Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Let’s start at the beginning, which for a Pixar film is the "short" that precedes the movie. La Luna is an engaging little story about a family business. Three generations of workers – father, young son and old grandfather – are gathered in a rowboat for their daily chore. The row boat is named La Luna. It's implied that this work has been done for generations and story of this little movie is to show you exactly what that work is. You get the idea it is very specialized work indeed once the anchor thrown overboard to attach to … the moon. The characters are drawn simply, speak in grunts and chuffs that are vaguely Italian, and the movie, while sweet, is largely unremarkable until the wonderful payoff at the end.

The main show is Brave.

This is Pixar’s first original story after two years of sequels (Cars 2 and Toy Story 3) and I had high expectations. I was disappointed. Technically, the movie is a wonder of modern craftsmanship. The heroine’s wavy red locks are the star of the show and I was reminded, from all those years ago, of Sulley from Monsters, Inc. and the talk of what an achievement in animation it was for Pixar to be able to make his fur move the way it did. Merida, the young heroine of Brave, is upstaged by her hair. The movie’s set pieces are so extra-ordinary, that you’d be excused for thinking they are real. The castle, the woods, the craggy Scottish shore are wonderfully rendered. They are exquisite. They are beautiful.

The story sucks.

Pixar made great movies by blending state-of-the-art animation with characters you love and wonderful stories. Everything was story. I’m a big Pixar fan which puts me on a list with maybe a couple of billion other people and I have combed the behind-the-scenes featurettes on their DVDs where directors and animators drive home the importance of character, animation and story, story, story! In Brave, the best parts of the story are at the beginning, and these you’ve already seen in trailers. Moving on, the main character does something so ghastly, so selfish and so seemingly unforgivable that she puts herself beyond redemption. She and the movie move on rather cavalierly without any requisite measure of regret or contrition. The story that never hits the appropriate emotional response to her horrid deed.

Well, of course it doesn’t. It couldn't. That would have been too dark for a modern Disney movie.

Yes, a Disney movie. How much of the Pixar magic got lost in  the takeover, I wonder. Maybe because the bar was set so high by Pixar’s forerunners. Or maybe it's because Disney has its coroporate fingers in Pixar. Merida, after all, is being hailed as the newest Disney princess. That pantheon is diminished by her inclusion.

Brad Bird talks on the commentary track for The Incredibles about different aspects of the animation – how Pixar's Spanish animators were the best ones for feats of strength, how (and why) a junior animator was put in charge of the villain, Syndrome. While I watched Brave, I thought more about junior animators; there is so much "cartoonishness" - mugging for the camera, over-the-top expressions. It rang sour notes and distracted me from the story. Merida’s father, the King, moves and acts and grins like a buffoon. The mother, after her change-of-life event, moves in comic grotesque, displaying exaggerated surprise and suffereing endless pratfalls. Yes, there were several scenes that made me laugh, but the wit and grace of previous Pixar movies is only a spectre of its former self. It is harder to find in Brave than a will-o-the-wisp.

Brave is beautiful, misnamed and mediocre. It breaks my heart a little. Two Straws.

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