Sunday, July 1, 2012

BRAVE is a Home Run

Even if it's not an unqualified Grand Slam. Baseball metaphors!

If you want proof that Pixar gets graded on a curve - and a pretty steep one at that - look no further than the critical reaction to Brave. Any other animation studio on the planet not named Studio Ghibli - including Disney itself - would KILL to be able to turn out a film as good as Brave. Especially after all the problems the film faced during production. Make no mistake, Brave is good. It's very close to great in fact. It has fantastic emotional highs because of well-drawn and believable characters (who have enough flaws to make their arcs compelling but enough merit to make you root for them in the first place), it has thrilling set pieces, and some amazing comedy.

But that's not all. . . though it could have had a bit more.

It's not a dark adult epic fantasy that some might have hoped for or expected, but it is a genuinely funny and very emotionally satisfying fairy tale. It does a great job of playing by the "rules" of fairy tales while never using them as a crutch for a weak plot and sloppy scripting (see: Snow White and the Huntsman). And while it's not necessarily the most "adult" Pixar film, it's also one that makes no bones about the fact that sex and death exist in (and are a huge part of) its world. I particularly like "family" films that don't ignore this issue, especially given that these elements are such cornerstones of fairy tales and folklore.

Another thing that impressed me was how the film played itself out. The elegance with which Brave handles narrative beats, even in the face of its flaws (which I'll get to in a minute) is exactly the sort of thing that puts Pixar in a class of its own. I've seen a lot of movies, especially ones in this particular genre, and I'm pretty good at recognizing the cues that hint at where certain things are going to go. There were at least a half-dozen fairly major plot points that I "called" a good while before they happened (including how the final confrontation would play out). However, it's to this film's credit that watching these moments in action was still immensely tense, thrilling, hilarious, or satisfying.

Now no, it's not as good as their best work. It's not Incredibles-great, it's not Up-great, it's not Toy Story 3-great. It is solidly within their second-tier of damn good movies though. The amount of stuff going on in the film threatens to overflow and become a total mess. Signs of the film's change in directors and overall turbulent production, there are a great number of story points that vie for screen time. But it's all kept in check impressively. The characters are never completely sidelined, the humor is well-employed and used at the perfect times to relieve tension while never stepping on the drama. And while a few characters or story points should have been introduced earlier or been developed a bit more (particularly having to do with Merida's suitors and the allied clans), the film juggles them all with such grace that you can almost forget how it could have done better. Almost.

I'd still put it at least as high as A Bug's Life (probably better), definitely stronger than Cars and Cars 2, and maybe close to Toy Story 1 (which, while great, I think has suffered somewhat with age). A thoroughly enjoyable time.

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