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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Brave.


BRAVE (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Brenda Chapman/Mark Andrews/Steve Purcell, 2012.

Brave is a beautifully visualized, sometimes blisteringly funny and exciting Pixar cartoon fairytale about a wee Scottish lassie who grows up into a feisty, flame-haired young adventuress who shoots off great big arrows and battles bears and witches and boisterous clansmen. It’s Pixar‘s first venture into pop feminist myth-making (their first girl protagonist) and though the heroine Merida may be a Disney princess, somewhat in the lineage of Snow White and Cinderella (and Rapunzel), she’s been given a modernist Pixar twist: She refuses to be shackled to one of the three doofus princes competing for her hand. She’s her own gal, but she’s also a cutie — and, as far as I‘m concerned, she and Pixar split the bull’s-eye.

Brave apparently had its production problems. Original writer-director Brenda Chapman was replaced in mid-shoot by writer-director Mark Andrews.  (Along with writer-director Steve Purcell, they all get credit.) But whoever did what, the results are mostly smashing. Brave was made with the innovation of classic Pixar, the rich visual beauty of classic Disney, some of the snap and snazz of a vintage Chuck Jones or Friz Freleng Looney Tune, and all the wit and intelligence and warmth we seem to be getting regularly from our animated features, especially the ones from Pixar (but from other studios too, like DreamWorks, with Madgascar 3). Frustratingly, we’re seeing all this in movies allegedly made for families and kids — and we mostly don’t see anything similar in a lot of the artistically impoverished (and just plain stone bad) live action features supposedly made for adults.

Brave has been criticized for being too much like classic Disney, but it seems obvious that that’s what most of the filmmakers wanted: Chapman and Andrews and Purcell, and the producer (Katherine Sarafian) and the executive producers (Pete Docter, Lasseter, and Andrew Stanton). Even so, the movie deliberately subverts the very traditions it celebrates. Brave’s heroine, Merida, may be a princess, but she isn’t waiting for the someday her prince will come. (Not that they don’t come anyway, in all their doofusness.) We see her first in the ravishing medieval Scottish highlands; an adorable semi-realistic 3D cartoon child (voiced by Peigi Barker), scared of nothing — not the huge bow and arrow her huge dad Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly) hands her, nor the behemoth of a horse she rides around on. Time passes and she becomes a tough but charming gal (voiced from then on by Kelly Macdonald, of Trainspotting and No Country for Old Men), with a great frizzy gorgeous tangle of wild red hair that flops and swirls around her face in true Disney cartoon grandeur as she happily rebels against convention — sometimes assisted by her three scamp red-haired teensy triplet brothers.

There’s something that does swerve her of course a little: and that’s the proprieties demanded by her gentle but firm mother Queen Elinore (the great Emma Thompson), a strict maternalist who instructs her (or tries to) in all matters of etiquette and princessy behavior, and is responsible for those three stooges showing up to win her hand: the initially unappetizing sons of Lord Dingwall (Callum O‘Neill), Lord Macintosh (Craig Ferguson) and Kevin McKidd as Lord McGuffin (a Hitchcock allusion, I suppose). Elinore is the un-enabler to this Daddy’s Girl, the apple of the eye of the fearsome huge boisterous Fergus. It’s Elinor’s mind that Merida is trying to change when she charges off on her gigantic steed to the deep forest, chases a conga line of shining will-of-the-wisps to a Stonehenge that suddenly morphs into a witch‘s hut (someone here has maybe seen Throne of Blood), with an irascible, sneaky old witch (Julie Walters, spouting topical gags galore) and who offers Merida what she wants: a potion that’s supposed to change the queen’s thinking, but actually…

SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read)

….But actuialy turns Elinore into a big Mama Bear, who can’t speak, only grrr, and has to run around the castle and forest and hide because Fergus hates bears (having lost a limb to one). Elinore is utterly mortified. (The animators depict bear mortification as it‘s never been done before.) but she’s also increasingly bearish and forgetful of her humanity, and, according to the witch, who has decamped from the forest and left word by computer-cauldron, Elinore will become forever a bear if Merida doesn’t come up with something in two days. Okay, now you know, and Disney insisted on this Spoiler Alert — though, if most of you weren’t already aware of the Great Bear Twist, I’d be very, very surprised, Still, Disney gave me Dumbo when I was ten, so I figure I owe them something. And you’ll be amazed at the suspense they milk out of Mama Bear’s plight.


Summing up: This is a great looking film, and funny too. Merida looks great. Her parents look great. Whatever or whoever it was I just wrote about in the Spoiler Alert looks great too — and so do the triplets and all those boisterous clans and even those three dweebs they try to palm off on Merida. Heck, even the water looks great — and it’s hard to get water right in a cartoon. The movie’s Scotland looks fabulously heart’s-in-the-Highlands-ish, even though it isn’t the real Scotland, but somebody’s dream Scotland. I had a fine, boisterous, high old time at Brave, and a lot of others will too, even if it doesn’t break new cartoon ground—as if it had to.

Yes, I will grant you, this movie is not quite as good as Wall-E, or Up, or Finding Nemo, or the Toy Story Trilogy or a few other Pixars I could name, or the stuff from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli they import in. But So what? Pixar, and Disney/Pixar’s Lasseter now find themselves in the kind of curious position Orson Welles occupied for much of the last half of his career, when Citizen Kane was accorded its due position as an all time masterpiece and the greatest film ever made (which it was) and everything else he did afterwards suffered by comprison/ It had to be better than the best film ever made, or it would be counted a disappointment. compared unfavorably to Kane, and undeservedly knocked (as was the case with The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil, The Trial and Chimes at Midnight) — damaging his whole later career. Similarly, some critics have begun knocking or carping Pixar, whenever it’s felt they don’t measure up to, or surpass, their previous outings. But listen, if I can’t get great Pixar, I’m happy enough with good Pixar, and Brave is better than good.

There’s no danger of Pixar getting hurt by that occasional carp. Their movies are as popular world-wide as they are critic-pleasingly excellent. But you can seey signs of revisionist creeping in — even though its multitudes better than the last crummy (adult) movie I saw before it, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, a movie that seemed to have been made by people who had unplugged their brains. Brave, by contrast, is a movie that will bring diversion and joy and amusement and fun to millions of people (including many who’ve never heard of Pixar, or Orson Welles. Or even Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, much less Andrew Jackson, Werewolf of Washington or George Washington, RoboCop (both now in development, somewhere).

I don’t even think it’s impossible the movie Brave may do some good. Maybe some little girl of six or eight, from some poor family in some small town or poor city neighborhood will look at it — some little prospective artist or scientist or teacher, some singer or lawyer or doctor or actress or writer or whatever, and say to herself: That was neat. I don’t want to get stuck with a doofus either. I want to explore my options and by Gosh, I will. You go, Merida. But all the same, that wasn’t such a smart or nice thing to do to her mother.

Well, maybe. Dumbo did a lot for me. So, unless you’re determined to be mean to beautiful, feisty, adventurous little red-headed princesses, I think you can feel safe seeing this one, with kids or not. I liked it. Just watch out for the bears — especially the enchanted ones. (Oh. Sorry. Spoiler alert.)

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One Response to “Wilmington on Movies: Brave.”

  1. Daniel Shin says:

    Nice show. Nice movie. But isn’t it plain boring? I mean you need more adventure. Not like Beauty and the Beast but like scary, funny, that kind of stuff.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon