Watched Jun 06, 2012
Eric Forthun’s review:
I’ve gone back and forth on how much I love Brave. I’ve seen it twice now, and both times it had a narrative force that I just couldn’t ignore. It has an emotional capacity unlike any other animated film I’ve seen, a tone that resonates with just about everyone while not feeling forced. Pixar has always crafted human characters even when their films don’t have human beings, yet this one, along with The Incredibles, shows how brilliant their work can be when focused on human emotion and its source of power. The film speaks for itself and has helped me come to terms with my rating on the film; Merida learns that she should go with what makes her happy, let herself be a kindred spirit, and learn from her mistakes and understand where family comes into play in our lives. I feel confident giving the film the highest score I can, even though I hate star ratings; I had to show how much I appreciate the film for what it is, which is easily the best film I’ve seen so far this year.
Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a princess that is unconventional in every sense of the word: she has long, frazzled hair, wears untraditional garb, doesn’t have perfect table manners, and loves archery. Outside of that last one, she’s essentially like all of us as teenagers. She’s rebellious but fully aware of the person she is, and that almost threatens her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Her mom wants what’s best for Merida, but she sometimes doesn’t know to address it; instead, she becomes over-protective and controlling at times, leading to Merida feeling like she can’t live her own life. After Elinor decides to find suitors for Merida that don’t work, Merida becomes frustrated and does something she regrets. It has huge repercussions, changing the course of the film. The rest of the film’s details will go ignored since they have not been advertised, and I’m not in the mood for spoiling things.
The relationship between Merida and Elinor is complex, sound, and moving. Those are three key words that fit the definition of this relationship. We see Elinor’s love in almost every word she says to Merida, and the fierce dedication she has to her daughter is unlike any other relationship we can see. It’s more than love, it’s just part of her life. We see that and it resonates; with my mom, at least, I see bits and pieces of how they each act, and it makes sense. Dealing with rebellious children, the only thing a parent can do is hope for the best and try to control things, but giving the children some space is the best way to approach things. Merida makes sure that Elinor learns the hard way, and that’s what makes the relationship all the more compelling. There’s a key flashback that defines that: Merida is afraid of some storm outside, so she gets close to her mother who sings her a song that calms her. The look on both of their faces as they hear it is masterful, and later on the song emanates through one key scene; it’s breathtaking.
Merida’s hair is one of the great symbols in any film. It’s an obvious embodiment of her character, with the hair going untamed for most of the film. A beautiful scene occurs where Merida puts on a corset, a form-fitting dress, and something that confines her hair completely; her mom says she looks beautiful, but we all know she looks a tad ridiculous. As Merida, unable to move well, falls into her chair, she grabs a strand of hair and moves it over her forehead. Her mother quickly puts it back, and then Merida takes it right back out as soon as her mother turns away. Merida is such a strong female character that the movie at times feels like a feminist film, and it very well might be. But I honestly don’t care when a movie handles that theme this effectively and makes it feel effortless and real; it doesn’t feel like a piece of work without authenticity, but one that needed to be made. Too many films these days have unrealistic princesses who are focused on material goods and men.
Merida isn’t. She loves archery more than anything in the world; well, maybe her family, but it’s up there. There are two original songs here, one of which is used early on as Merida rides away and hits targets everywhere she turns. She’s a brilliantly talented archer, and that becomes apparent, but the scene has the song swelling in the background with elegant vocals. As it hits its peak, so does Merida: she has climbed to a high peak where apparently only legends have been, and it defines Merida better than most films do over the span of their entire running time. This one had it down with one scene in the first ten minutes. The movie characterizes this main character in ways that other animated films will try to achieve and fail, and understandably so; Pixar has proven that they are the best storytelling company out there in the movie world, creating inventive forces and stories that are unrivaled.
The movie is effortlessly witty and often hilarious. The first encounters between the four clan leaders is still amusing, since they all end up getting in a ridiculous fight that leads to them revealing the possible suitors. They are all unattractive men in their own rights, but the introductions, movements, camera angles, and pretty much everything set the tone perfectly and make the scene work. Without them, these would be just the caricatures they are, but there’s a new mind brought behind it that makes the idea feel devilishly new. I say that as a compliment, since most of the film is handled in the same way; it’s inventive on conventions, deriving laughs from its characters, not about its characters. There’s humor coming from their actions and how they look and who they impact; it’s not from the innate silliness, but it has a bit of meaning behind it. There’s even some slapstick here that reminded me of some older silent films. Pixar is self-aware of other works and knows it.
The filmmaking level here is unheralded, as mentioned before. I think it’s obvious that they are leaps and bounds ahead of any other stories because they can’t have the emotional impact they want without feeling artificial. This one gets those emotions from appealing to us in an unexpected way, with an unconventional story that I can’t discuss because, frankly, they haven’t shown a key part of the film that changes the landscape of the themes and characters. There’s extensive foreshadowing here that I noticed even more on a second watch, and that in itself is great filmmaking. When I can see what I thought I saw before and understand where it stands in the film, that’s nice; when I enjoy it even more the second time upon realizing the intricacies of this world, I enjoy it even more. There’s another element I wish I could talk about, and it’s those little blue things on the poster; I fully understand what they are now and where they place in this world, and I’m glad I do. On first watch, I wasn’t sure; now I’m confident I know, and I know it’s because the film utilizes them thematically, symbolically, and in building characters.
Brave is an unforgettable experience, and I’d even say it’s in the running for being Pixar’s best film. They’ve achieved a level of storytelling that most filmmakers don’t dare dream of, and that’s because they’ve made a world of human characters in fantastical situations feel true and sincere. The emotional level, and the resonance I felt, was something that I never get on a second viewing, and that might be due to the intricacy of the situations and the characters. I wish I could go into more detail, but it’s something you have to see, since they haven’t revealed what happens about forty-five minutes in. Nonetheless, the film redefines who a princess can be and where females can find power; it’s the feminist film I don’t think anyone asked for, but I’m sure glad it’s here. And another thing: if I see one comparison to The Hunger Games, don’t even; this film is infinitely better than that (even if I did enjoy it quite a bit), and a great film I can see myself experiencing in exciting ways in the future.