Friday, August 3, 2012

Review: Brave

Pixar has had a stellar track record in producing some of the best animated movies in cinematic history over the past few decades.  Some believe that their run of hits ended last year with Cars 2.  I enjoyed Cars 2 (I have a soft spot for the original) and still think their record is basically unblemished (well I didn't really like Up).  The 13th effort from the studio that Jobs built is Brave, a story of a Scottish kingdom ruled by a giant boisterous King Fergus, his wife Elinor and their ambitious young daughter Princess Merida.  The movie chronicles Merida's reluctance to go through the traditional betrothal process and her struggles with coming of age and keeping a strong relationship with her mother.

Kelly Macdonald (the Scottish actress from Trainspotting and Boardwalk Empire) plays the lead role of Merida and does an excellent job of letting loose with her thick and authentic accent.  She plays well against her parents in the film (portrayed by Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson).  Late night talk show host Craig Ferguson answers the Scottish casting call by lending his voice to one of the three lords who try to have their sons win the hand of the princess.  The excellent casting is paired by an equally strong soundtrack that features several Scottish musicians including Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis.

The actual star of this film is not Merida herself, but her vibrant intricate head of orange curly hair.  The nerds at Pixar have outdone themselves in creating amazingly realistic flowing hair that seems more reactive and authentic than ACTUAL hair.  It's hard to explain but when you see Merida bouncing all over the kingdom, her hair just stands out and seems to react perfectly with the surrounding environment.  The animators seem to be showing off their hair-rendering skills by building several scenes that let the hair interact organically with wind, rain, water and other natural elements.  It may sound strange but Merida's hair may be one of Pixar's best technical milestones.

The real problem with Brave, however, is the plot twist that happens about 30 minutes into the movie.  I won't give it away but it really does change the dynamics of the story and makes it seem a little cheesy and far fetched.  I just couldn't relate to the characters as well as I do in a traditional Pixar film.  With movies like Wall-E and Toy Story, the audience is given a chance to become fully invested in the key characters on the screen.  I felt like the plot twist in Brave became overwhelming and bizarre and took the focus away from the characters.

Overall, Brave manages to amaze visually but disappoint from a story perspective.  This is on the low end of the Pixar spectrum but is definitely worth a rental, especially if you have kids (and ESPECIALLY if you are a Mother and have a Daughter).  3 out of 5 JRs for Brave which brings me to my rapid-fire quick list of my personal top 5 Pixar films in order:

1. Wall-E
2. Cars (most people hate this one, but as a NASCAR fan I loved it)
3. The Incredibles
4. Finding Nemo
5. Toy Story 1/2/3

Get ready for a promising Pixar sequel next summer with Monsters University.

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