Brave is Pixar’s first fairy tale. It takes place in Olde Scotland. Princess Merida (voiced by Trainspotting‘s Kelly MacDonald) is a tomboy. Her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), is grooming her to be married off to appease the four clans. The two reach an impasse when Merida encounters a witch in a mysterious forest who eventually changes her fate.
BRYAN: So, a very special Nate Ayling found himself away from Portland and in La La Land over the weekend and I took him to see Pixar’s Brave.
NATE: Nothing like the joyous atmosphere of the El Capitan theater to nurse a hangover. Little girl next to me said I smelled like rubbing alcohol.
BRYAN: No, she didn’t. She was too scared to speak to the Nate monster.
NATE: I stole her popcorn. So, first thoughts?
BRYAN: There’s a bit of magic that the ads have been careful to avoid, so I think it best to avoid the specifics of that at this time. As for first thoughts, I really enjoyed the film. It’s a return to original and unique storytelling for Pixar, if not the same heights of the last decade.
NATE: I’m just going to come out and say: underwhelmed. Also, it became quite apparent moments in that as a male nearing 30 this movie was not made for me. But yes, unique.
BRYAN: And by unique we mean, inspired/remixed from classic Disney fairy tales, Miyazaki, MacBeth, and Brother Bear.
NATE: Yes. I must give them credit for fully riffing on classic Disney. However that is also my complaint. While Brave fully belongs in the pantheon of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White, it’s no Up, Toy Story, or Monsters, Inc.
BRYAN: But what makes you say the male over 30 thing? Movies are for everyone.
NATE: I don’t believe that’s true of Brave. It felt as if I was outside looking in. Where as other Pixar films took me in with a warm hug.
BRYAN: Well, I would argue that has nothing to do with age/gender but with whatever problems you had with the film. As for it not being as great as their greatest, that might be true, but I’d rather talk about why or why not the film isn’t that great instead of merely saying it’s not.
NATE: I compare this most to Cars 2. The filmmakers are going for a niche and that niche is mothers and daughters. They want a prince$$. But yes, that is my biggest and probably only problem.
BRYAN: It’s definitely a great Mother’s Day movie, but I never subscribe to the idea that they make movies thinking about the $$$
NATE: And you really believe that after Cars 2?
BRYAN: Yes. Cars/Cars 2 is Lasseter’s baby. He is obsessed with that more than Toy Story, and no one is telling boss man no. And yes they’re not saying no cause they know it will make cash. But the reason for being still comes from passion/artistic impulses.
NATE: I’ll give you that.
BRYAN: Let’s try this… what did you like about the movie?
NATE: They did their homework and served up a fairytale I’ve never seen. I was genuinely taken by some plot turns.
BRYAN: That was nice. But I will say their populist leanings are what kept this film back, in my mind. I think you’d agree it’s their least funny film.
NATE: What I also took most was that this was indeed Pixar making a Disney film, which is an odd train of thought. Everyone just assumes they are ALL Disney films. They are not. This was a total homage to classic Disney. There is a scene in a wood working shop where they play Gepetto’s sound effects from Pinocchio. I most want to view it again because I bet this film is laced with that kind of detail.
BRYAN: They are usually quite detailed filmmakers.
NATE: That’s why I know it’s there! Didn’t the humor feel like an after thought?
BRYAN: That’s what I was saying!!!
NATE: But then again, isn’t Dopey? I was taking it back.
BRYAN: Yes. The film has this nice mother/daughter dynamic and it turns into a very emotional film by the end, but then there’s like 20 minutes of strained slapstick in the middle.
NATE: Imagine if this movie came out in 1995 instead of Pocahontas, it would have kept the Disney streak going flawlessly.
BRYAN: I could see that. But it is kind of like Pocahontas, where they feel they have to shoehorn in comedy or else the kiddies will fall asleep.
NATE: The biggest problem with poor Pixar is that after over a decade of absolute golden organic humor that puts you on the ground, there are these obviously comedic characters and its uneven, like Disney.
BRYAN: Yes, basically. Humor is fine, but the film works so well with out it. I wish they went full Miyazaki.
NATE: Imagine if Merida was headstrong, independent, athletic, and funny as fuck? You wanna make a new age princess, make her funny
BRYAN: I don’t want her funny. I want the other thing. Get rid of the constant slapstick. It feels like they were reaching.
NATE: I refuse to go Miyazaki in this because it’s going to turn into a bitch fest. I do not have the same feelings as you on the subject of Miyazaki.
BRYAN: Well, for the record, he’s amazing, and everyone at Pixar is on the record as saying so. So, I think the influence is quite obvious.
NATE: If Pixar is doing Miyazaki, and Miyazaki is doing Disney, then Pixar is still doing Disney.
BRYAN: But think about it: all of the best parts have zip to do with humor. The film is firing on all cylinders when it is being scary, mysterious, or emotional.
NATE: And all of Miyazaki’s stuff is based in classic lore and fairytale. If this feels reminiscent of him it’s because it’s a goddamn fairytale.
BRYAN: I thought we were moving on. I’m avoiding proving you’re wrong.
NATE: Okay, moving on.
BRYAN: You’re most likely too tipsy to even know. You lush bitch you. Let’s go technical. I want Merida’s hair as a pet and/or blanket.
NATE: Amazing. Remembering all the talk about Sully in Monsters, Inc., it’s as if they are saying, “Yeah, we mastered hair.”
BRYAN: More like “Yeah, we transcended hair; we’re in the next realm of hair.”
NATE: I counted three different kinds of hair on her head, all moving in different ways. It’s a animation orchestra on that girl’s head.
BRYAN: I would marry her hair like it was bacon.
NATE: Are you drunk?
BRYAN: No, never been more sober. I mean every word, damn you.
NATE: I read that the pizza planet truck makes an appearance in the wood shop.
BRYAN: The point being, the film looks amazing, as expected.
NATE: I can’t believe they’ve never done forests before? Pixar is so good; I feel we take much of what they do for granted.
BRYAN: And we saw it in 3D, which was good 3D, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you know the theater doesn’t short change the bulbs cause the film is dark. But our theater was one of the best, so it looked great.
NATE: It is very dark!
BRYAN: And the sound design is great. I love the sound the wisps made.
NATE: Yes, and again, I bet you can find the entire Disney sound library in that film. I want to see a Pixar musical.I half expected it in this film.
BRYAN: Yeah, I think there were like 3 songs that work quite well being sung as background music. I had already seen the short that opens the film, La Luna (and reviewed it here), but what did you make of it?
NATE: Amazing. Also as you said “more based on feeling than humor” but it is just so captivating. Also, oddly, about three generations of men . . .
BRYAN: I think one of their top 3 all time shorts.
NATE: That’s a tough one. I loves me some silly Pixar.
BRYAN: For the Birds, La Luna, then Sophie’s choice of Geri’s Game, One Man Band, and Presto.
NATE: Presto, Geri’s Game, One Man Band.
BRYAN: FOUL!!!!! For the Birds for life, sawwwn!
NATE: You’re only saying that because you are the human version of that big retarded bird.
BRYAN: Shhhhhhhh! No one needs to know.
BRYAN: Then that makes you a tiny asshole bird.
NATE: The rest of us are the little annoyed birds, except we don’t die. We just keep getting annoyed and you breed more giant retarded birds.
BRYAN: This is getting dark.
NATE: It’s like Sartre but worse. All right, final thoughts?
BRYAN: Well, I think Brave is a fantastic new fairy tale. I’d say almost as good as Tangled. Look, sound – brilliant. It has some nice emotional things to say about mothers/daughters and fate/choice, but it is a bit muddled by the so-so attempts at levity. Had it just stuck to its own darkness, it would be great, but it is still really, really good. Grade: A-
NATE: If possible, don’t walk in thinking this is the next Pixar movie, walk in thinking this is the follow-up to The Lion King. Brave is a delightful fairytale for everyone who happens to be a daughter or mother. Grade: B