Movie Review: Brave

Disney / Pixar
Released: June 22, 2012
Rated PG

Merida refuses to be wed off to one of three heirs to Scottish clans, and searches for a way to change her fate.

What I Loved:

The Animation
Pixar had to upgrade their software to handle Merida’s hair and the clothing details in the film.  Merida’s hair is pretty breathtaking.  I totally wanted to dye my hair red and get a perm. (Wonder if that will become a trend?)  The Scottish landscape, castle, and magical forest were beautiful to behold.  One reviewer claimed Brave’s animation “appears neither better nor worse than Madagascar 3 or The Lorax.” (link)  I disagree, and with a brother who specializes in 3D animation, I can see the difference in the level of detail, environment texture, use of light and shadows, and overall character design.  Brave is far superior in animation to films like Madagascar 3 or The Lorax and anyone who says otherwise clearly does not have a knowledge of the craft.

The Mother/Daughter Conflict
Merida is at battle with her mother over following traditions, accepting female gender roles, and submitting to an arranged marriage.  I thought this was a very organic conflict for the time period the film was set in, and yet still very poignant for today’s girls.  As a female in today’s world, I still experience conflict over how a female is expected to act and how to get what I want.  For example, I still feel like being sweet and compliant are traits expected from women, whereas confidence, assertiveness, and intelligence can get you labeled a cold b***h.  One male reviewer cites Brave had a “superficial girl-empowerment theme.” (link)  I take offense to that, and calling a movie that empowers women ‘superficial’ is sexist, especially when this is the first time Pixar has tackled women’s issues and what could be a risky move for them in a male-driven movie market.  I admired how Pixar handled the resolution to the conflict.  The mother represented traditional female values whereas Merida represented a more aggressive and assertive modern woman.  In the resolution, in order to break the spell cast on her mother, Merida had to use a blend of traditional and modern.  Merida had to sew a tapestry (domestic and traditional) as well as fight with arrow and sword (aggressive and modern).  I thought Pixar put a lot of thought into the women’s issues in the film and it gave the film a depth we haven’t seen in princess animated narratives.

The Humor
Our theater was wild with laughter from children to adults, girls to boys.  Parts of the movie were pretty scary and dramatic, so the humor was definitely necessary.  Most of the humor came from Merida’s brothers, the scheming and cake-loving triplets.  They were hilarious and adorable in their hijinks and mannerisms.  Another source of comedic relief were Merida’s suitors.  I particularly liked one suitor who spoke so incoherently that no one could understand him.  Merida’s mother also got several laughs from the audience, though I’ll refrain from giving away any plot spoilers.

The Celtic Mythology
The wisps, kilts, clans, bear lore, Scottish accents, tapestries, and other bits of Celtic culture gave this fairy tale a fresh feel.  It is a culture that hasn’t been explored in any recent animated feature films and was a welcome addition to the movie.

Word of Caution
The bears were quite scary and probably the reason that this animated feature has a PG rating instead of a G rating.

Overall Opinion
Brave was another outstanding movie from Pixar that I will be purchasing to go alongside my copies of Finding Nemo, Toy Story, and Wall-E.  Merida’s journey of discovery is magical, exciting, funny, and heart-warming.  I highly recommend this movie to people of all ages, but especially mothers and daughters who will be touched by the story’s conflict.

Movie Review: Hunger Games

First off, sorry I’ve been MIA on the blog the past few weeks.  We’ve had some gorgeous spring weather that had me outside rather than than inside behind my desk. And I’ve been more of a social butterfly and less of a reclusive hermit.

I don’t normally post movie reviews (though I don’t know why not).  But granted that Hunger Games was first a book… I thought I’d do a post on how I think the movie did in terms of serving the story.

This post probably contains some spoilers if you haven’t read the book, but I don’t think anything I say below will ruin the movie for you if you are one of the few souls who didn’t see it on opening weekend.

What I Liked:
I honestly liked every actor’s portrayal of their character.  Jennifer Lawrence was brilliant as Katniss.  She was fiesty, indignant, and strong.  Josh Hutcherson was a charming and sympathetic Peeta.  Woody Harrelson (Haymitch) was scruffy, fierce, and welcome comedic relief.  Lenny Kravitz was surprisingly understated and thoughtful as Cinna.  Rue was wide-eyed, beautiful, and cunning.  And Gale was pretty hunky in the few moments he was on screen.

My favorite scene by far was during training when Katniss shot the arrow up into the sponsors.  That scene was BRILLIANT.  Exactly how I pictured it in the book.  I loved her spiteful little curtsy and I loved her interactions with Haymitch afterwards.

Another part that I liked was how they showed the arena being manipulated behind the screens.  There would be shots of a room full of technology and the “gamemakers” tracking the tributes and sending new challenges into the arena.  That was probably better than I imagined in the book and helped illustrate how cruel the game was and how the tributes were just pawns to them.

I appreciated that they spent plenty of time leading up to the games just as it was done in the book, with the selection, training, interviews, etc.  They were very good about not leaving out any crucial moments from the book.

What I Disliked:
The shaky camera work was annoying.  I believe it was done to make the violence less “in your face” and to keep the rating at PG-13.  And perhaps it made it feel like you were in the action.  But it was so shaky it made it hard to concentrate and hard to tell what was happening at times.  And I think it was overdone.  I could have understood a shaky camera when Katniss was experiencing hallucinations from the tracker jacker venom, but they used the shaky camera much more than just that moment.

I also felt like the pacing of the movie was much slower than the book.  I just remember the book being such a page turner, but then the movie felt … slow … to me.  I don’t know if this is because I already knew what was going to happen (though I’d read the book so long ago that I’d forgotten several parts) or if being in Katniss’s head in the novel made the danger feel more immediate.  I just don’t know, but the movie definitely had slow pacing for me.

And finally, despite the fact that they were very true to the book, I felt like aspects of the book’s overall tone and satirical aims were missing.  I didn’t feel like there was enough hatred for the Capital and if it was clear how much Katniss hated them.  The unfairness of the Games wasn’t prominent enough.  How the poor stood no chance.  How young children were up against trained 18 year old killing machines.  How the Districts were forced to watch their children die.  How the fact that watching children kill each other on TV is a commentary on the violence in our own society that we glorify.  I just felt like the book did a better job of raising these issues and creating a tone that questioned them.  Katniss was such a critic of the world she lived in, and her narration helped us see the inequities and the  shallowness of her world (and in turn our own).

Overall: The movie was well done.  They were true to the book.  Jennifer Lawrence did a brilliant job. This was one of the better treatments of book to movie that I’ve seen.