytale. A first for Pixar but not for partners Disney who, according to what I’m reading on their Wikipedia page, dabbled such tales to break up the monotony of the relentless furry cartoons. Perhaps this film was more for the young kids and not a mid-twenties, faux intellectualist. Fairytales tend to start boring. Brave spends too long in the boring beginning of an otherwise heart-warming story.
Young Merida (voiced by sexy purrs Kelly Macdonald) wants to deny her royal duties as Princess and live a free life. This threatens both the stability of the kingdom and her relationship with her mother, the Queen (voiced by the dignified Emma Thompson). All other characters are plaid dressing.
This is a mother-daughter film- And a very effective one at that. Once the Queen changes around the start of the second act, Brave finally comes into its own. I didn’t know where we were going but the film whisked me away and off the beaten-to-death-kilt-joke path.
Everything that saved Brave is down to the relationship between Merida and her mother. The honest and bare emotions they both exhibit through their trying relationship is an honest and bittersweet relationship that everyone can recognise. Maybe that’s the faux intellectualist talking again but I was reminded of arguing with my parents when I was younger. Also the arguments I have with myself trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing with my life.
As fairytale as Brave is, I didn’t know how it was going to end. Even right up to the final reveal, and knowing how bleak Pixar can be (Up‘s opening montage, Toy Story 3‘s fiery final moments), I was totally theirs. Just like the old days.
At its weakest, Brave plays like a DreamWorks film. Depending on your opinion that comparison is either: “Yes, DreamWorks improved considerably in the past decade” or “Yes, Pixar became a little lazy in the past decade”.
Brave is a good film. It’s just a mediocre Pixar film.