Bearly “Brave”

First things first: Disney/Pixar’s Brave is beautiful to look at, its “mother/daughter” theme is solid, and its heroine is enchanting. It is also preceded by La Luna, the latest in a long line of Pixar pre-film cartoons, which is absolutely magical and everything a Pixar film should be.

As with many of its previous films, D/P has gone out of its way to prevent audiences from guessing its plots via the coming attraction trailers. And, up until about the thirty minute mark, Brave seems to be what its preview trailer made it out to be: the tale of a Scottish princess rebelling against the royal traditions that her mother the queen insists upon.

Then something happens. You may, or may not, have garnered that much from other reviews. Those reviewers went way out of their way not to reveal the plot twist – weighing in on whether the plot twist (actually, more of a plot squeal) worked for them or not.

Be warned: you are not going to be subject to the same sort of hemhawing here. This plot screech is the heart and soul of what’s mind-bogglingly wrong with the otherwise effective, and effecting, Brave.

If I had John Lasseter’s phone number, I would text him a mere three words: “Brother Bear? Really?!”

Within the first thirty minutes of Brave, I had already been perturbed by the pedantic, unimaginative nature of the prat-falling comedy thus far presented. Then a manic, practically vaudevillian, witch was introduced with no back story, nor even a sliver of character shading.

In fact, she most reminded me of the deus-ex-machina character of the Robin Williams-voiced “Dr. Know” in Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence. She is the first of several plot contrivances this film uses to bearly (sic) hold itself together (including an all-too-easy “satire” of customer service answering machines that comes out of, and goes, nowhere).

In any case, it is a spell the witch casts that launches the film’s central story. And of all the interesting, innovative, inventive directions they could have gone in, they chose to flatly and obviously recycle the plot of their own studio’s 2003 2D animated failure Brother Bear?!

Look it up. Brother Bear (they even did a direct-to-DVD sequel in 2006). This was the only shot long-time animators Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker had as directors, from a script cobbled together by twenty-four (?!) credited writers. Brave had a “mere” four writers credited, including three, Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, and Steve Purcell, who were also listed as directors.

Scuttlebutt has it that Chapman was the originator of Brave, who was then removed and replaced in late 2010 “following creative disagreements.” It is unlikely that these disagreements stemmed from the plot shriek, since her original title was The Bear and the Bow.

In any case, once the bear-faced plot is in place, it is played out with energy, leading to an earned emotional pay-off. But that emotional pay-off is not as potent as the powerful pay-offs of its predecessors (Up, Toy Story 3, et al) — not surprising, considering the tonal confusion that came before it.

But it’s little wonder, considering that some Pixar person apparently decided it would be better to rip-off a slightly seen failure than borrow too much from prior hits.

Brave is fine fun, but left me longing for what it could, and should, have been – a movie even more worthy of its look and leading character.