Sunday, December 21, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

‘Brave': Loses its way

By
From page A5 | June 22, 2012 |

‘Brave’

3.5 stars

Starring (voices only): Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson

Rating: PG, and somewhat generously, for rude humor and considerable scary action

All Pixar animated films are lush, impeccably mounted productions — every backdrop fine-tuned to the height of available imaging technology, every scene timed to comic perfection — and “Brave” is no different.

The long, long ago and far, far away Scottish Highlands setting has a verdant ambiance granted even greater verisimilitude by the careful application of 3D cinematography; the resulting full-immersion sensation is as breathtaking to us, in these early years of the 21st century, as William Garity’s ground-breaking multi-plane camera work was for audiences of Disney’s early 1930s and ’40s animated classics.

The characters here are fun and feisty, often exaggerated for comic relief, and led by Merida, a resourceful and headstrong heroine who is voiced fabulously by Kelly Macdonald. Merida’s pluck, determination and stubborn defiance of tradition are matched only by her flaming, flowing red tresses: as much a part of her presence and personality as her oh-so-familiar teenage angst.

All the elements are in place … except one.

The most important one.

However well Brenda Chapman’s original story may have flowed, as first conceived, it has become something of a mess in the hands of screenwriters Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Irene Mecchi and Chapman herself, along with (no doubt) the uncredited participation of many, many more Pixar staffers. The result plays less like a cohesive, thematically consistent narrative and more like a committee effort calculated to hit all the essential demographic targets.

That’s a shame. Pixar’s best films are truly original creations that establish their own trends; “Brave,” in contrast, too often echoes bits and pieces from other sources.

Indeed, a major plot point is lifted wholly — and quite disappointingly — from a 2003 Disney (non-Pixar) animated film, which I’ll not identify in order to avoid a major spoiler. But the prominence of this unexpected detour sends “Brave” into a direction rather at odds with its premise, while also compromising the integrity of Merida’s character to a somewhat unfortunate degree.

A brief prologue reveals that, even as a wee lass, Merida lacks the refinement and, ah, girlish composure that would be expected of the first-born daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Merida is much more passionate about archery, an interest her father encourages by presenting the girl with a bow on her birthday … much to the displeasure of his wife.

Flash-forward about a decade, and Merida has grown into a bonny lass; she now has three impish little brothers — identical triplets Harris, Hubert and Hamish — who live to gorge themselves on sweets stolen by any means necessary. Merida loves nothing more than jumping atop her beloved Clydesdale, Angus, and plunging through the surrounding highland forests, where she has erected a maze-like obstacle course laden with hanging targets designed to further test her already impressive archery skills.

This is a joyous, exhilarating sequence that draws cheers each time one of Merida’s arrows hits its mark. It’s also by far the most exciting scene in the film, and therefore represents something of a mistake by co-directors Chapman and Mark Andrews. They set up expectations here, with respect to Merida’s archery skills, which aren’t fulfilled as the story builds to its eventual climax.

Because — and this is completely unacceptable — the eventual third-act crisis isn’t solved by anything having to do with Merida’s archery prowess. Can you imagine author Suzanne Collins foolishly deciding to take Katniss’ bow away from her, midway through “The Hunger Games”?

Anyway, Merida’s life takes a calamitous turn when she learns that she’s intended to wed the first-born son of one of three other unruly co-rulers of this land: massive Lord MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd); surly Lord Macintosh (Craig Ferguson), forever bedecked in blue war paint; and cantankerous, quick-tempered Lord Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane). Such a planned betrothal is traditional, Queen Elinor explains; the headstrong Merida sees only that her life is being ruined.

The girl first embarrasses the other clan lords (quite stylishly, it should be acknowledged). Then she has one of those calamitous arguments with her mother, with both women saying and doing things that they’ll have cause to regret. At which point Merida takes off, astride Angus, and winds up following a trail of ghostly, neon-blue will-o’-the-wisps that lead her into a magical realm of the forest.

One fateful encounter later, Merida returns home with the means to have a wish fulfilled … and we all know how that usually goes. In the grand tradition of all ill-advised bargains with magical entities, Merida’s wish has catastrophic consequences.

Things get dire in the third act, with a level of peril that occasionally overwhelms the family-friendly PG rating. Parents should think twice before bringing very young viewers; several sequences are quite scary. The climactic menace and bloodlust are completely at odds with the film’s playful set-up and deliberately exaggerated characters, particularly the silly clan lords and their even sillier first-born sons, who vie for Merida’s hand in marriage.

We’ve seen this juxtaposition of tone before, in other animated features. The similarly oafish Gaston turns quite nasty toward the end of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” while the final, incredibly massive beastie in “How to Train Your Dragon” is rather a shock, after spending so much time with that film’s mostly foolish Vikings.

But the savage events that concluded those two films felt more thematically appropriate, and consistent with the preceding storylines; both climaxes also allowed their respective protagonists to act bravely and honorably. That’s not quite the case in “Brave,” where I rather doubt that Merida has learned the necessary lesson; the denouement lets her off rather easily, considering previous transgressions.

Mostly, though, the story beats feel begged, borrowed and stolen: a bit of “Beauty and the Beast” here; a soupçon of “Lord of the Rings” there; a nod toward Disney’s “Snow White,” with a magic tart standing in for a poisoned apple; and a marvelous horse that — although an engaging supporting character — evokes memories of the similarly intelligent steed in Disney’s “Tangled.”

The Merida we meet, during the film’s first act, deserves better. She’s a vivacious, inspirational character who earns both our trust and respect … at first. But too much of what happens next feels contrived, most particularly a midpoint narrative shift so abrupt that it feels as if we — and Merida — have stumbled into an entirely different story.

I’d love to see the “Brave” that would have resulted from Chapman’s sole vision, but of course that’s impossible.

Meanwhile, I can only lament the unsatisfying, clumsily assembled storyline that simply doesn’t allow Merida to be her best self.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at www.davisenterprise.com

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Grant means new push for moving tracks out of town

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Some say council needs to reconsider MRAP

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1

    UC to create $250 million venture capital fund

    By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A1

     
    School district may redevelop downtown site

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1

    DUI suspected in crash

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

     
    Master Gardeners share their wisdom at free workshops

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

     
    Scots vote to stay in UK

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    France strikes Islamic State group’s depot in Iraq

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Man faces arson charge in huge California wildfire

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Telling tales, on ‘Davisville’

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Volunteers sought to make veggie bags

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Storyteller will draw on music, dance

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Woodland Healthcare offering flu shots

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Putah Creek Bike Path to close temporarily

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Little Free Libraries open at Montgomery

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A3

     
    Project Linus seeks donations

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Rabid bat found at Holmes Junior High

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Students invited to apply for Blue & White grants

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Halloween costume sale benefits preschool

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Register to vote by Oct. 20

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Free workout class set at library

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Explorit: Lots of ways to be a volunteer

    By Lisa Justice | From Page: A4 | Gallery

     
    Sierra Club remembers longtime walker

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    DHS Classes of 1954 and 1955 will hold 60th reunion

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Nonprofits can get DCN’s help

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Davis maps available at Chamber office

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    Need a new best friend?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

    Reception benefits endangered gorillas

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

     
    Downtown history tour planned in October

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    Sutter Farmers Market offers local goods

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8 | Gallery

     
    Wolk applauds approval of stronger rules for olive oil

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

    Davis hosts its own climate change rally

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
    Qigong classes available for heart health

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    .

    Forum

    Sick of being the bad guy

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    Educate homeless with dogs

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

    Cheers and Jeers: Not the end of the rainbow

    By Our View | From Page: A6

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

    Return to previous plan

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Save the ‘pine cone place’

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Affirm our community values

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Project has safety risks

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Learn more about Paso Fino

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Sports

    Blue Devil volleyballers hold off Herd

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Aggies’ new energy could be scary for Big West

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

    No rest for the weary: Aggie TE Martindale busy on and off the field

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Devils hope the light bulb turns on at Edison

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    River Cats and Giants sign two-year deal

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Mustangs are no match for DHS boys in water polo

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

    Take Zona and Bama this week

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: B2

     
    A’s slide continues as Rangers sweep

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    .

    Features

    Name Droppers: Awards keep coming for UC Davis retiree

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

     
    .

    Business

    Redesigned 2015 Escalade remains breed all its own

    By Ann M. Job | From Page: B3 | Gallery

     
    .

    Obituaries

    Carol L. Walsh

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Friday, September 19, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: A10

     
    .

    Real Estate Review

    Featured Listing

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER1

    Professional Services Directory

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER2

    Taylor Morrison

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER3

    Malek Baroody

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER4

    Norcal Land

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER5

    Robin Garland

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER6

    Karen Waggoner

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER7

    Dana Hawkins

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER7

    Martha Bernauer

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER8

    Joe Kaplan

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER8

    Lynne Wegner

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER8

    Remax

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER9

    Melrina A Maggiora

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER10

    Wells Fargo Home Mortgage

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER11

    Julie Leonard

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER11

    Coldwell Banker

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER12

    Kim Eichorn

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER14

    Lyon Real Estate

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER15

    Jamie Madison & Associates

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER16

    Marcelo Campos

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER16

    Julie Partain

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER16

    Bob Bockwinkel

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER17

    Juan Ramirez

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER17

    Kim Merrel Lamb

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER17

    Chris Snow

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER18

    James Hanna

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER18

    Raul Zamora

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER19

    Susan von Geldern

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER19

    Travis Credit Union

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER20

    Karen Waggoner

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER21

    Jamie Madison

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER21

    Tracy Harris

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER22

    Lisa Haass

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER22

    First Street Real Estate

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER24