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Directors: Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman
Release Date:
June 10, 2012
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

It’s hard to call ‘Brave’ the first Pixar letdown, that questionable honor goes to ‘Cars 2’ from the previous year, but the film certainly is a disappointment, not delivering upon its potential.

The film had a rather troubled production, with writer/director Brenda Chapman being replaced halfway by Mark Andrews, and somehow it shows. ‘Brave’ is arguably the first Pixar film that comes across as a half-baked product, with story ideas not worked out to the max.

The film’s premise is good: ‘Brave’ is the first Pixar film with a female protagonist, a princess even, surprisingly placing the film in a long Disney tradition. But Merida is not your average princess. The Scottish red-haired girl is a feisty character, a talented archer, a lover of action and adventure, and bound to step in her father’s footsteps, who’s a great warrior himself. Unfortunately, her mother stifles her into a more traditional role of womanhood, constantly telling her what a princess ought and not ought to do. Even worse, her mother prepares Merida for marriage, with several suitors coming over to compete for her. Unfortunately, not one of them is suiting marriage material (for example, one talks unintelligible, without any obvious reason), and Merida isn’t interested in this prospect, anyway, so she plans to compete herself, as she’s by far the best archer of the lot, repeating the arrow-splitting act of ‘Robin Hood’ (1973).

So far so good, but then the tale suddenly abandons the archery subplot completely. Instead, it dwindles away into a tale of magic, in which Merida deliberately poisons her mother, changing the poor woman into a bear. Unfortunately, at this point the story of independence is abandoned completely, as Merida now must bond with her bear-mother and to protect her against the men, who gladly would kill the beast. Sure, Merida’s mother now learns what Merida has learned outside the castle, but Merida’s insight in her mother’s ways is less worked out, and there’s a very unconvincing scene in which she steps in her mother’s footsteps, addressing the men, guided by her mother’s gestures. Anyhow, as soon Merida’s mother has turned into a bear, her problems are obviously bigger than Merida’s own, and thus the attention naturally shifts from the curly teenager to the poor woman, which contributes to a lack of focus, which permeates the film anyhow. I believe the very idea of turning Merida’s mother into a bear is a fundamental problematical one, a mistake central to the film’s story problems, especially when compared to the similar ‘Brother Bear’ (2003) and ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ (2000) in which the main protagonist himself turns into an animal.

At any rate, after the archery scene the story begins to falter, leaving an awful lot of plot holes open. For example, there’s an ancient legend on four clans, but this idea is worked out badly, and hardly connected to the main story. The function of the killing of the giant bear Mor’du is puzzling – wouldn’t it have been better to show that only united the clans could be able to defeat the bear?

‘Brave’ also wastes an opportunity to become a real feminist film. First, in spite of it all, Merida still is a princess, and thus far from an ordinary woman – and her plight is slight when compared to that of her (invisible) less high-born sisterhood. If one compares her burden to that of Robyn in Cartoon Saloon’s ‘Wolfwalkers’ (2020) the difference becomes clear. Robyn is depicted working all day, shut off from the real world, while Merida at least can practice archery and such. Second, the role pressure solely comes from her mother, not society – and it’s even implied her father couldn’t care less whether Merida behaves like a princess or not. I think it would have served the film better if Merida’s plight were compared to that of a brother, but the film makers gave the princess a triplet as siblings, which are too young for comparison, and whose only function in the story is as comic relief. At one point they too turn into bears, but nobody seems to care…

No, it’s not the story, nor a feminist message that defines ‘Brave’, it’s texture. The Pixar studio made tremendous progress in depicting cloth and hair in this film, advancing computer animation once again. Merida’s extremely curly hair stands out as particularly well done, but so do the tartans of the tribes, which for the first time look like real fabric. Strangely, the building and rendering of the nature settings has aged less well – the light often is too sharp, leading to overexposed settings, especially on the sunlit grass and leaves. Moreover, the trees are too obviously generated, and look pretty fake. Luckily, the story is entertaining enough that this is soon forgotten.

Another design choice that I like less is the magnification of human sexual dimorphism: Merida’s father is almost three times the size of her slender mother or herself. Unfortunately, this depiction of men and women only diminishes the possible message of equality. Even worse, all the men are depicted as dim-witted and fight-ready, leaving the queen as seemingly the only sane person in this world.

‘Brave’ may be a disappointment, the film still is very well animated. The voice acting is superb, too, starring several Scottish and English actors, so no fake accent can be heard. The soundtrack is fair, with its quasi-Celtic themes, and the cinematography is excellent, but all this cannot rescue a rambling story, leaving ‘Brave’ a film as excellent as it is unsatisfying. A studio like Pixar certainly could and should have done a better job.

Watch the trailer for ‘Brave’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Brave’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Director: Bobe Cannon
Release Date: September 27, 1951
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Georgie and the Dragon © UPA‘Georgie and the Dragon’ is one of those UPA shorts about young people trying to break free, a topic the studio favored (see also ‘Gerald McBoing Boing’ from 1951) and ‘The Oompahs‘ from 1952).

‘Georgie and the Dragon’ is set in Scotland, and tells about the lonesome boy Georgie. His father forbids him to bring pets in the house, but little Georgie befriends a little dragon. When he takes it home it grows larger every minute. Nevertheless Georgie manages to hide the dragon from his parents, even if the dragon’s fire repeatedly damages his father and his surroundings.

‘Georgie and the Dragon’ is a gentle story, but the film is hampered by the tiresome Scottish dialogue and all too present angular backgrounds by Bill Hurtz, against which the fluently animated characters don’t read well.

Watch ‘Georgie and the Dragon’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: December 14, 1948
Stars: Bugs Bunny
Rating: ★★½
Review:

My Bunny Lies over the Sea © Warner BrothersBugs misses a turn at Albuquerque and ends up in Scotland.

When he mistakes a Scotchman’s bagpipes for a monster attacking an old lady, he ends up playing golf against the angered Scotchman. Of course, Bugs wins the game, which consists of several blackout gags, and he even manages to defeat the kilted guy at playing the pipes.

The Scotchman looks like a cross between Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam, but who hasn’t got anything near the personality of either of the two. Therefore the interplay between our hero and the villain never really come to live, despite some nice facial expressions on Bugs’ adversary.

Peter Alvarado’s backgrounds do not help: they are too vivid to ignore, but have none of the beauty of either Jones early 1940s cartoons or his cartoons from the 1950s. Instead they express a strange mix of realistic and more stylized patterns. The result is a rather mediocre entry in the Bugs Bunny catalog.

Watch ‘My Bunny Lies over the Sea’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘My Bunny Lies over the Sea’ is available on the DVD set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Vol. 1’

This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 55
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: A Lad in his Lamp
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hare Do

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