Tag: Pixar

Movie Review: Brave

To me, the team at Pixar is right next to the directors Peter Jackson and Christopher Nolan. They’ve never made a bad movie. Even their ‘weakest’ titles are good movies with great composition and interesting ideas on some level. For Pixar, I’d say their weakest title is probably Cars, keeping in mind I’ve never seen the sequel. Pixar is owned by Disney, and the guys have taken a stab at adding a new princess to Walt’s long-lived pantheon of young ladies. The result is Brave, a story about the heiress of a Celtic kingdom.

Courtesy Disney & Pixar

The kingdom is ruled by Fergus and Elinor, and their first-born is a girl named Merida. Ever since she was little, Merida has been raised with high expectations, especially from her mother. While she craves adventure and freedom, she has traditions and obligations to uphold. When she reaches the age at which she can be married, she is to be betrothed to one of the heirs of the three smaller fiefdoms that make up the bulk of her father’s kingdom. Merida really isn’t interested in boys, though, let alone getting married. She seeks a way to change her fate, but her search for the means to do so could spell doom for her family and the entire kingdom.

Time and again, Pixar shows why they are the bar by which all other modern animated features are measured. Brave is yet another example – it’s absolutely stunning. I understand dedicated teams were assigned to Merida’s wayward crimson tresses and how her body should move in relation to them. This sort of attention to detail coupled with the breathtaking scenery and Celtic elements that ring with authenticity make the story come to life.

Courtesy Disney & Pixar
Best of luck, boys. You’ll need it.

As for Merida herself, I imagine Pixar is pretty pleased with how she turned out. She’s a well-balanced character with complexity, plenty of charm, and a number of flaws to make her more human and interesting. She’s capable, determined, funny, and mostly polite, but also somewhat uncouth, scornful of tradition, short-sighted, and a little insensitive and tactless at times. In the end, she’s a great protagonist and a worthy role model in spite of her flaws.

Her parents are not one-dimensional characters, either. In Disney movies with a princess as the main protagonist, fathers tend to be largely absent or at least somewhat tangential to the main story. Fergus, by contrast, takes an active hand in shaping and supporting Merida from the beginning, eager to share in his adventures and do what’s right, even if he’s a little clueless now and again. Elinor does get more screen time, as this story is about mother and daughter bonding, and while she’s focused on Merida following in her footsteps, it’s clear she’s very proud of her daughter and wants what’s best for her, though at the start she wants what she thinks is best for the girl rather than lending an ear to what Merida has to say.

Courtesy Disney & Pixar
They’re actually both pretty good parents.

Another thing that struck me about Brave is that there’s no malevolent antagonist. The two opposing forces in the way of the protagonists, the witchy woodcarver and the demonic bear, are not so much villains as they are other characters with their own agendas, feelings, and quirks. I think it would be very difficult to dislike the witch, and when the truth about the bear that takes Fergus’ leg early in the film is revealed, I for one was far more sympathetic towards it even as it was trying to get its claws on Merida. I was very glad to have characters with complexity on just about every level.

I’d love to say Brave is a perfect production, but it does have some flaws and doesn’t quite measure up to the very best Pixar has to offer, such as Wall-E and Up. However, most of the nitpicks I have are minor. Given that the story is set up and aimed as it is, it tends to be a little simplistic, even predictable at times. As much as our protagonists are challenged throughout, I never really felt like any of the danger had true weight to it. Sure, there were tense moments here and there, but the outcome felt fairly predictable. I’m not saying every story has to have deep complexity and unforeseen twists, though, and when it comes to this sort of straightforward storytelling, Brave is excellent. And while it may not be Pixar’s very best, it’s still head and shoulders above a lot of the other dross out there for young people, especially young women.

Stuff I Liked: The various Celtic elements, from tossing cabers to mentions of haggis. Billy Connolly’s voice never gets old and fits Fergus perfectly. The triplets are a hoot. And I could really appreciate giving the demonic bear a tragic backstory rather than letting it be a fundamental evil.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: A little more time on the second act of the movie could have helped. At the same time, it takes a little while for the main plot to actually begin, and as much fun as the various clans and their leaders are, less time setting them up would have meant more time for the central story and the ladies within it.
Stuff I Loved: Merida. Merida’s relationship with Elinor. Elinor & Fergus’ relationship. Elinor’s struggle to adapt to her circumstances. The witch’s workshop. And there’s a scene involving the men’s kilts that had me laughing my ass off.

Bottom Line: Brave is definitely worth your time to see, especially if you’re the parent of young girls. Minor nitpicks aside, it’s a very strong entry into Pixar’s library, introduces a Disney princess cut from a very different cloth from Snow White or Cinderella, provides plenty of humor for all ages, and manages great characterization and relationship drama while remaining light in tone. The fact that it’s gorgeous to look at is just icing on the cake.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Up

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With it’s bright colors, animal characters and a co-protagonist nowhere near puberty, it would be easy to dismiss Up as a kid’s movie. And while there are things in the film that kids will like and cause them to want to watch the movie repeatedly, there are themes, characterizations and nuances that will fly right over the heads of children and smack the adults right in the heart. Up demonstrates that the gifted film-makers at Pixar share something with Peter Jackson besides excellent production values and directorial savvy: They have never made a bad movie. The film features the voices of Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagal, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo, Elie Doctor and John Ratzenberger.

Courtesy Disney & Pixar

The opening act of the film tells us the story of Carl & Ellie Fredricksen and, like WALL-E, is almost devoid of dialog. It’s easy to forget that these characters were generated using computers. Their expressions and actions, underscored by Michael Giacchino’s brilliant music, yank us body and soul into the experience. The end result of this unforgettable piece of storytelling has us thoroughly understanding Carl’s bitterness in the wake of Ellie’s death, and shows the house in which he’s lived his entire adult life about to be consumed by corporate construction that surrounds him like Germans surrounding the Allies at Bastogne.

A young Wilderness Explorer named Russell comes knocking on Carl’s door. He needs his ‘assisting the elderly’ badge but Carl stubbornly refuses to be assisted, instead sending Russell on a snipe hunt. It seems that the men in suits building soulless skyscrapers are about to cart Carl away, but Carl sends his “NUTS!” missive and unleashes his plan, in the form of tens of thousands of balloons that carry him and his house away from the city and towards an adventure he and his wife always sought. Just when he thinks he’s free, however, he finds Russell on his porch, and the resulting story of their journey involves the best interaction between a crotchety old man and a boy coming of age since Gran Turino.

I haven’t even talked about the mad adventurer from Carl’s childhood, the intelligent and mischievous bird I call a snipe for lack of a better term – her name is Kevin – and the sheer awesomeness of Dug. But these things are best experienced rather than discussed. Like most Pixar films, high adventure and nail-biting action are delivered at the same time as powerful storytelling and in-depth character exploration, all wrapped up in that polished, animated package that has become the hallmark of their work. While other studios employ young, handsome and butch actors to headline their big action blockbusters, Pixar continues to buck the trend and go against the grain in a brilliant fashion. Carl Fredericksen joins WALL-E, Marlin the clown fish, Sully & Mike and Buzz & Woody in the veritable pantheon of Pixar’s unlikely but unforgettable heroes. Even Mister Incredible, himself a super-hero, is surprising in the way he transcends standard comic book fare to become truly heroic when he resolves to protect his family both from outside evil and the tension threatening to tear it apart. I’m wandering a bit away from Up, I know, but there is a pattern here. And it’s a pattern of greatness.

I honestly wasn’t expecting WALL-E to be topped so quickly and in such an incredible fashion. Don’t get me wrong: I still love WALL-E, from its science-fiction motif to its social commentary to its touching love story – between robots. But Up captures a pioneering sense of adventure along with demonstrating again the sheer power of the human spirit. Carl Fredricksen, a 79-year-old man, becomes slowly less tethered to the trappings of age as the story progresses. He demonstrates cleverness, a weathered but unbeatable sense of humor and that deep-seated desire never to give up on his dreams. As myopic he might seem at some points, the difference between him and his childhood idol becomes quite clear in short order. Russell could simply exist as a caricature of annoying adolescence, but he shows a surprising depth all his own, and his spirit is a lot like Carl’s in its unwillingness to be stifled or ignored. A lot of the tension between the two comes from having positive but differing goals to which each is equally committed.

Up juxtaposes real comedy with endearing character study the way District 9 juxtaposes blazing sci-fi action with gripping social commentary. Better writing and direction is very difficult to find. I could go on gushing about Up, but suffice it to say it should be on your Netflix queue already, if you don’t own a copy of the film yourself. It is absolutely fantastic. Up is not just a lot of fun and emotionally touching – it’s superlative storytelling and one of the best films of the year.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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