Review: Brave

True risk in today’s corporatized, business minded infrastructure of the Hollywood system is hard to come by. More often than not, studios are content to treat their films as mindless product to be consumed with the popcorn and fizzy fountain drinks. Hence, we’ve been engorged and saturated with sequels, reboots, and spin-offs aplenty. Fortunately, one studio more often than not throws caution to the wind, and almost always comes out on top: Pixar. With thirteen features under their belt, Pixar’s mantra has almost always been maintained by originality and never repeating itself. To some of the veteran studios, this is a scary idea, but the relatively young Pixar’s secret weapon should come as no surprise: strong storytelling. What Pixar does best is one of two things: it either takes familiar narratives and transplants them into unfamiliar worlds (A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc.), or it drafts unfamiliar stories and sets them in recognizable locales (Ratatouille, The Incredibles). With Brave, Pixar does not exactly chart new narrative territory, but it nevertheless puts a good spin on the tale of a young maiden yearning to carve her own path.

Perhaps it was an inevitability than much like its mouse-eared distribution partner, Pixar was bound to capitalize on a demographic that, while not necessarily neglected, was never truly capitalized upon: girls. Therefore, Brave represents a first for the company with its first female protagonist, a Scotswoman no less. Like Pocahontas and Mulan before her, Merida is out to prove that she is capable of independence in a man’s world. Bound by the constraints of being a princess, she indulges in the spare freedom she finds in riding her steed through the forests and perfecting her archery skills. The key dynamic of the film is between Merida and her mother, the Queen, who yearns for her daughter to be perfect when suitors from rival clans arrive to compete for the princess’ hand. All of this may sound familiar to be sure, and does represent a less than creative narrative spark from the studio, but an interesting twist involving sorcery enlivens both the narrative and the stakes.

What continues to impress me with Pixar is its devotion to the actual art of cinema behind its stories. Despite the “been there, done that” narrative beats of Brave, the film is nonetheless executed with a sweeping sense of grandeur. Standing visually toe to toe with WALL-E and Up, this is perhaps Pixar’s most epic film to date, with beautifully rendered vistas of the Scottish countryside, and a completely authentic sensibility to the peoples that lived there. There is a genuine atmosphere of visual history that Brave implies, as opposed to coming from expositional dialogue. Though I personally could have done without a few of the songs peppered throughout the film, the actual score is appropriately and culturally robust. Of course, as per Pixar’s tradition, the film has great moments of comedy, both visual and verbal to counteract the genuine emotional moments that the film wholly earns. What stands out the most in Brave is the artistry of the editorial. From its effective montage to define and develop characters, to its scene to scene and even shot to shot transitions, the editing here is truly exceptional and remains an undervalued tool in Pixar’s box.

In the end, behind all of the expectedly terrific technical elements, what matters most comes back to storytelling. Here we have a delicate bond between a mother and her daughter, one that is even more complex than Pixar’s other famous parent-child odyssey, Finding Nemo (though the two would make a great double feature). Yes, it is not terribly difficult to guess how the film ends, but as the recognized adage goes, its not about the destination. It’s about the journey.

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~ by romancinema on June 27, 2012.

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