I have had a few days to think about the Brave footage that I was able to view on Tuesday night, and there has been no fall in my level of excitement about the film. In fact, it has increased. Pixar screened the first 30 minutes from the film for a select group of bloggers, and while some of the scenes were unfinished (with respects to lighting, animation, etc.), it blew me away. From its stunning look to its epic and hearty story, I have little doubt that Brave will impress.
While nothing ‘spoilery’ was revealed in the first act of Brave, if you would rather remain in the dark and avoid everything, then it may be best to avert your eyes. For everyone else, the first half-hour of the film serves as the set-up for main character Merida’s conflict. Don’t worry, this is not meant to be a second-by-second description of the footage – it is more so my thoughts about what I saw.
The film opens with a look at young Merida, who is about five years old and ridiculously adorable. Right from the start, we are introduced to the character’s motivation to break free from the traditions that come with being a princess in the Scottish kingdom. What resonated with me was her relationship with her father, King Fergus, and mother, Queen Elinor. Those who have seen the trailers will have seen that Fergus is the father figure who loves his daughter but is also less serious than his wife. He is not afraid to joke with his daughter, while Elinor tries to get Merida to comply with the way a princess should behave.
We get a glimpse at what (we think) the main conflict will involve before the scene cuts away and the Brave title is revealed. When “BRAVE” appears on the screen and ominously drifts towards the audience, it immediately becomes apparent that the animated film will not shy away from a darker tone. It literally gave me goose bumps.
The time period then transitions to the present, which is set around the year 900. Merida is now a teenager and her fiery attitude, which is alluded to in the first few minutes, now comes into full view. While the story of a princess not wanting to meet others’ expectations of her is nothing new, Pixar has accurately captured the teenager and the complexity that comes with the rocky period. Merida is told that the time has come for her to marry a child of one of the kingdom’s three Lords, and understandably she is upset and rebels – that much, we already knew from the recent clip, The Prize.
As the first act continues, we start to get a better picture of Merida’s relationship with her mother, which is what will sit at the heart of the story. I can’t stress enough how intensely real the relationship between the Queen and her daughter feels – the dialogue, the fights, the facial expressions all contribute to a complicated relationship. What easily could have been black and white is gray, as we are also served with the Queen’s perspective. You can tell she loves Merida and only wants what is best for her, which is why she is so frustrated.
The fact that you feel for both Merida and the Queen shows that Pixar spent a great deal of time polishing the story. It is easy for characters that stand in the way of the main character to become alienated and hated by the audience. It’s a natural phenomenon, as we want the protagonist to achieve his or her goal, and those who stand in his or her way are only preventing that character from meeting the goal. There is none of that here though, as we are also clued into the Queen’s viewpoint, which accomplishes the story trait that is so rare today in film and TV – the creation of characters that walk the line of complexity.
Setting up the end of act one, things between Merida and her mother begin to escalate. By this point though, you are invested in the characters, so you can’t help but feel for both of them. This is a mother-daughter relationship where each does what she feels is right. Before the end of the footage, you realize that the main conflict in the film will be for both to maintain that relationship and come to terms with one another. When the screen went dark and the lights came up, there was a collective groan from the audience, a good sign that Pixar has yet another hit on its hands.
This is a film that has been in development for about seven years, which usually spells doom for most other films. However, the employees who worked on it are not afraid to say that the story hit a few snags along the way. They wanted to do the characters and their relationships justice, and from what I saw, they really have. The one aspect of the film that I am not completely sold on is its comedic side. Merida’s triplet brothers are hilarious in their wordless mischief (they never utter a word in the entire film, only giggling), but I personally felt that the comedy involving the Lords was not as polished as the dramatic aspects of the story. No reason to worry though, as it is still entertaining – even if Brave may not be “fall out of your seat” funny, its story is so good that you won’t even care.
Visually, Brave will blow your mind – no doubt about it. Even though some scenes were not completely finished, I found myself uttering “Wow” several times. Scotland looks spectacular, with its snowy mountains and lush landscapes. The clothing on the characters has never looked better in an animated film, their multiple layers of clothes, belts, and fur being quite the innovation for Pixar’s new animation software. Brave is the first film from the studio to utilize the new software, which is Pixar’s first rewrite of the system in 25 years. Then, there is Merida’s hair, which has great volume, yet still moves so realistically. You will not be able to keep from watching her when she appears on the screen. After a while though, you forget about her hair, which is exactly what Pixar wants – it means that on the technical side, the employees have done their job well – the visuals take a backseat to the riveting story.
I find myself more excited than ever about Brave, and that is without knowing where the story will land. There is so much mystery involving the rest of the film, but we do know that Pixar is not going to shy away from putting its characters in real danger. Similar to Toy Story 3, where the toys were mere inches away from their demise, we have been told that Merida will face serious consequences for her actions. Though no blood appeared on screen (which is a surefire way for the MPAA to step away from a G rating), Brave will no doubt be rated PG. There are creepy elements and serious danger that will prove scary for the audience, particularly with the demon bear Mor’du. I love that Pixar has not held back on the darkness (at least as much as the studio can, with its philosophy of creating films for the entire family) and I cannot wait to see the rest.
I was at Pixar for two days, so there is much more to come, including interviews with some of the filmmakers. Stay tuned!
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