25 June 2012

What's so "Brave" About Deception?

I reviewed the latest Pixar feature film, Brave, for Flickchart and you can read the basis of my perspective on the film there.

In discussing Brave, I recently responded to someone who didn’t understand why so many viewers were disappointed. I made note that Pixar was dishonest about what the film was; their trailers suggested a sweeping medieval epic and not a story about inadvertently turning one’s mother into a bear. Someone scoffed at that being my problem, asking me “Are we really at the point where we need everything spoiled for us in the trailer?”

Here is the original teaser trailer.

Trailer #1

We get a quick glimpse of a cauldron and we see the triplets as bears, but the film suggested by this trailer is of an independent young woman who faces down a bear in the course of becoming a legend in her father's kingdom.

It is unprecedented for me to advocate spoilers of any kind, but here’s the problem: The transformation of Elinor into a bear is the big reveal but it is not the payoff of the film. In fact, it’s only a big reveal because it was obfuscated by the advertising campaign. It occurs at the end of Act I, and anything in Act I should be fair game for a trailer. That’s the early part of the story in which characters are introduced to audience and to one another, and the objectives are established. The objective of Brave was to use Elinor’s involuntary transformation as an opportunity to grow her relationship with her daughter. There is no reason that could not have been made clear to us before we set foot inside the theater, except for one thing.

Once we know that it’s really about Elinor’s transformation into a bear, we already know what the rest of the movie is going to be and there are no surprises left. The moment we see Merida visit the witch, we know that the rest of the film will not resemble the film suggested by the trailer. At that point in the film, even young children could anticipate what will happen: “The mom will be made into a bear and the dad won’t know it and he’ll try to her hurt her because she’s a bear and Merida will have to turn her mom back and in the end they’ll all know that family is what really matters. The end.”

The ultimate problem is that Brave has no surprises to offer; ergo, there was nothing to avoid spoiling except what the film actually is. That’s not protecting the art of the story; that’s deceptive propping up of a movie in which Pixar clearly lacked confidence to attract an audience, and with good reason, because it’s quite unlikely we would have even been interested. Pixar’s reticence to divulge this information from Act I speaks volumes about how weak Acts II and III really are, and that’s why so many viewers have been disappointed.

Of course, I’ve also encountered one guy whose problem was “all the bullshit liberal and feminist themes.” When someone considers a young woman daring to think for herself and resisting arranged marriages some kind of leftist agenda, I know better than to take the bait. Even though Pixar dropped the ball with a predictable and thin story, at least they didn’t make a film that appeased that guy. That’s something.

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