Sunday, July 8, 2012

Are You Brave Enough?

As all Pixar movies, Brave is a beautiful piece of work. The landscapes are gorgeous. The animation excellent. The characters interesting. Despite all of that, I was left slightly unsatisfied at the end of the movie.

It's not that it wasn't a good movie; it was. It was very good. But, I guess, I was just expecting something a little bit more from Pixar, because, in the end, it turns out to be a pretty typical kid-oriented fantasy movie. It's the kind of thing where the kid makes a bad decision but gets rewarded for it anyway. Basically, parents are always wrong and if they would just open their eyes and take a look at you and how deserving you are to have your way then they would just see that that's true and let you have your way. Of course, it's not that simple in these kinds of movies, and the kid has to make a big mistake for the parent to actually take a look at the kid and, instead of the kid having to deal with any consequences of his/her actions, s/he's able to put everything right which enables the parent to say, "Oh, you were right all along. Here, have everything you always wanted."

And this is the unfair bit, I suppose, because, if this movie had been from anyone but Pixar, I would have been fine with it. Not that I would have thought it was a better movie, but I wouldn't have been left with a feeling of disappointment. As it is, though, Pixar has been pretty good about taking that next step in dealing with personal responsibility. They've had characters that have worked through difficult issues, looked at their own behavior, and come out stronger and more mature individuals on the other side (with the exception of Wall-E, which I thought was cute but a bit heavy handed with its message and lacking in the personal growth department (even Cars 2 had a strong dose of personal growth)). The character of Merida does not come out a stronger and more mature person on the other side. She may appreciate her mother a bit more, but, in essence, she's the same at the end as she was at the beginning.

To make matters worse, the whole movie revolves around the question, "Are you brave enough?" Are you brave enough to change your own fate? It's a good question, and it sounds like a Pixar question. So I went into it expecting the heroine to do just that, to be brave and change her fate. But that's not what happens. At no point does she take the brave stance to change her fate. Instead, she runs away and makes a bad choice. It felt very The Little Mermaid to me.

I find it more than a little ironic that Pixar, a movie company known for their "bravery" in movie making, took the less than courageous route in a movie about being brave and taking your fate in your own hands.

Which makes me wonder about the influence Disney is having over them. Pixar kept their own studio headquarters up here near San Francisco when Disney bought them. The idea behind that was so that they could keep their autonomy. Do their own thing. Continue to make the movies they'd been know for. But I'm not sure that's happening. Last summer's Cars 2, which I liked, is considered Pixar's first failure for its overt merchandising. A movie short on story for the sake of being flashy and selling a lot of stuff. That's so very... Disney. And, honestly, even with the stronger than typical female lead, Brave felt much like a typical Disney "Princess" movie. Even Toy Story 3 was pushed through by Disney. Actually, because Disney owned the rights to any Toy Story sequels, they were going to make the movie without Pixar's involvement at all, but after their Pixar acquisition, Pixar took control of it and started completely over on the project (and thank goodness for that!).

Maybe it's just the lack of John Lasseter. With the acquisition by Disney and his expanded role as chief creative officer for both Disney and Pixar (along with a handful of other duties (which included the creation of the new Cars theme park at Disneyland)), he's had to be much less involved in the individual projects at Pixar, and it was always Lasseter that was the real heart of Pixar. It was his vision that created Pixar, took it from a failing animation department that George Lucas sold to Steve Jobs and Jobs was considering selling off to Microsoft (or anyone that would take it, really) and turned it into the most profitable movie studio ever (they currently have the highest average box office take across all of their movies of any movie studio). Is it that Lasseter's vision for Pixar has been removed or diluted, or is it that he's finally bought into Disney's way of doing things? I'm hoping with his more direct involvement with next summer's Monsters University that we'll see a return to what is more expected from a Pixar movie.

All of that said, my kids loved Brave, and that's really what matters. As I said, it is a good movie. If it had come out under the Disney banner rather than Pixar, I wouldn't have thought a thing about it. In fact, I would have applauded them for providing a female lead that did not need a man to "complete" her, but from Pixar... well, it just fell short of expectations.


  1. That seems to be the consensus on this film. We do expect more from Pixar.

  2. Pixar: Still better than Dreamworks.

  3. I keep hearing the same reaction to this movie -- it was good but not great...for Pixar. They've really set the expectations high for their audiences. I haven't seen it yet, but I wonder if it had been a boy character if they would have taken the question of bravery further?

    I'll have to see it. I just love her hair. :)

  4. Loved this post and the background info it gave me about Disney vs. Pixar. I haven't been to a movie theater in two years...having a very young kid and a very limited social budget will do that to you :) Still, I can't wait until the little one is old enough to sit through a whole movie in a public place. I love kids' movies :) I'll catch this one on video.

  5. I think that people that don't like this film tend to be grouped into those that don't like the message of a girl (who is obviously a lesbian) and her desire to NOT get married.

    As for me, I love the film Brave and it's bold statement that it is okay for girls to not want to have a man define their life and to go to extraordinary means to change one's fate when societal pressures try to force you to take a man as a husband.

  6. I have to admit, I'm not the biggest Pixar fan. I know, blaspheme. I think they've made some amazing movies (Monster's Inc., The Incredibles) and some not so great movies. SO I wasn't all that disappointed that Brave wasn't as great because I didn't expect a lot better. Let's hope the next one lives up to their reputation.

  7. Alex: Yeah, we do. I'm not sure if it's fair, but it's the way it is.

    ABftS: Well, yeah, that goes without saying.

    L.G.: Yeah, I don't know. It wouldn't be the same kind of film, I don't think, if it had a boy as the lead.

    Jessica: I know what it's like to not be able to go to the movies because of the kids. My wife and I spent about 3 years avoiding eating and movie establishments when our youngest was small.

    Michael: Well, I'll just have to disagree with you.
    1. I did like it.
    2. I don't think there's any evidence that she's a lesbian, especially given her obvious attraction to the big muscly guy.
    3. She didn't go to any means to change her fate beyond the spoiler, which was not something she really did.

    S.L.: Hmm... Now I want to know your list of good Pixar movies and your list of not great Pixar movies.

  8. I can't agree more with you. That was exactly how I felt after seeing the film. Well, mine was more of a gut reaction - but I think you did a great job dissecting just how I felt about it.

    I love Pixar, I expect everything they do to be great. All I got this time was really good.

  9. Heh - I wrote a poem about this topic yesterday. Not about movies, per se, but what happens when a project that is somebody's "baby" is left abandoned or passed on to people who don't care about the baby itself, only the money it can make. Always a shame when a big company swoops down and makes milquetoast out of a spectacularly independent and creative business like Pixar.

  10. @Andrew: I think she was a gay character. But there's a discussion online about it too so it's not just me.

  11. Rusty: Well, it took me sitting down and writing about it for me to work out what it was that I had issues with. I knew I was not satisfied when I walked out of the theater, but I couldn't have told you then exactly why.

    Cathy: I did read that, but I hadn't worked out a comment yet. I mean, nothing substantial, at any rate. And, yes, it is a shame.

    Michael: Well, either way, it just proves my point, because, if she was meant to be, Pixar also backed down from stating that or making it obvious enough for people to know, so it's just another example of this film keeping to the safe road.

  12. I didn't see this movie, but the grand kids did. They told me it was good, so it probably is through the eyes of a kid. :)

  13. GG: No, it was good. I don't want people to think I think it wasn't good. I just don't think it lived up to what Pixar has shown they're capable of.

  14. The trend toward movies and TV shows that make children the all knowing and parents and other adults the ones who have something to learn from them, is generally upsetting. There is not much good that can come of that.

  15. Donna: Well, I agree with that entirely. I'm not sure it's a new trend, though. Disney's first Freaky Friday movie came out when I was but a small child, and it has much the same message. I'm sure it goes back before that, too. Maybe it's just more overt now.

  16. I thought the base message in "Brave" was Merida's determination to chose to marry a man after she fell in love and not to someone she is forced to marry out of obligation, which was the standard practice in those days. Merida was brave at the lengths she went through to get her parents to understand. Maybe this was naive of me, but with the ambiguous ways Disney is producing story lines. I guess, depending on what you want out of a movie, you could read anything you want into it. Disney has an agenda, they just have to be subtle about how they go about achieving it.

    If it would've been my movie, Merida would've been able to save the old bear and bring him back into human form again--somehow. And there would've been her prince--kind of like Beauty and the Beast. Yeah, old-fashioned fantasy romance.

    Great post, Andrew.

  17. Debra: Thanks for coming over!
    I think Disney's agenda can be boiled down to one word: money.
    I think Merida had one act of defiance and then ran away. Not very brave.

  18. We have very high expectations for Pixar, and they've encouraged that with consistently high-quality storylines and interesting, dynamic characters.

    So I do plan to see Brave, but only because I've been told it is visually stunning and I love the accents. Trying not to expect a stellar Pixar storyline.

  19. Callie: Well, it's worth seeing, but it will definitely be better if you don't set your hopes too high.