'Brave' falls shy of past Pixar blockbusters

Special to the Tri-City HeraldJune 25, 2012 

I think the secret of happiness is to just fail constantly.

Have I talked about this before? I feel like I have. Well whatever, that would only prove I practice what I preach. Anyway, as North America's fifth-biggest Ed Robertson, you know you can trust me when I say that being great is a curse. All it does is make people expect constant greatness from you! Do you know what kind of pressure that is? Probably not, because you're reading about a children's movie instead of doing your work.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

Just look at Pixar. Sure, they've made billion of dollars while redefining the standards by which family-friendly animated movies are measured. They've been so successful that now we expect everything they do to be a classic. That must suck! I bet it sucks as bad as their newest movie, Brave! Ha ha, I am just kidding. Brave is actually pretty good. But it's not great, and now I expect great, so when I talk about it, it's going to sound like Brave was pretty bad instead.

In feudal Scotland, Princess Merida has no interest in becoming the proper lady her mother would like her to be. She'd much rather ride her horse and shoot her bow. So when the queen tells her she's to be married off through a competition of the clans, Merida up and wins the contest herself.

After a fight with her mom, she runs into the woods and strikes a deal with a witch to change her mom's mind. But the spell turns the queen into a bear -- and if Merida can't reverse it in two days, she'll stay that way forever.

Far and away the best thing about Brave is the bear-acting. Well, that and the graphics, if CG so real you can feel the castle's stone under your fingers is the sort of thing that impresses you. If it's always been your dream to live in a real-life Legend of Zelda game -- and if not, I don't think we can be friends -- watching Brave is about the closest we'll get. At least until I get the 28th Amendment passed. Get your elf hats ready!

Anyway, back to the bears. Specifically, the bear-acting. While Brave is a decent movie before Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson) gets turned into a bear, after, it becomes as funny as a bunch of old people tripping into a mud puddle. Her horrified adaptation to her new body is clumsy and hilarious, the perfect fusion of bear-gestures and human ones. If there were a Bear Oscars, her character would sweep them. Hang on, I've got to go start an online campaign to make the Bear Oscars real.

But while the graphics and animation may be top-notch, the movie as a whole isn't. It's fun, yes. The pacing is fine, and Pixar continues to pull out some stellar storytelling techniques, including a very non-boring prologue and an early scene of mother and daughter separately rehearsing their arguments to each other that's crosscut to make it seem like they're there in the same room talking to each other.

But something's missing. It may be from the protagonist, who's a one-note defiant teenage type with no real internal conflict. Or it may be the pacing after all; sometimes they act like it's absolutely no problem the Queen Mum is a giant bear, while at others they're racing around like they just remembered they left 50 different stoves on.

Wow, now that is a vague criticism. You could apply that to every action/adventure movie ever made, assuming you change the bits about bears to helicopters or kidnappers or whatever. Still, I am telling you that something about its plotting is off. It's not my fault I don't know what that something is. Oh wait.

Probably, Brave mostly suffers from "Not as Good as All Their Other Masterpieces Syndrome," symptoms of which include a persistent itch to compare it to other Pixar classics such as Toy Story or Ratatouille. But, well, it isn't as good. It isn't as deep or as emotionally rewarding (though the mother-daughter relationship pays off moderately well). Except for the bear animation, it isn't as witty.

In other words, it's a good time. A fine way to spend an afternoon. Just temper your expectations accordingly. As long as we sweep this under the rug above the one we swept Cars under, I'm sure Pixar will go back to amazing us again in no time.

Grade: B

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com. His fiction is available on Kindle, Nook, and through Smashwords.

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