I saw Brave earlier this week and it was, like I expected, just okay. That was especially disappointing because in the wake of Cars 2 (which was flat out not good) everyone was kind of hoping for a return to form for the studio, but if anything this movie hammered home the opposite reality, which I’ll get to in a minute.
Everyone’s criticisms of Brave are pretty much spot-on. It tells a very small story of a princess who “wants more” and all that, but it isn’t anything we haven’t really seen before, except with a much stronger emphasis on the mother-daughter relationship. Yet if we’re comparing it to, say, the father-son themes in Finding Nemo or the family dynamics in The Incredibles it falls very short, coming off as simplistic while failing to resonate strongly enough to justify the thematic backbone of the entire movie.
The whole story structure is noticeably off, which most would say is really bizarre for a Pixar movie. Something happens almost halfway through the film that wasn’t revealed in the trailers or marketing when really it should have been Brave’s entire selling point, except that it happens too late in the story, so that by the time it’s resolved the whole emotional payoff doesn’t feel truly earned.
That the humor isn’t as mature as other Pixar fare and the characters very one note and prone to slapstick doesn’t help.
Some sequences manage to really click—the opening, the (underused) witch, the salmon fishing scene—but the connective tissue just isn’t what audiences think of as “Pixar,” and that brings me to my main point, which is that it’s time to stop looking to the studio as this masterpiece factory that can do no wrong.
They can. They have. They’re too big to produce only flawless gems, and with their increasingly sequel-rich, film-a-year output, we have to remember that there’s no one creative mind behind Pixar. It’s a group of people doing what they love with mostly great success (Brave is by no means bad and the Cars movies have plenty of redeeming qualities), but it might be more useful to stop looking at these only as “Pixar movies” and pay a bit more attention to who’s in charge of which projects. Is Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up) directing? Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E)? How about Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille)?
The directors of Brave were more from the Disney side of things, having never helmed a Pixar film before, and it shows. Is that too big a problem? Only when audiences are expecting a certain level of resonance based on the studio’s reputation, which isn’t really the best indicator, or at least it isn’t anymore.
It just does no one any good to deify this or any other studio—in any medium—as a monolithic entity that can produce no wrong. Keep expectations reasonable, look into who’s making what, and know what you’re getting.
And I’ll readily admit you could do plenty worse than seeing Brave.
But you certainly don’t have to just because it’s Pixar.