Before I get into the reasons why this movie didn’t work, and Jesus Christ there were a lot of reasons, I’m going to lead with this story:
A few years ago, before Brave was ever announced, I was having drinks over happy hour at a downtown bar known for it’s pirate themes and for, now, being in (500) Days of Summer, and I was having a discussion with a pretty vocal feminist who I was, at the time, dating.
She was arguing that there was a problem with PIXAR, as a company, as a brand, as an institution, because none of the lead characters in it’s movies, in it’s then 18 year history, were female.
I was arguing two things in return: the Second part of my argument was that they’re cartoons, and that PIXAR’s heroes and leads and characters are seldom human anyways, let alone male or female. They’re bugs and cars and toys and robots and rats and monsters.
The First part of my argument was IT SHOULDN’T MATTER IF YOUR LEAD CHARACTER IS MALE OR FEMALE, IT SHOULD ONLY MATTER THAT THE STORY IS GOOD. That the movie is good. I absolutely believe that if the movie is great, if the story is great, than it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter if the lead is black, white, gay, straight, male, female, monster or toy or robot. It should be GOOD, first. Having a female lead just to have a female doesn’t matter if the story sucks, if the movie sucks.
And we argued for the entire happy hour, never seeing eye to eye. PIXAR should have a female lead; it owed itself and the American people and all women everywhere to have a female lead, that was her argument. It should just be a good movie, first and foremost, that was my argument.
So that’s the preamble to my thoughts on why Brave was a pretty fucking awful movie. Because much was made EVERYWHERE about it being PIXAR’s first female lead, and what do you know, the movie isn’t good. It’s not bad because it’s a female lead; it’s just a bad movie.
So, without further ado…
The Problems With PIXAR’s Brave and Why It Sucked:
AVC: One thing that makes the film seem ambitious and unusual is that it doesn’t really have a villain. The villain is pride, or lack of communication.
MA: Yeah, that’s right.
KS: Well, you’ve got Mordu, who’s a big obstacle, but is not necessarily the villain.
AVC: And he’s barely in the film.
MA: There’s no antagonist. Except yourself.
So here’s the thing, though. You can’t have a hero without a villain. Heroes are defined by their villains. There is no villain in this movie. Therefor there is no hero.
- There is no love interest. And before you feminists attack me that there doesn’t have to be a love interest, let me remind you that this is a movie about a PRINCESS and, you know what, in every movie no matter what, there is some sort of love interest between someone and someone else. There’s love interests in Bonnie & Clyde, in Planet of the Apes, in Battlefield Earth, in Crocodile Dundee and in Elf. Someone has to love somebody. Yes, Merida loves her family, her father, he mother and her brothers, but she seems to just only love herself, which means she is both her own villain and her own love interest, and what a fucking boring fuck character that is, not to mention nobody cares. There are three princes in this movie, none of whom get any chance at all of being real characters, and they exist solely for the purpose of giving our Princess something to be angry about. She doesn’t fall for any of them; they don’t fall for her. The movie ends with them leaving to go back to their clans. Our Princess NEVER meets a prince, NEVER falls in love. It’s not like there was a super cliched farmers boy she knew as a kid but couldn’t marry when she grew up because he was a peasants son or anything like that. As cliched and awful as that might have been, it would’ve at least been SOMETHING. No love interest, nothing for us or Merida to care about except herself, whom, apparently, she is also fighting as the villain of the story.
- Let’s talk about Chekhov’s Gun. Because, god dammit, this movie has ‘em in spades. The first one is ARCHERY. Much has been made about the archery going into this movie, much is fucking made about the archery AS YOU’RE WATCHING THE MOVIE. Archery is what Merida is great at; she’s given a bow at the beginning of the movie as a child, she fires it growing up, she out archers every fuck person in the entire fuck movie. THEREFOR archery should play a very fucking important part in the climax of this movie. You know how important archery is to the climax of this movie? THERE IS NO ARCHERY INVOLVED IN THE CLIMAX OF THIS MOVIE. She does not use a bow, arrow, or combination of a bow and arrow to solve her problems, to right her wrongs, to stop the bad guy (remember; there’s no villain, just an evil bear that is vanquished by a falling stone.) Now, had Merida fired the arrow that hit the stone that fell on the bear, then the previous hour of archery nonsense would make sense. She didn’t. Archery didn’t matter in her heroes journey, and oh yeah, it’s not a heroes journey without a villain and there’s no villain anyways.
- The other Chekov’s Gun is SEWING, and it’s an inverse Chekov’s Gun at that. Why? The crux of this movie involves a spell that turns Merida’s mom into a bear. That spell can only be undone by Merida sewing a tapestry back together. I know what you’re thinking. For a movie about a gung-ho power female who doesn’t need a man, the only thing that can save the day is a SEWING KIT, but hey, yay feminism, right? But HERE’S THE THING: At no point in the movie is sewing, and Merida learning or needing to know how to sew, important. IT’S NOT ESTABLISHED. There is a montage at the beginning of “Princessy things” Merida has to learn how to do that she hates. Sitting straight. Eating politely. Etc etc. She manages to do all these things, but if you’re going to make sewing such a fucking important part of the climax, MAYBE YOU HAVE HER IN AN EARLIER SCENE NOT BEING ABLE TO SEW. That’s the ONE THING she is unable to do, and therefor she overcomes this slight to save the day and rescue her mother from a spell of her own doing because she’s selfish and loves and hates only herself jesus christ.
- When a story is organic, we don’t see the strings. We don’t see the filmmakers pulling our characters and story this way and that. It happens because it happens organically. In Brave, everything happens because little glowy blue Will O’ The Whisps appear at each plot juncture and lead Merida to the next bit of plot device. I mean, WHAT THE FUCK. You might as well have John Lasseter pull up in a Cars-mobile and say “HEY LADY! NEED YOU TO GO THAT WAY NOW! THANKS!” and then drive away cackling about Cars merchandise. It’s too fucking convenient, and it doesn’t work, and it’s completely inorganic, and it’s never explained. ITS NEVER EXPLAINED.
- Why is Merida’s father the Bear King? Because he was attacked be a Demon Bear. Okay, but he was the bear king BEFORE that, right? So… Why were bears important to his sigil and lineage before that? Shouldn’t then, when he sees the Demon Bear, it be completely rational because he’s the Bear King and this is his avatar? None of that makes sense. Chicken and the egg argument, I know, but…
- There was no conflict in the movie. (Probably because there was no villain, or love interest, or…) Now, I know what you’re saying. “But there was conflict! She didn’t want to get married! She didn’t want to be a princess!” And you’re right, those two statements are true. But not wanting to be a princess isn’t a conflict. Her fighting with her mother IS a conflict, but she fought with everyone, and her mother fought with everyone, and that’s a character TRAIT, and she didn’t overcome this conflict as much as she just changed the nature of it. ALSO: she didn’t overcome ANYTHING. The movie ends EXACTLY where it starts. The Princess is still a princess who is unmarried and wild and loves archery and riding horses and doesn’t want to get married. NOTHING CHANGED. There’s a lot of talk at the end about letting people marry who they want to marry and fall in love with who they want to fall in love with, which would be fanfuckingtastic if there was anyone falling in love with anybody in the movie, but, there’s not. So instead we have this “conflict” about being single and getting betrothed out of love and it doesn’t matter because there wasn’t anyone else she was in love with and SHE DOESN’T CHANGE AS A CHARACTER. I guess she and her mother aren’t fighting at the end but THEY WEREN’T FIGHTING AT THE BEGINNING EITHER. They disagreed about marriage and her being a princess. The end.
- The most interesting part of the movie is the Witch and her Crow, two characters largely responsible for the magic in the movie, and for the Demon Bear (the only thing comparable to a villain), it turns out, and for the spell which turns Merida’s mom into a bear. This would make the Witch some sort of antagonist, except, SHES NOT AN EVIL witch. And as soon as she appears in the film, she disappears and WE NEVER SEE HER AGAIN. Merida can’t hunt her down and demand another spell; the Witch doesn’t show up at the end to fix things, or make things worse, or turn everyone into bears, or take over the kingdom. She’s not seen courting others into becoming bears. She’s not seen setting up shop in another kingdom. She’s just fucking gone. She’s a plot device set up by the Whisps/Filmmakers to serve a point and then abandoned. And she and her Crow and Broom are the most interesting fucking parts on the entire fucking movie. They feel real; like a Disney magical kingdom movie. There is much fuss the Witch makes about magic wood, and woodcarving, and imbuing magic in wood. She carves nothing but bears. She’s obsessed with bears. But she claims wood can’t be possessed by magic, even though all her wood is. NOW, here’s where you think: Maybe she has a magic wooden arrow that Merida uses to kill the Demon Bear at the end of the film, THUS UNITING NEARLY ALL OF THE ABANDONED PLOT DEVICES. Well you would be fucking wrong again. If there’s a ball in this movie, they done dropped it.
- Disney made this movie years ago, it was called Brother Bear. It involved a Native American who was transformed into a bear to be taught a lesson and then nearly killed by his family, who didn’t know he was a bear, and Phil Collins did the music. It wasn’t very good. It was better than Brave.
- The movie is very pretty to watch, except, most of it takes place at night, and it’s dark, and dark animation is hard, and 3D makes the picture darker. So I know I’m 30 years old and probably don’t have the eyesight I did as a kid, but, maybe you don’t make your movie so dark knowing it’s going to be in 3D and thus darker still? Just a thought.
- The sound, not the music, but the sound is great. I saw this at one of the 14 theaters in the United States with the brand-new Dolby Atmos sound system, and it sounded fantastic. That’s really the only nice thing I can say about Brave.
Movies should be good. It shouldn’t matter if your lead is male or female. This movie would have been just as god-awful with a male lead. Because the story was bad.
Movies should be good. I understand feminism, and wanting equal things for all people, and wanting great role models for girls, and great female characters we can look up to and aspire to be, and who can inspire us to be greater females in turn (er, you know what I mean.)
But it doesn’t matter if the movie is bad. This was a bad movie.