Sunday, July 27, 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

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

News

Zombies by rail: It’s not just a show, it’s a trip

By Evan Arnold-Gordon | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Community gardens stretch food dollars, study finds

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Humphrey Fellows will host Global Forum

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Fatal Covell Boulevard crash recalled in court

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1

Ukraine launches offensive to retake Donetsk

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Rairdan joins race for Davis school board

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

State can’t say if it’s meeting drought goal

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Wildfire spurs evacuation of 700 homes

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Israel extends Gaza truce through Sunday

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

New ordinance aims to prevent nut thefts from orchards

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A4

 
Biggest book sale to date opens Friday at Davis library

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Luna family matriarch turns 100

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
Freeway crash injures two drivers

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A5

 
Museum wants your old Davis High School yearbooks

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

 
Mace Innovation Center is focus of meeting

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Affordable housing forum planned in Davis

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

 
 
Discussion of oil by rail EIR planned Sunday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

State awards $40,000 for historic property survey

By Lily Holmes | From Page: A8

 
Protesters gather at Primate Center

By Tanya Perez | From Page: A8

Vanguard hosts economic development director

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

 
Get a sneak peek at documentary trailer

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

Free blood pressure screenings offered

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

 
Davis Chamber Choir sings short summer program

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A9

Tasting event benefits Yolo Land Trust

By Lily Holmes | From Page: A9

 
At the Pond: From Davis, it’s easy to get back to nature

By Jean Jackman | From Page: A10 | Gallery

Tickets on sale now for DHS Hall of Fame dinner

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
.

Forum

Feels like a million miles away

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A7

 
Check doctors’ vitals before they check yours

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Here’s what you need for a perfect wedding

By Marion Franck | From Page: A7

 
Husband’s let himself go

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A14

 
Pat Oliphant cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A16

So, what’s in a week’s worth of waste?

By Michelle Millet | From Page: A16

 
Questions on water rights

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A16, 1 Comment

Golf tourney was a big success

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A16

 
Campus turns on the tap

By Our View | From Page: A16

New playground is wonderful

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A17

 
Just Us in Davis: Little Rock Nine hero to celebrate with Davis youths

By Jann L. Murray-Garcia | From Page: A17 | Gallery

We can do more to help

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A17

 
.

Sports

New Korematsu teacher is an American Ninja Warrior

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Sutherland presents 1st clinic; golf column on its way

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Gray wins 6th straight, A’s 4 HRs beat Texas 5-1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Kershaw throws 2-hitter as Dodgers beat Giants 5-0

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Furyk opens 3-shot lead in Canadian Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Nibali set to cruise to Tour victory

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Area sports briefs: River Cats take Game 1 of doubleheader

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

 
.

Features

.

Arts

.

Business

Companies will collaborate on crop insect control

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A13

 
Developer’s commitments: affordable and green

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A13 | Gallery

UC Davis Health System earns ‘Most Wired’ award

By Charles Casey | From Page: A15

 
Bartholomew hires new associate

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A15

Yolo County real estate sales

By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A15

 
Go back to school with Great Clips

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A15

Lagerstrom represents Davis at Mary Kay seminar

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A15

 
.

Obituaries

Jonathan Eric Hollander

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
Carlton Hope Meister

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Comics: Sunday, July 27, 2014

By Creator | From Page: A6