Alright, let me get this out of the way first. Pixar: teasing me with a Finding Nemo trailer that turned out to just be for the 3D theatrical rerelease? Not cool. Okay, yes: the rational part of my brain should’ve taken over and gone, “Hey, Kat? If there were a Finding Nemo sequel in any stage of production, you would’ve heard about it long before there was a teaser for it. You know they’re rereleasing the film in 3D, so that’s pretty clearly what this is for.” Yes, okay, but what you’re doing there is assuming that I can think rationally when a trailer comes on, and I immediately recognize a scene from Finding Nemo. Just saying.
Contrastingly, having a prominently displayed dedication to “friend and mentor” Steve Jobs toward the beginning of the ending credits? Awesome, awesome, all kinds of awesome. I teared up a little, I’m not going to lie.
Now that that’s out of the way, Brave is Pixar’s newest effort to grace the big screen. After a pair of sequels (Toy Story 3 and Cars 2), it was sort of a breath of fresh air to see Pixar doing something different again. (Oh, their next film is a prequel to Monsters Inc.? Sigh.) The rendering in this film is just absolutely gorgeous, especially the landscapes. The very first thing you see is a snow-covered mountain that just absolutely looks photo realistic. I love that Pixar’s movies, while nearly always excellent movies in their own right, almost always also seem to have this secondary quality of, “Look what we can do!” It really makes you feel like the studio feels joy about what they’re doing.
The film’s characters certainly fit certain archetypes (the rebellious daughter, the demanding mother, the friendly father), but not uncomplicatedly. The mother’s motivations are much kinder than they might initially seem. The daughter, though certainly right to want to determine her own destiny, doesn’t go about it in a very good way and escalates the conflict. We see a relationship in which both mother and daughter fail to communicate with each other. The film finds a dramatic way of showing this when the two have separate conversations–the mother with the father, the daughter with her horse–and the film cuts back and forth between the two conversations so that they answer each other. They argue with each other while physically separated in completely separate conversations. The only characters who come anywhere close to being one-dimensional are the male characters, and, honestly? I’m kind of okay with that. There wasn’t any huge reason for them to be explored more, and there are plenty of beloved films where the opposite happens, so you guys can afford to take one for the team.
The film’s first act reaches its emotional climax in the competition for the princess’s hand in marriage. After the three suitors have had their turn, she defiantly shoots for her own hand in marriage. The iconic moment here is when she literally has to rip her dress in order to draw back an arrow. She then proceeds to hit the bullseye on all three targets, and splits the arrow on the third target. The third is done with her pulling back the arrow and releasing it in slow motion. The entire scene is just a sort of, “Oh, wow,” moment that you don’t see in films every day. My only complaint is that I’m not sure there was enough buildup to it. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve basically seen the entire buildup to this scene. Nevertheless, it was brilliant.
The film also features a transformation scene which is pretty incredible. A human turns into an animal, but retains all of their human faculties. This character has great difficulty adjusting to their animal body, which is something you don’t really see often enough in film’s that depict transformation.
The heart of the story is that the conflict between mother and daughter must be solved from both sides. The two come to understand each other and step back from their conflict, rediscovering the special relationship they once had and coming to an understanding about the future.
Though I can’t describe it in any detail without completely spoiling the rest of the story leading up to it, the film’s climax features an unbelievably epic rescue/battle scene in which the daughter rides in on horseback, leaps into battle, uses arrows, swords, and in general fights with incredible intensity.
This film is about the mending of relationships, about the tension between tradition and an individual’s needs, and about self-determination. It’s nice to see Pixar playing with big themes in a unique way again, rather than another prequel or sequel. Hopefully they’ll get back to that after Monsters University. Or (and I own my hypocrisy here) at least their next sequel will actually be for Finding Nemo, since they teased me with that.