Sunday, March 30, 2014

Brave (2012)

I found out about the Pixar movie Brave when I saw the first teaser trailer, which was released in 2011.  From the first few seconds of the trailer, I guessed it was something Celtic.  I was so excited when I discovered that Pixar was going to do a Scottish story, with a Scottish heroine.  Not only a Scottish heroine, but one with a bow and arrow and brilliant red hair.  I was even more excited about Brave, because the trailer gave the impression of it being a fantasy and adventure story of epic proportions.

However, as trailers frequently are, it was very misleading.  The movie was not how the trailer made it seem at all.  Although a fairly simple, personal, and heart-felt story about the relationship of a daughter and her mother is not at all a bad thing, it's difficult not to be disappointed when something is very different from what you expected.  Although Brave is a perfectly nice film the way it is, the misleading trailer did far more harm than good.  If the trailer had been more accurate in its portrayal of the movie, I think fewer people would have felt so let down by it.

Despite the issues I have with Brave, I feel that overall it is a gorgeous film, on multiple levels.  One of the most stunning and impressive aspects of the film is the completely amazing animation.  The scenery of Scotland is shown in lush detail with vivid splashes of color.  I mean, just look at the waterfall in this scene.  It's almost as if you could touch it and feel the spray of water on your face.  I love the way the sunlight makes the water gleam.  It kind of looks like liquid sunlight.

Then there's Merida's epic strands of bright red hair.

And of course, there is the mother and daughter relationship, which I find so incredibly refreshing.  I appreciate that it isn't black and white - neither the mother or daughter are completely wrong.  They need to listen to each other and learn from each other, because both are right about some things and wrong about some things.  It seems so rare for a Disney/Pixar film to have the focus of the story be on the mother and daughter.  In fact, many Disney films don't have a mother present at all.  There is also no romantic interest, which brings me to one of the messages in Brave.  Merida is a heroine that feels she isn't ready for marriage, she doesn't want it, and she is not interested in it at all.  And that's perfectly okay.  She's happy the way she is, and she is pursuing a dream that does not include a male romantic interest.  That is very important.

What I love about the characters in Brave is how lively they all are.  Their voice actors bring so much life to them.  They all have colorful personalities that are well developed.  I think my favorite part of the film may be the family aspect.  I love Merida's family and how close they are, and how well they know each other.  The way they interact feels so real.  Although the relationship between Merida and her mother (Queen Elinor) is the focus of the film, I completely adore Fergus and Merida's interactions.  They seem to understand each other so well, not to mention they have the same sense of humor.

"I bet he wishes he was tossing cabers."  "Or holding up bridges."

I love Fergus and Elinor's relationship as well.  Their understanding of each other is demonstrated so well throughout the film.  In more than one scene Elinor merely has to look at Fergus for him to understand how she feels or what she thinks.  At times Merida's family is a completely disjointed, wild, and crazy mess, but they all love each other deeply, and I absolutely love that about them.

Another part of Brave that I find to be refreshing is the humor.  I guess some people found it to be immature, or disapproved of the instances of nudity, but for me, the humor was one of the best parts of the movie.  Brave had my mom laughing a lot, and my cousins enjoyed it as well.  If you don't like the humor in Brave, chances are you aren't accustomed to Scottish (or Irish) humor.  I was impressed Pixar had the guts to include some of the humorous scenes that were in the movie.

Although I found the plot to be slightly lacking, the atmosphere in Brave is excellently done.  There is a strong sense of mystery and enchantment.  The story easily could have been a Celtic fairy tale instead of being about bears.  There was a story behind the evil bear Mor'du, but the film hardly went into it at all.  I wish it could have delved into the element of magic far more.  The will o' the wisps should have had more involvement with the story, and the witch should not have been reduced to comic relief when she could have been a more intriguing, dark, mysterious, and magical character.  There are times when comic relief works well (for example Olaf in Frozen) but the witch was not a good character to assign that role to.

Even though Brave did not go into the fairy tale aspect as much as I had wished, the atmosphere was there and it was done well.  The soundtrack helped accomplish this.  One of my favorite songs from the soundtrack is Noble Maiden Fair (or A Mhaighdean Bhan Uasal).  This song is sung beautifully in Scottish Gaelic.  It makes me so happy that the soundtrack featured a song in the Scottish language.

Another song I love from the soundtrack is Touch the Sky.  The scene that plays this song in the background is one of my favorite scenes.

I'll put another one of my favorite scenes here as well.  This is when Merida rips her dress, symbolizing that she is breaking away from her constrictions, and she shoots the arrows in defiance of her mother.  I always get chills when she shoots the last arrow.

I like that Merida is a strong and confident female character, but I don't understand why the suitors lined up for her have to all be shown as complete dorks.  It would have been cooler if they were on the same level as Merida, but Merida still had no interest in marrying any of them.

I have recently noticed, though, that the suitors seem to be trying to match the image their fathers are projecting of them, but not all of them are completely comfortable with this.  I think Brave may be showing how gender roles are constricting and hold you back from being your true self, not just through Merida's character, but through the suitors also. 

I really appreciate that Brave delved into Scottish culture as much as it did, but there is a historical inaccuracy that has bothered me a lot ever since I noticed it.  In the scene showing the Highland Games, there is a very brief cut to some girls doing highland dancing on a stage, with their hair up in buns.  I am very disappointed that Pixar made this mistake.  You don't have to research about Highland dancing that much to learn that Highland dancing was always performed by males, and not performed on a stage.  The origin of Highland dancing are sword dances, performed by men in ritualized war dances.

So, as I stated earlier, Brave is a lovely movie when looked at as a whole, despite its shortcomings.  It's personal, emotional, and real.  The animation, atmosphere, and soundtrack are all brilliant.  The comedic scenes make me laugh, and the ending brings me close to tears every time I watch it.  However, I feel that story-wise, Brave is severely lacking.  There just could have been a lot...well, more.  The movie was bursting with potential, but not a lot of it was realized.  Nonetheless, I did enjoy this movie.  Although it's not Pixar's best, and not quite an outstanding film, it is still a very good film, and I will watch it many times in my life.

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