Tuesday, June 26, 2012

On 'Brave', Steph Begs to Differ

When it comes to Pixar's latest, I'm going to have to disagree with Matt's Sunday review. I don't know if it's a girl thing or just a me thing, but I had absolutely no trouble connecting with the emotional undercurrent that runs through Brave. Indeed, if I were to rank Brave according to Matt's ten point Pixar-specific scale, I would've given it something much higher than a three. I'm thinking it deserves a six -- i.e., a "better than average" rank.

For all the reviewers who think Brave is somehow out of place in Pixar's canon, I have only this question: Have we been watching the same Pixar movies?

(More under the cut!)

 When I think about the greatest Pixar productions, three titles leap immediately to mind:
  1. Up
  2. Toy Story 3
  3. The Incredibles 
Now what is it that makes these three movies sparkle? What is it that makes these movies stand out? Well, in my view, it really isn't the high-concept storytelling. A balloon salesman who flies his house to South America, toys who come alive when their owners aren't watching them, superheroes who've been forced by an overly litigious society to live mundane lives -- yes, all of these are certainly neat ideas. But Up, Toy Story 3, and The Incredibles are movies that truly hit their mark when it comes to the small-scale, human element. At its base, Up is about a grieving widower attempting to recapture the excitement of lost love, a lonely little boy looking for the father figure he's never had, and the relationship they eventually forge together. Toy Story 3 is an astonishingly successful film because it captures, with exquisite sensitivity, the sadness all parents feel when their children leave the nest. And The Incredibles works so well because, despite its comic book trappings, it's really a movie that's centered on a believable family and their struggle to come together in extreme circumstances.

The Pixar standard, as I see it, is to depict human emotion - especially human love - in a way that is truthful and morally centered. And does Brave meet that standard? Well, Matt is right to note that Brave doesn't quite reach that rarefied peak where the aforementioned three movies currently reside -- but that doesn't mean it's a failure as either a Pixar movie or a movie in general. As I suggested at the start, I definitely related to the mother/daughter conflict that was the driving force for Brave -- and the message is stronger than Matt really gives it credit for. On the whole, our popular culture tends to portray teenagers as somehow more "with it" than their dweeby parents; here, however, Brave completely shatters that mold. In order for Merida to break the curse, she has to own up to her own mistakes and recognize the hidden wisdom in Elinor's nagging. True -- when it comes to the arranged marriage issue, Merida eventually gets what she wants, but not before she comes to understand that the universe doesn't revolve around her own desires. A cautionary tale that flies in the face of our "I just gotta be me" society? A tale that decries selfishness? Yes, I think this is relevant to my interests, and I would like to subscribe to its newsletter (as the net geeks say).

Bottom line, I would definitely tweek Matt's writing and message scores upward and give Brave an 8.6 on our standard scale. But, of course, YMMV.

1 comment:

  1. So I guess my question is...which Pixar movies does Brave eclipse? On the SFDebris-style genre-only rating scale, you have to put the average movie at 5 and work up or down from there based on whether it's better or worse.

    Pixar movies to date:

    Toy Story I
    A Bug's Life
    Toy Story II
    Monsters Inc.
    Finding Nemo
    The Incredibles
    Toy Story III
    Cars II

    On the Pixar scale, there' sno doubt that Cars II gets the 0.

    You could make an argument for Brave ahead of A Bug's Life, Cars and Ratatouille...but I don't think that argument can be made for ANY of the other Pixar movies.

    I would rate them as follows on the absolute scale:

    Cars II: 3.5 (their first true CLANK)
    A Bug's Life: 6.8
    Ratatouille: 7.0 (mostly because it's very sloooowww and the message isn't worth the journey)
    Cars: 7.5
    Brave: 8.0
    Toy Story II: 8.2
    Wall-E: 8.5
    Monsters Inc.: 8.9
    Toy Story I: 9.0
    Up: 9.2
    Finding Nemo: 9.3
    The Incredibles: 9.5
    Toy Story III: 9.8

    Even if you liked Up more than I did (the first 8 minutes were FABULOUS...the middle 60 minutes were, IMHO, slow to develop and so off-beat as to almost be offputting from time to time...and the end was great again...it was just a little too weird for me to have it passing Nemo on the short list) I think you ought to rewatch Wall-E and Toy Story II and see if you really think Brave is better than those two.

    I certainly agree that the mother/daughter bond in Brave is very well done and I like that both sides have to change a little to forge a stronger bond, but all I can really say is that while the story SHOULD have evoked bigger emotions in me...it failed to do so. It was just...really nice. It didn't make me bawl like an idiot the way that Finding Nemo, Toy Story III, Up, or Wall-E did...it didn't make me incandescently happy the way that The Incredibles or Toy Story (I) did, and its humor, while effective, wasn't as pitch-perfect as it was in Monsters Inc. or Toy Story II. Someone didn't do something quite as well...be it the lack of epic backdrops to the small-scale story or just slightly weaker writing or whatever it was.

    That's why I kept the rating a bit lower than you would.