Brave (2012)

Brenda Chapman‘s “Brave” stands strong.


It’s not every day that you get a feature-length animated film about a spirited princess fighting to find herself in a male dominated medieval Scottish kingdom, or said film with a female director, but Pixar’s 13th film is just that and their 1st with said director.  “Brave” is beautiful to get lost in and quickly makes the story of a female hero less about the newness as the familiar, side-stepping the kitschy of a forward moving woman on a male dominated hero’s journey.  We find ourselves in a land of fairy tale landscapes and wild animal foes long extinct, to the bright and lush greenery of ancient times where strong male heroes defined and broke the rules to keep traditions and embolden the law of the land.  Even as the central character Merida challenges these preconceived boundaries on-screen, co-writer and director Brenda Chapman would inevitably be curtailed by the same real world prescriptions.  I suppose this is Merida’s story after all and her adventures breaking away from the cultural norms and expectations of her clan.  It is this pursuit of independence and identity of strong womanhood that is the most refreshing and engaging and by example, telling.  Pixar’s lovingly realized animation is impeccable, hardly better anywhere.  Perhaps you just have to sort of divorce the fact that Brenda Chapman was replaced during production with a male director.

Above the Line: Practical movie reviews with Rory DeanBrenda Chapman might not be a household name just yet but her nomination for an Academy Award for directing Pixar’s animated feature film “Brave” at least suggests someone was paying attention – even as the house that toys built messed the whole thing up.  What should have been a fully triumphant moment for female filmmakers in Hollywood and everywhere else for that matter got all hamstringed when the infinitely wise gave the go ahead to replace her for what we now know as “creative differences”.  Despite this fact the film itself succeeds as a strong testament to female empowerment and self actualized girl-aspirations, even if only on the screen.  It’s hard not to choke on the irony as thick as bruised and contused taffeta.  I suppose the important thing is that the story of a brazen and driven tom-girl resisting the charmed fairy tales of indentured womanhood or second fiddle in a male dominated medieval Scottish kingdom will survive – even while Chapman’s place as Pixar has ended. 

BRAVEatlPixar’s 13th film continues their tradition of cutting edge animation with a clear, articulate story and engaging pop culture approach-ability  something other animation studios and filmmakers have been slowly picking up on.  Though some have criticized the film for not taking chances or striving to break newer new ground, it’s a little ridiculous to poke holes in a film for not being the greatest.  When did great go wrong?  “Brave” makes no effort to be as such and sticks to solid storytelling and a good script with incredible voice talents that instill in their animations an emotional presence that is not always evident in the genre.  These days it would seem you have to reinvent the wheel a couple of times a year to please everyone, despite the bloody hell that happens all too often when overzealous visionaries throw caution to the wind and forget the craft of character based narratives.  “Brave” succeeds despite the groans of those who seem to consider traditional marriage aspirations a let down, or that resisting the norm only to embrace the merits of familiar through experience is sentimentalism.  Somehow wanting one aspect of many possible outcomes of love and marriage is less for being less than different?  It’s a shame too as “Brave” is much more than such trivialities.  Sure, some might find the road familiar and the outcomes a little predictable but when did fruition and fathered good times in the face of growing cynicism grounds for dismissal as merely OK?  Seeing a temperamental female lead in a land of fairies and princesses, kings and queens, dragons and romantic love doesn’t mean the road frequently traveled is one to be trounced on.  There’s much more and aptly recognized here, even celebratory to the audience that allows themselves to slip silently into the tide of escapist cinema and relax.

BraveMomDaughterATL“Brave” tells the story of a different sort of Disney princess, a sort of tom-boy independent girl with her eyes set on her own way of things, about as far off the prince-to-save-me-ever-after story as you might find in the Magic Kingdom.  Head strong and fiery, referring to her hair and her disposition, Scottish princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) – which means “one who has achieved a high place of honor – receives an archery bow for her birthday and sets in motion a story of growing up different and coming to terms with traditional adolescence.  The fact the Merida’s father (Billy Connolly) loses his leg and therefore a sense of his male prowess, strength and control is subtle and perhaps explains how some reviews miss the clue.  Merida’s governing mother Elinor (Emma Thomson) is the real overseer and parent figure, the point of rebellion usually afforded the father, and also the channel by which the laws of the clans have the young princess all but married off one of the top three suitors of the land.  They are anything but her idea of match and matrimony, the second part of the foundation of the narrative – that being Merida’s call to adventure and coming into her own sense of identity, place and role in what feels very familiar – that is the man’s world of power and the powerful that dictates who succeeds and who does not.   Merida comes to embody this place of tradition and transitional and in revealing the mysticism of the feminine spirit the laws of the land open to the warmth of nurtured possibility.

BraveATLlightIn an interview with Comic Riff, Brenda Chapman described “Brave” as a “love letter” to her daughter and I can’t think of a better way of embracing a film about growing up and away, about coming into your own and being better for having lived the struggle.  This is about knowing yourself in everything you perceive as different and the realization that the heart is as delicate as it is resilient to the wounding of experience – what the soul already knows – that neither masculine nor feminine governs us, rather an understanding and emotionally rich union of the two is at the heart of the universe.

The Academy of Arts & Sciences announced January 10th that Pixar’s 13th film and 1st film to be directed by a female director “Brave” was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film.  While “creative differences” were cited as the reason, Brenda Chapman was replaced by Mark Andrews (The Incredibles and Ratatouille) and both share the nomination.  Personally, and maybe it’s naïve, someone should have fought for her.

About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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11 Responses to Brave (2012)

  1. Mark Walker says:

    Great review Rory. I absolutely loved this film. I know it didnt strike a chord with everyone but I got completely swept up in it. It also helps that I’m Scottish and got some references and subtleties that many probably wouldn’t have.

    • rorydean says:

      Thx Mark — Seems like this film had pretty mixed reviews right down the board, sadly. It was refreshing and the writing was engaging, not to mention the usual gorgeous animation, fine voice talent and experiencing a film from the perspective of a female director. I’m working on an article about the whole thing (i.e. female directors in hollywood to go along with my female directors articles) given the stuff I learned while writing about this one. Hey, maybe I forgot about you being a Scott or missed that, probably were some culture aspects we Yanks didn’t pick up on. That would be an interesting article for you to write – if you do please share. See ya around. Cheers0>

      • Mark Walker says:

        If I had the time I would do a piece on that Rory. Unfortunately, it’s hard enough to keep up. You never know though. Maybe someday.
        I did write up a review of Trainspotting in my native Scottish Tongue, though, and it went down surprisingly well with people. I didn’t think they’d understand but many did. It turned out to be a nice little experiment. 🙂

  2. CMrok93 says:

    Had a lot of fun with this one for the first half or so, but then after that, things started to go downhill for me and it lost my focus. Usually, I love the heck out of Pixar films but this one didn’t do much for me, except give me plenty of eye-candy to gaze at. Good review Rory.

    • rorydean says:

      Hey Dan — I read a lot of reactions like yours. I think it has something to do with the fact that Brenda Chapman’s baby was ripped from her arms somewhere during production, presumably beyond the half-way point but before the whole thing could be wrapped up by the producers. This often happens when another director is brought in or someone is removed, replaced, storms off in a huff, and/or the producers get nervous when a first time director starts to waiver. Chapman had only one other feature film to her credit prior to this. A real shame though since she was Pixar’s first female director directing a film NOT directed by a man. Oh well. I see your points but given the newness of seeing a strong female character with attitude and a pretty good script to work from, well..cheers->

  3. bleuravyn says:

    Yes, another great review! I was definitely attracted to this film for it having not only a female lead but a Scot! Very sad to hear that Brenda Chapman was not allowed to finish this film, her creation, her “love letter” as she puts it. I hope she knows that this young lady, though now I’m an adult, still thinks about and I’m inspired by the messages in this film and share in the struggle to not only make a living in this male dominated society/world (still) but to fight to make my art and share it with the world. I hope this talented director makes a ton more of great films, and gets to finish every single one of them!

    • rorydean says:

      Thx for your thoughtful comments here, much appreciated 🙂 I think the fact that this was coming from a woman didn’t receive the attention it deserved, let alone the first female director at Pixar (as we’ve been discussing) and that’s a shame. Definitely fodder for further examination. You point out some really salient observations that I’m sure touched audiences (those that ‘got it’) and this is something that needs to change (i.e. more female filmmakers “Above the Line” — this means the creative voice of the film, specifically the screenwriter, director, producer, cinematographer, editor, casting director, etc. that have a direct and considerable role in shaping the story, delivering the final film to theaters, and the overall look and feel of the production. Thanks again for your thoughts here and elsewhere, looking forward to continuing the conversation.

      Yes, fighting the good fight to get your art out into the world when you have to push harder and longer to get up the hillside of prejudice, discrimination, sexism and all out gender indifference. It doesn’t help when girls and women miss this whole argument entirely – as we’ve seen in discussions about the topic.

  4. johnny says:

    This post is great. I realy love it!

  5. Alexis says:

    Hello, I enjoy reading through your post. I didn’t like this movie nearly as much as you, I guess I kept looking for more of the Pixar in a Pixar movie. Maybe they should have left the director alone. Maybe they could have worked more on the transition between the two – or just work on the script. The story is there, the character is there, but something is missing. Something I can’t quite spell out.

    • rorydean says:

      Hi Alexis – I like that statement “more Pixar in a Pixar movie” that seems to hit it exactly. I can’t agree with you more, definitely should have left the director alone. I think that happens all the time, maybe not every time but certainly often. And to mess with such a historic thing, the first female director directing a non-male Pixar movie, well,hell. Thanks for your thoughts – please feel free to drop by any time!

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