Brave (2012)

Brave (2012) movie poster

directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
viewed: 06/23/2012 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

It’s all about the hair.

Much has been made (probably more by publicists than anyone) that Brave was the first Pixar film to feature a female lead character and the promotions have shown the heroine, Princess Merida, with her wild, super-curly red locks blazing abundantly in their lush kinky unruliness.   And what amazing hair it is!  It’s beautiful.  And it’s echoed in the hair of her father Fergus and her three wee wily brothers.  But it’s nowhere as verdant and magical as it sprouts and tumbles from the head of our hero.

Of course, the hair is a visual metaphor for the young princess who fires arrows with great skill and romps, impassioned about her personal freedom.  As much as her mother tries to teach her to be “ladylike” (hiding her hair in a snood and corseting her – a physical metaphor of constraint and constriction), the heart of the story is about an untameable spirit as wild and gorgeous as her luscious locks.

It’s probably Pixar’s greatest visual achievement in this lush and beautifully rendered animated film, those fiery curls.  Pixar is the gold standard among digital animation and while that extend beyond visual design and execution to story and characterization, it’s always more than evident in the amazing designs, details, and splendor of the rich, wonderfully rendered characters and worlds of their film.  And the hair.  Merida’s hair has a buoyancy and verve entirely all its own.  It’s as much a character as Merida herself.

For all its gorgeous eye candy, Brave is not as strong in its other elements as one hopes from Pixar.  It’s actually quite surprising that it’s taken them this long to develop a film around a female character considering their appreciation of the work of Hayao Miyazaki who has given almost all of his films to his female leads.  And then she’s a princess.  Pixar is owned by Disney, of course, who seems to demand an endless array of princesses for it to endlessly market to little girls.  No matter how independent and heroic a modern princess is, she’s still a princess.

The film is laden with Celtic-style music, as it’s based in Scotland.  Funnily enough, the kids were thinking it was racist that “everyone was wearing kilts”.  I had to explain to them that there is a difference between stereotypes and racism, especially when the setting is one in which variable historical suggestions are probably largely accurate.  But the music is a bit overdone and heavy-handed.

The film’s themes about forced roles for women are pretty obvious.  The story is about a girl who doesn’t want to be married off.  She announces that she’ll vie for her own hand in marriage, showing herself to be the best archer of the crowd.

The film picks up when she ventures out to an old witch to help influence her mother to her way of thinking, which unleashes a transmogrification from human to bear, the point in which the film finally kicks into gear.

And it does kick into gear.  In the end, it’s a good film, far more beautifully rendered than written or directed.  If only all parts of a Pixar film could live up to their animators’ skills and technical achievements.  Then Pixar would be as good as its gold standard.

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