mon 14/10/2019

Brave | reviews, news & interviews

Brave

Brave

Pixar puts Scotland on the animated map with a young heroine who is hard to root for

'The biggest noise is Merida’s hair, 1500 strands of wild coppertop mop'

Animated 11th-century Scotland is a great place to live for a girl with a bow and arrow, until your mum decides to marry you off to any young numpty who wins a clan tournament. No wonder the female audience comes predisposed to love Merida, the star of Disney Pixar’s Brave. She’s a snappy, arrow-shooting, red-haired Scottish princess who’ll do anything not to end up like her mum. Who wouldn’t love a feature-length 3D animated film shining with the vocal talents of Kelly Macdonald, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Billy Connolly and half-Glaswegian Emma Thompson and five propriety software programmes that promise visuals of unparalleled delight?

A massive media campaign should have been a warning, however, that Brave would not be carried aloft by word of mouth. This is not the stellar product we expect from Pixar with its batting average of 11 classics from 12 attempts. Brave is beautiful but dull, a story with sound and fury signifying nothing but mother/daughter warfare and the need for haircare products.

Its glorious 3D isn’t there to make things poke out at you

Although the giant Asterixy-looking King Fergus (Connolly) and the terrible trio of princelings provide ample comedy, they can’t detract from Brave’s most glaring problem that Merida is no template for heroines. She's a terrific archer and horsewoman, sure, but she’s virtually amoral. An animated teenage Machiavelli who can't use a comb, this revisionist princess’s fate is, like the name of one of the tournament’s clansmen, a Macguffin. The story of Brave is not Merida’s liberation from arranged marriage: it is the struggle between a gracious, mature mother and a hellcat of a teenage daughter. Queen Elinor (voiced by Thompson and said to be based on Brave’s original creator and director Brenda Chapman) is the most nuanced and therefore the most engaging character. When Merida ruins the tournament and asks a witch to change her fate, it is the Queen we fear for, not mouthy Merida.

Happy Mother's Day: watch a clip from Brave

Perhaps this is the point: Merida has to go through an awful teenage hateful stage before she becomes a character we care about. Mostly though, she's skilled, selfish, stupid, sneaky and shouty. By Brave 2, we’d adore her - except there probably won’t be a Brave 2 given its difficult birth. After 17 years, Pixar finally hired a female director. Chapman originated Brave, basing Merida on her own daughter. Then, for reasons not made public, Chapman was taken off the film and now shares the directing credit with Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell. It is hard to argue that Brave would be a rip-snorting hit if Chapman had remained because it doesn’t take a female director to tell a satisfying female story. It is fair to say, however, that Brave is a shadow of what it should have been – but then that's applicable to 90 percent of all films ever made. (Their directors would agree.)

But Brave has brilliance. On an artistic level, it’s revolutionary. Tart, smart visual and verbal detail lingers to be admired: the witch’s bad carving, the mesmeric will’o’the wisps and the rough charm of the clans are only a few. Its glorious 3D isn’t there to make things poke out at you, but to bring flora and fauna into vivid, shimmering life.

The biggest noise is Merida’s hair, 1500 strands of wild coppertop mop. Chapman had said that previous female characters couldn’t have such curly hair because it cost too much in “pencil mileage”. Thanks to new software unique to Disney Pixar, Merida’s hair deserves its own trailer. Another small but important achievement is Angus, Merida’s Clydesdale, who becomes the first horse in popular animated film history that doesn’t act like a dog. (Why she has to ride a draft horse is anyone guess. What’s so wrong with a Highland pony or a trusty garron?)

Dedicated to Steve Jobs (the character Lord Macintosh is a gesture to Apple), Brave isn’t the film we expected from its trailers or the hype. But it is a visually stunning story of distaff dysfunction engaging enough to make all female audience members wish they wore waterproof mascara. It’s a whopping great maternal love story with a heroine who needs a good 3D smack in the chops. To paraphrase Mort-Sahl's 1959 review of Ben-Hur, let me say, "Brave? Loved it, hated her."

Watch the trailer of Brave


 

Its glorious 3D isn’t there to make things poke out at you, but to bring flora and fauna into vivid, shimmering life

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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By this logic, we should also hate Ariel. Did we? No, we did not. We loved Ariel, sang like her, wished our legs were exotic fish tails, and wondered why we didn't have best friends who were talking animals. Sincerely, every single girl 30 years and younger

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