Starring Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson
Directed by Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman
Expectations: Fairly low. I’m only watching this because my girlfriend wanted to see it.
Films that I never intended to watch usually fall into two camps: the ones that reinforce my reasons for not watching them, and the ones that win me over and make me sad I didn’t see them sooner. Brave falls into both categories, as everything I hated about the trailer is still front and center here, while the simple, Disney-style throwback story got me nostalgic for the good ole days of fairy tales where every young protagonist had a run-in with an elderly witch and things went sour. Brave is definitely not a great film, but it is entertaining enough. What was most interesting to me, though, were the visuals.
Let me first state that the film looks great. The team at Pixar should be very proud of themselves, as they have reached a level of visual fidelity in 3D animation that I’ve never seen before (like just about every movie they’ve done previously). Pixar is always on the forefront of killer tech, and Brave proves that they still have many tricks up their collective sleeves.
However, this is also the thing that troubled me the most and gave me a lot to think about. The early scenes are set outdoors, amongst the lush forests of Scotland, as our hero Merida is a small child longing to be an archer. The forest surrounding the characters is nearly photorealistic, and the cartoonish, stylized design of the characters seemed out of place in this pseudo-realistic environment. It felt like a reversed, modern equivalent to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? As the film continued, I either got used to the effect or there was less of a gap between the characters and the background, but what refused to die down was that little voice inside my head who continued to whittle away at the issue.
Ever since Pixar burst onto the feature film scene with Toy Story, they’ve slowly moved closer and closer to replicating reality (and achieving it) with their visuals. At the same time, CG FX have taken over the live-action side of the industry, with some major live-action films now being more computer-fabricated reality than actual filmed footage. When I saw Avatar back in 2009, I was so frustrated with it, as it felt like I was watching the world’s longest video game cutscene that I couldn’t skip. So while animation has moved closer to reality, live-action films have moved closer to animation. The lines between the two are blurring very quickly, and within a couple of years I wouldn’t be surprised if the two sides of the industry achieve visual parity.
What made the experience of watching Brave even stranger, was that the character design and their animation was reminiscent of classic Disney hand-drawn animation, specifically The Sword and the Stone. This led to me having a strange sensation of also being able to visualize what the characters would’ve looked like if Brave had been made 30 years ago. I could literally see the character’s rudimentary forms, perhaps as they looked in the film’s storyboards, performing the same actions on-screen. It’s a weird feeling to describe, and I probably sound a bit daffy, but I think it’s a unique enough experience to warrant including here.
At the end of the day, though, Brave looks great and my concerns don’t really effect the film’s ability to entertain. There are definitely slow moments and I thought the action was rather boring and drawn out, but none of that matters much as this is a no-brainer if you’re into these sorts of films. Pixar has done a lot better, but that doesn’t really matter to the kids this is designed for. Brave is an often thrilling ride, and while it failed to capture me in the way it was intended too, its visual fidelity sent me into such a vortex of cinematic thought that I have no choice but to call it a success.