The Hype of Pixar's BRAVE
The excitement has been growing for well over a year. The first trailer premiered last summer, showing us a misty backdrop of the Scottish Highlands, a hooded figure racing through the forest on a horse toward an outcrop of pillared stones, a gargantuan and fierce bear, and our first glimpse at the red-headed heroine, Princess Merida.
BRAVE, previously titled The Bear and the Bow at its orginal announcement in 2008, is a film over four years in the making. This project, Pixar's 13th feature film, has been heavily marketed and hyped since January when the studio released the first full-length trailer, and several sneak peaks after leading to the film's June 22nd premiere. It has had several setbacks, ranging from a change of directors from Brenda Chapman to Mark Andrews after facing creative disagreements, casting changes, software overhauls, and massive rewrites. But that is what separates Pixar from the rest of the other studios in that they strive for perfection and quality craftsmanship in their films.
BRAVE marks Pixar's first shot at a fairytale-esque story and a female protagonist, which raised a lot of eyebrows and intrigues many as to how this story would play out, setting expectations high to match and even surpass the quality of writing and visual goodies of their last films. There was skepticism based on the not-so-positive reviews of their last film, Cars 2, that this would fall into the trap and add to the rumor that Pixar had finally plateaued from it's serial box office smashes in the past.
BRAVE is the story of Merida, a Scottish princess from the kingdom of DunBroch. She's a real wild child, proving as much with her huge mane of red, chaotic curls, and her affinity for archery. She's a pro, and it's evident at the beginning of the film that she really takes after her father, King Fergus, in recklessness and her dark sene of humor. She clashes with her mother, Queen Elinor, who to Merida, is trying to constrain her to a life that she doesn't want, as most teenagers can relate to. A turning point comes when Merida learns that, following tradition, she must pick a suitor from one of the three clans that have agreed to come to win her hand. Of course, Merida refuses, adding more tension to the plot. Under these circumstances, she dabbles in magic, violating the laws of the forest to change her fate, and she must learn to reforge the bonds of family and really come into her own to set things right.
Now, this may sound like a typical plot arc, as most stories are, and that is true. Most stories that circulate through the years are of the hero's journey, in this case, the heroine's journey, but they all come in different shapes and sizes. This is where the character development (one of Pixar's strengths) comes into play. The wide variety of personalities paint a vivid picture of the world Merida lives in. From her mischeivous brothers Hamish, Harris, and Hubert, her wild and loving father King Fergus, her poised and proper mother Queen Elinor, the quirky woodcarver witch, and the clansmen themselves offer so many perspectives to the events that transpire in BRAVE. What was entertaining, and could possibly stand on their own, are the leaders of the three clans: MagGuffin, Dingwall, and Macintosh, and their respective sons competing for Merida's hand. Their character design alone is something to marvel at, and you can take away so much by the way they look and act, just as quality characters should.
Regarding the time and love put into the character development, as much, if not more, went into the design. Pixar had developed new software, overhauling their rendering systems to accomodate the designs and pushing the limits of the animation itself. This overhaul included rewriting the software for the follow-through rule of animation. Merida's hair is composed of 1,500 individual curls, and this software builds on the one they made for Monsters Inc. to self-animate Sully's fur. Pixar is anal-retentive in detail and quality of their films, and for a good reason. The pay-off is mind-blowing. The software works beautifully to animate Merida's hair with her movements, following every move her head and her body makes in a seamless fashion.
This brings us to the overall look of the film. Pixar uses its own patented rendering software that separates their films from the rest of the studios, to specifically let you know that you are watching a Pixar film. The ambient glow of the lighting, characters, and color usage tugs the audience in the direction Pixar wanted them to, baiting them for new surprises at all the right moments. They did their research for this film and they did it well. The film immerses you in a mystical environment, sucking you in and makes you forget about everything but the events transpiring onscreen. This complements the storytelling in such a way that you forget you're even watching a movie.
The people at Pixar are master storytellers. This film is another testament to that. It made me laugh, cry, and cheer at all the right moments. The score complements the film perfectly (they took a gamble with Patrick Doyle, known for his work on Thor) with its driving bagpipes, dainty flutes, and the beautiful and charming melody of Noble Maiden Fair, blasting the audience with the beauty of Gaelic culture. The moving story is something to marvel at. Critics have said that this is just another Disney princess movie, the story of Princess Jasmine retold for a new generation outside of the veteran circles from the Disney Renaissance, but that is what Disney and Pixar, and other storytellers have done countless times; rewrite the same story, make it your own, and that is exactly what Pixar has done.
There were a few plot decisions that didn't really sit well with me. I know that the average length of a movie is 2.5 hours, and this one runs on the cusp of 2. The film is packed with information, and at some points moves a little too fast. The villian of BRAVE, the demon bear Mor'du, is killed as expected, but there was not a lot of time spent to reflect on this, or even let it sink in for the audience, as the camera cut back to Merida and the clansmen. Perhaps I'm being a bit biased as Mor'du is such an impressive character reminiscent of the xenomorph in Alien, and he had such a big role in the film's own folklore, that his death came across as anti-climactic. The character development still holds true with Merida's brothers, the identical triplets Hamish, Harris, and Hubert. They stole the show from their first appearance onscreen and their obsession with stealing every pastry in the kingdom. They were such a treat to watch even if they have no dialogue throughout the entire movie.
This is a brilliant film, a real gem to add to the Pixar archive, and regarding that certain "trip and fall" with Cars 2, Pixar has gotten back up, brushed the dust off their shoulders and kept on running. BRAVE is a true testament to storytelling, and something that Disney and Pixar fans, as well as non-Disnerds will marvel at for a very long time.